Who’s a Liberal and Who’s a Hawk in Beinart’s Worldview?

Peter Beinart distorted my position on Iran: I don’t want a military confrontation but I believe the best way to avoid one is through a credible deterrent threat. That doesn't make me a 'hawk.'


In his recent column, Peter Beinart wrote the following about me: “In 2012, Alan Dershowitz criticized Obama for being insufficiently hawkish on Iran, raising the specter that he might support Mitt Romney. He was rewarded with an Oval Office meeting with the president, after which he gave Obama his endorsement."

Every single “fact” in Beinart’s account is demonstrably false.

First, I have been a liberal democrat all of my life and have never supported a Republican presidential candidate. As a genuine liberal, I strongly support the high wall of separation between church and state and, unlike Beinart, strongly oppose governmental support of religious education. I also support a women’s right to choose abortion, a gay couple’s right to marry and the government’s power to regulate guns. To anyone who knows my views on these and other subjects, including Israel, there could be no “specter” that I might support Mitt Romney. If Beinart had any doubt, he could have called or e-mailed me. He has my contact information. Journalists should not speculate about “specters” when they have easy access to the truth. In this case the truth would have undercut Beinart’s point, so he chose not to pursue it.

Nor is it fair to characterize my views of President Obama as “being insufficiently hawkish on Iran.” To begin with, characterizing my own views on Iran as “hawkish” distorts and oversimplifies them. I am opposed to Israel and/or the United States taking military action now against the Iranian nuclear weapons program, but I want to see a viable military deterrent. I have repeatedly quoted George Washington as saying the best way to avoid war is to be sure your adversary knows you are prepared to wage a war as a last resort. I don’t want a military confrontation but I believe the best way to avoid one is through a credible deterrent threat.

I also believe, as President Obama has repeatedly said he believes, that if they only options were a nuclear armed Iran or a surgical bombing of their nuclear facilities, the former would be worse than the latter. I am no more hawkish in this regard than is President Obama, who has made the same point. I am curious to what Beinart’s position would be if that stark choice were presented. J Street studiously avoids confronting that issue, while suggesting to its left wing followers that it would prefer a nuclear armed Iran and to its centrist followers that it would support a surgical bombing as a last resort. Beinart oversimplifies this complex debate by falsely accusing me of having “criticized Obama for being insufficiently hawkish on Iran.” I simply urged our President to make his point “in a way that the Iranians understand and believe,” and I publicly cautioned the President that if the Iranian mullahs did not believe him and succeeded in developing nuclear weapons on his watch, he would come to be regarded as the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st Century.

Finally, Beinart’s chronology is all wrong. I was invited to the White House in 2011, during a phone call that President Obama made to me while I was in Israel. I have discussed Iran with the President on three separate occasions. I had announced my endorsement of him well before our Oval Office meeting, not “after” being “rewarded with an Oval Office meeting.” Again, Beinart could have learned this with a simple phone call or email (as I sent him before publishing this response). I would hope that the President sought my advice on Iran because he, like other presidents, values my opinions. Beinart essentially accuses the president of illegal wrongdoing by suggesting that he used an Oval Office meeting to secure my political support. That would be a misuse of the White House. Fortunately he is as wrong about that as he is about my views on Iran.

Beinart is entitled to his opinions, but not his facts. Haaretz readers are entitled to the facts.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, a practicing criminal and constitutional lawyer and the author, most recently, of “Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.”