Karl Hebenstreit was very pleased with both his congressman, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), and his fellow residents in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District as he left Moran’s town hall entitled "Is Iran Next?" at the George Washington Masonic Memorial Temple in Alexandria on Nov. 13.
"This was a real grass roots effort. I am very heartened by the response. The audience clapped and cheered at all the right times," said Hebenstreit, a City of Alexandria resident who said the United States government has been moving toward a totalitarian regime for the past 30 years.
Hebenstreit, like many other people attending the town hall, said he opposes a potential military strike against Iran by the federal government and worries about the Bush administration’s intentions. He was one of over 800 people to attend Moran’s meeting this week – which required two overflow rooms to accommodate the crowd.
"We get bigger town halls than any other district in the country," said Austin Durrer, Moran’s spokesperson.
Durrer added that Moran holds more town meetings than most congressmen and that his district – which includes Alexandria, Arlington, Mount Vernon and Reston – tends to be more interested in foreign policy than most. This week’s meeting was the first town hall in the country devoted to U.S.-Iran foreign relations.
"I came because I am concerned about U.S. foreign policy. Five years ago, citizens did not do enough to stop the war with Iraq and I don’t want to see that happen again," said Kip Malinosky, an Arlington resident and teacher in Fairfax County Public Schools.
Residents are not the only people worried about the Bush administration’s escalating rhetoric toward Iran.
Moran expressed his own concerns during the meeting while he answered questions from the audience. His three panelists – National Iranian American Council president Trita Parsi, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb and U.S. Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) – also condemned the United States’ approach to foreign relations with Iran.
"It is not just about having a new administration. We need new policies, not just new politicians," said Parsi, who advocated a lift of sanctions on non-governmental organizations in Iran.
Unlike other populations in the Middle East, Iranians – who often have relatives in the United States – tend to have a favorable view of American culture. But it would promote more goodwill if Americans could show their support through donations to charities without breaking the law, he said.
"If you are an American and you send money to an Iranian orphanage for children with cancer, you are breaking the law," he said.
He added that pursuing a war with Iran’s government could quickly erode Iranians’ public trust of the United States, despite the fact that most Iranians are unhappy with who is in power.
"We should not make the mistake of losing the hearts and minds of Iran. With the first bomb, with the first bullet, we will lose that," said Parsi.
According to both Parsi and Korb, Iran is farther from having developing nuclear weapons than members of the Bush administration would have you believe.
Korb – who served during the Ronald Reagan administration — said he estimates that the Iranian government would not have a bomb for another five to 10 years. Parsi said it may be longer than that.
"People have been saying Iran is two to four years away from having a bomb since 1992," said Parsi.
Moran, Tierney and some of their other colleagues in the U.S. Congress are doing their best to make sure the Bush administration does not pursue a war or military action with Iran.
The Democratic leadership have already blocked part of spending bill that allocated $100 million to outfitting some military jets with bombs that could blast through 60 feet of concrete.
"They have no purpose in Iraq or Afghanistan. ...They could only be for Iran or North Korea," said Moran.
Tierney, who represents part of Massachusetts, has also been holding Congressional hearings with experts on the implications of a war with Iran in an effort to raise awareness about the issue, he said.
"We want to push back on some of the rhetoric that is coming out of the White House," said Tierney at the town hall.
Tierney said a number of people who have testified – including journalists, members of the intelligence community, economists and members of the military – have painted a bleak picture of what might happen if the federal government took military action against Iran.
According to Korb, the Iranian military would be a formidable opponent should the United State choose to go to war with the country.
"We have to remember the Iraqi army did not fight us when we went in and the Iranian military is in much, much better shape," said Korb.
They are also concerns about how a war might affect the world’s oil market. Iran does not have that much oil but the world demand for oil is almost equal to the supply, said Moran.
"The estimated price of oil could go up 30 to 50 percent," if a war with Iran was started, he said.
China – whose has an oil deal with Iran worth several billion dollars – would also be a factor if the United State went to war with Iran. If the United States alienated China – who owns a large portion of the United States’ debt -- the Asian country could send the United States into a recession or depression by choosing to invest elsewhere.
"They have a financial guillotine over our necks and it is a state economy which may not always act rationally," said Moran adding, "and of course, if we did go to war with China, we would have to borrow money from them to do it."
Even though there is a bleak picture, the Bush administration appears to be still considering going to war, said Tierney and Moran.
Two of three former Bush national security advisors who spoke at Tierney’s hearings believe there is about a 50 percent chance the administration will bomb Iran, said Moran. Tierney added that the third advisor – and the one to working most recently for the Bush administration – put the chance at 15 to 20 percent.
A few members of the audience questioned whether the march to war with Iran might stop if Vice President Dick Cheney was impeached, who signed onto a Cheney impeachment resolution, recently voted to send the resolution to a congressional committee for review.
"A lot of people asked me about impeaching Cheney but then we would have the president making decisions," said Moran.