House Dem Sees Years-Long Iran Fight Coming to a Head

A veteran congressman who has consistently called for tougher, targeted punitive measures against Iran warned AIPAC that the Islamic Republic wants more than a nuclear capability: hegemony, "terrorism with impunity," and the destruction of Israel.

As a Democrat, Rep. Brad Sherman, who represents California's San Fernando Valley, has long known that the fight against this menace transcends party.

And his goal at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference was to arm attendees with the truth to confront those who contend that Iran is not a threat to the U.S., that it can be contained like the Soviet Union during the Cold War, that Israel's suspected nuclear program is also defiance.

"People, particularly those too young to have lost their hair, look back on our confrontations with the Soviet Union in the '50s and '60s as if that was a 'Happy Days' TV show," Sherman told PJM. "We had happy days in those happy days, but we also had a lot of scare and bomb drills where you get your head under the desk. Just because we survived many difficulties with the Soviet Union is no guarantee that you can roll the dice another dozen times and it will all come out just fine."

The congressman's staff was taking down email addresses of interested audience members before and after Monday's breakout session. Sherman promised them that in about a week he'll send out the full, updated text of his address, with footnotes, to keep them up to date on what's happening on the congressional front in regards to Iran.

Like past years at AIPAC, Sherman's straight-talk assessment of the need to get real about Iran's weapons program was one of the best of the conference. But it's not surprising, as he's had years of practice trying to get two very different administrations to get seriously tough on the Islamic Republic.

He stressed to the large meeting room full of AIPAC delegates that Iran cannot be compared with other nuclear production crises such as North Korea, which blusters and then proceeds to "extort the world for 240,000 metric tons of food aid."

"If that was the problem with Iran, I'd buy wheat futures and leave it alone," Sherman said. Yet the world looks at the U.S. and sees Washington using almost the same language the Bush administration used against Pyongyang, he said, and now they have about a dozen weapons.

"This is not a country just trying to live peaceably within its own borders … there is no point on the globe further from Tehran than Buenos Aires," he said, referencing the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Argentina. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi, is among those wanted by Interpol in connection with the terrorist attack.

"No one in the world is holding a demonstration calling for the abolition of Persia," he later added.

Sherman stressed that the nuclear energy argument is bunk. As the country with the second largest gas reserves in the world -- so much they have to flare 10 percent of it -- "they could generate kilowatts for a couple cents," he said. "It makes absolutely no sense for them to have Bushehr or any other facility and yet they do."

He noted that "good luck and considerable restraint" on both sides defused the Cuban Missile Crisis, but a comparison to today's crisis doesn't hold water.

"Do you think that either one of those things is in big supply in the Middle East?" he said.

Sherman warned that when Iranians develop a nuclear weapon, it won't be delivered in a conventional fashion. About the size of a person, such a weapon will be smuggled, he predicted.

"I'm from California," he said. "I've seen evidence that it is possible to sneak a person into the United States."

The congressman added smuggling works in Iran's favor because, after a city is hit in this fashion, a presidential panel would be convened to determine what happened, and if that panel decides 90 days later with 93 percent assurance that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is to blame, it's too late for a retaliatory strike.

He told the crowd that sanctions, like the tough ones against the Central Bank of Iran in the bill pushed into law by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), need to be so brutal that they force Tehran to choose between regime survival and a nuclear weapon.

"No one ever gave up their firstborn just to avoid excessive ATM fees," he quipped. "…We need to sanction all Iranian banks and we needed to do it 10 years ago."

Sherman noted that successful strikes against Iran wouldn't necessarily just hit nuclear sites, which could just be rebuilt. Israel could take out their air defenses, he said, hit nuclear facilities as hard as possible, and then demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency be brought in to dismantle the program -- "otherwise something might happen to all of their oil production facilities," which are above ground, spread out and "a regime without oil wells is not a regime that survives."