The man once known as the intellectual godfather of the Iraq war opposes a military strike on Iran.
Bernard Lewis, 96, the British-born expert on the Middle East who enjoyed exceptionally close ties to the Bush administration, told the Forward at a gala dinner held in his honor last night that he didn’t support military action against Iran.
“I don’t think it’s the right answer,” he said.
Lewis said that he supported regime change in Iran, but that it should be achieved through U.S. support of an internal Iranian opposition.
“We should do what we can to help the Iranian opposition,” Lewis said. “We could do a lot to help them and we’re not doing a damn thing, as far as I know.”
Lewis, an emeritus professor in Princeton’s Near Eastern Studies program and a highly controversial figure in his field, has been characterized as having provided the intellectual framework for the justification of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
More recently, Lewis has claimed that he opposed the Iraq invasion at the time. Still, his name is indelibly linked to the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration.
The gala was hosted by American Friends of Tel Aviv University.
Approached at his table during the dinner break at last night’s gala, where he was seated with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and New York Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman, Lewis took a relatively dovish line on Iran.
“Iran is a great nation with a long and glorious history,” Lewis told the Forward. “When we say things like Iran must not have nuclear weapons, imagine how an Iranian patriot would react to that. What we mean is the gang of genocidal maniacs who are now dishonoring the name of Iran must not have nuclear weapons. I think we should make it quite clear that our hostility is not against Iran but against, as I said, this gang who are dishonoring their name.”
Though he said that he didn’t think a military strike on Iran was the right answer, Lewis conceded: “it may come to that.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.