Does anyone know how many Leon Panettas there are? There are at least two in the U.S. Defense Department, in any case. This pair took turns addressing the Iranian nuclear threat this month. One participated in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy Forum earlier this month, while the other was interviewed Tuesday on the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes." The two even look alike – they must be twins. So how can we tell them apart?
The first Panetta believes a potential attack against Iran could have "a serious impact" and he prefers diplomatic options. The other Panetta, the one interviewed Tuesday, said "no options are off the table," even a military option, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Who should we believe?
The Leon Panetta who appeared at the Saban Forum, and chided Israel for contributing to its own isolation in the world and neglecting the peace process, apparently does not know that diplomatic options are in the process of disappearing. Since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published its report on Iran in early November, we have heard many declarations but still have not seen any new substantial sanctions. The central bank in Tehran continues operating without problems – and issuing rials – as are the country's reactors. And the clock is ticking.
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Luckily for us, there is another Leon Panetta who is a bit more concerned, who even sounds a little like an Israeli. The secretary of defense told CBS that the U.S. will not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons; it is a red line from the U.S.' perspective. Panetta also is aware, however, that "it will be less than a year until they [the Iranians] will have the ability to achieve nuclear power." Yet the first Panetta spent time with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan at the Saban Forum, who likely told him a different date: 2015.
The Panetta interviewed by CBS chose instead to try calm us: The U.S. can attack any place in the world and Washington will take any necessary steps to stop the Iranian nuclear program, he said. Even if we do not see Washington act, at least we are hearing its declarations.
Good morning, America. Panetta has suddenly discovered how fast the grains of sand slip through the hourglass and just how dangerous and unacceptable a nuclear Iran. Just like North Korea in its day, Iran is making great strides to join the club of crazy countries with nuclear capabilities, despite opposition from the international community.
The sad part of this story is that there is actually only one Leon Panetta, even though this month his behavior brought to mind the film "Being John Malkovich." If we were not talking about our future, we might have even laughed.
Perhaps someone has taken the trouble to remind Panetta that 2012 is an election year and that there is such a thing as the Jewish vote in the U.S.
But perhaps we all simply got confused? The Pentagon certainly is confused. On Tuesday night, a spokesperson for the U.S. Defense Department tried to soften the words of the minister in charge. So is it good morning America?
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