True Stripes

Philipp Bleek (left), an assistant professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, discusses the pros and cons of the Iran nuclear deal at a Sept. 21 debate. 

The gathering is the brainchild of retired physicist Ivan Kramer, and Aug. 10 at the Monterey County Republican Party headquarters in Monterey, he lays it out to a dozen or so attendees: hold a monthly debate with a local scholar about a relevant topic in the news, and see if he or she can change your mind.

Or as he puts it: “The speaker will come and speak, then we will tear him or her to shreds.”

The retired physicist has a swagger to him, which he acknowledges. “When you master the laws of the universe, as I have, you become a bit arrogant.”

Kramer’s name for the debate series is “Truth, Wisdom and the American Way,” and the first event comes Sept. 21 at the Crazy Horse Restaurant in Monterey. Political scientist Philipp Bleek, an assistant professor at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, is the featured speaker, and the subject du jour is the Iran nuclear deal. In short, the deal specifies ways in which Iran must curtail its development of nukes in exchange for lifting trade sanctions that will free up tens of billions of dollars of assets sitting frozen in international banks.

“This is a topic that I’m very interested in, both personally, and this is quite relevant to what I do professionally,” Bleek says. He says its one of the few biological, chemical or nuclear weapons-related issues he didn’t work on while employed by the U.S. government. “That means I’m more at liberty to discuss it.”

The framework Bleek paints for the discussion is: In a decade or two, what will we wish we had done now?

Bleek explains the history of the Iranian nuclear program, and how the U.S. helped launch it in the 1950s by shipping highly enriched uranium to Iran for the purposes of creating nuclear energy. At that time, the Shah of Iran was a close ally to the U.S. But in the 1980s, after revolution brought an entirely new government to Iran, Bleek says the country’s leadership starting making moves to develop nukes.

Iran’s progress was unmasked in the early 2000s, and tensions have risen in the region ever since. Bleek says that had former president George W. Bush acted then, we might have had a better deal. But he supports the deal right now as the best option in a tricky situation.

“If you bomb the Iranians, what you do is set back the nuclear program a couple of years,” Bleek says. “You have to be prepared to go back and bomb them again.”

Kramer counters that the Iranian government is a theocratic, messianistic regime bent on destroying Israel, and goes one of several rants over the course of the evening.

“Suppose… they end up with a nuclear arsenal? We should bomb them now,” Kramer says.

“Then what happens?” Bleek retorts.

“Who cares,” Kramer says.

As the evening wraps, Kramer, who was clearly dug into his anti-Iranian position the entire night, says, “Truthfully, I was hoping to abandon the way I see it.”

It almost feels like he started the series to talk about how much he hates Iran. But he does have a topic in mind for the next debate, even if he hasn’t arranged a date: economics. “What is the best economic system for this country?”

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