I’ve already alluded to the obvious difference of approach displayed by Bill Keller to the prospect of a U.S. war with Iran when compared to his work during the Iraq war as the executive editor of the New York Times. As Eric Alterman, Stephen Walt and others have pointed out, his support for the war and excuses for it can never atone for the far-reaching, ongoing effects–over 100,000 dead Iraqis and the damning psychological effects on U.S. soldiers and society to name a few (even if news media cannot be charged with sole responsibility). Nevertheless his attempt to be more critical now is necessary and should be recognized. Like it or not, he has a large audience.

With that in mind consider Keller’s “Falling In and Out of War” op-ed published during the same week that we mark the 9th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He notes his previous mistakes and then urges those who are interested in causing more calamity in the Middle East to ask important questions not only about Iran, but Syria too. Of particular importance is the first question,”How is this our fight?”. Keller doesn’t mention Israel in this context but it doesn’t take a genius to make that connection when he says:

Often the American stake is not so clear-cut. We may feel an obligation to defend an ally. (Some allies more than others.) We have been known to fight for our economic interests. We intervene in the name of American values, an elastic rubric that can mean anything from halting a genocide to, in George W. Bush’s expansive doctrine, promoting freedom.

Are those U.S. citizens who reportedly support U.S. military action against Iran asking questions like these? We know that much of the U.S. military establishment and the Obama administration has been doing just that, even if some of the administration’s actions may be bringing us closer to an accidental confrontation.

In any case it’s a welcome development that the Times in general is approaching the Iran issue differently than the likes of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and particularly former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens who is consistently furious that the U.S. is being cautious this time around. Simply compare Keller’s words posted above to these by Stephens:

How, then, should people think about the Iran state of play? By avoiding the misdirections of “intelligence.” For real intelligence, merely consider that a regime that can take a rock in its right hand to stone a woman to death should not have a nuclear bomb within reach of its left. Even a spook can grasp that.

Sigh.