By TOM HONIG
Let's face it. The ever-shortening attention span of the American public is leaving most forms of the media in tatters. Exhibit A -- the Panetta Institute's presentation this week of two Middle East experts who spent 90 minutes discussing what Sylvia Panetta called "the stubborn complexity of conflict in this region."
Middle East experts Dennis Ross (who has served both Republican and Democratic administrations) and Fran Townsend (an adviser to President George W. Bush) wended through a compelling yet byzantine examination of the region.
And how could any account of 15 column inches or 28 seconds on television fairly summarize what was said.
As Ross commented to moderator Frank Sessno: "If you look at the region as a whole (from Libya all the way to Afghanistan) any one area would be enough (to qualify as a major issue.)
Still, any trained journalist could pick out the lede: Iran's nuclear threat.
Each expert came at the issue a bit differently, with Ross citing evidence that economic sanctions just might be working. Here's why:
-- Iran's currency has been devalued by half
-- Protests in front of Iranian banks
-- Iran is finding difficulty in selling oil at a high price (despite worldwide price increases).
-- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- Iran's supreme leader -- is bringing in moderates to the government and has also (curiously) raised the subject that "nuclear weapons are a sin.
Despite these signs, Townsend said, the thought of nuclear weapons and a potential preemptive attack from Israel "still keeps me up at night."
So here you go. This account covers maybe one-twentieth of what was said, and so far hasn't even brought up Afghanistan, Syria, Palestinian issues, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain or the rest.
Maybe that's why Charlie Sheen and Lady Gaga and Tim Tebow are better covered in the media than the Middle East. But that's also why the Panetta Lecture Series is so welcome.
The next in the series will be April 9, a Monday. It'll feature a discussion on the economy with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson. Standby tickets are sometimes available at the Panetta Institute at 831-582-4200.