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Is Iran Policy Still Up for Grabs?

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    Is Iran Policy Still Up for Grabs? by Tom Engelhardt and Robert Dreyfuss http://www.lewrockwell.com/engelhardt/engelhardt364.html Just when you thought it was
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 8, 2009
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      Is Iran Policy Still Up for Grabs?
      by Tom Engelhardt and Robert Dreyfuss

      Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…
      After all, that massive U.S. air attack on Iran that anti-imperial
      critics long expected to arrive, that Seymour Hersh wrote about, that
      so many feared, never happened and, with Barack Obama's election,
      should certainly have been put to rest in a deep grave for all
      eternity. But don't underestimate the neocons, or their ability to
      reconfigure themselves for a Democratic administration. Robert
      Dreyfuss, author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped
      Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, who also produces The Dreyfuss Report
      for the Nation magazine's website, offers up some tantalizing clues
      to their possible future resurrection – and some altogether eerie
      connections between neocon Washington and the future Obama team.

      To give Dreyfuss his creds, only the other day the Wall Street
      Journal actually began an editorial on the new Obama national
      security "team" by attacking an analysis Dreyfuss had done of it the
      previous week. ("The names floated for Barack Obama's national
      security team 'are drawn exclusively from conservative, centrist and
      pro-military circles without even a single – yes, not one! – chosen
      to represent the antiwar wing of the Democratic party.' In his
      plaintive post this week on the Nation magazine's Web site, Robert
      Dreyfuss indulges in the political left's wonderful talent for
      overstatement. But who are we to interfere with his despair?") Given
      their right-wing proclivities, the Journal's editorial writers then
      offer the equivalent of high praise for Obama's choices: "So far,"
      they conclude, "on security, not bad." That should make just about
      anyone who voted for Obama to change American global policy in
      significant ways pause a moment for reflection.

      And the Journal isn't alone. Other Republicans are, according to the
      Times of London, already "showering praise on these selections.
      Senator Lindsey Graham said that Mr Gates, President Bush's Defense
      Secretary, had 'led us through difficult times in Iraq' and that Mrs
      Clinton had a 'little harder line' than Mr Obama on foreign policy."
      The dark prince of neocons Richard Perle commented, "I'm relieved...
      Contrary to expectations, I don't think we would see a lot of

      Give it a year and a little Iranian, American, and Israeli
      intransigence and who knows what scenarios might arise. In the
      meantime, keep your eyes on the neocons. Like vampires of legend,
      barring a stake through the heart, they arrive on the scene as soon
      as darkness sets in. ~ Tom


      Still Preparing to Attack Iran: The Neoconservatives in the Obama Era
      By Robert Dreyfuss

      What, exactly, does Barack Obama's mild-mannered choice to head the
      Department of Health and Human Services, former Senator Tom Daschle,
      have to do with neocons who want to bomb Iran?

      A familiar coalition of hawks, hardliners, and neoconservatives
      expects Barack Obama's proposed talks with Iran to fail – and they're
      already proposing an escalating set of measures instead. Some are
      meant to occur alongside any future talks. These include steps to
      enhance coordination with Israel, tougher sanctions against Iran, and
      a region-wide military buildup of U.S. strike forces, including the
      prepositioning of military supplies within striking distance of that

      Once the future negotiations break down, as they are convinced will
      happen, they propose that Washington quickly escalate to war-like
      measures, including a U.S. Navy-enforced embargo on Iranian fuel
      imports and a blockade of that country's oil exports. Finally, of
      course, comes the strategic military attack against the Islamic
      Republic of Iran that so many of them have wanted for so long.

      It's tempting to dismiss the hawks now as twice-removed from power:
      first, figures like John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith
      were purged from top posts in the Bush administration after 2004;
      then the election of Barack Obama and the announcement Monday of his
      centrist, realist-minded team of establishment foreign policy gurus
      seemed to nail the doors to power shut for the neocons, who have
      bitterly criticized the president-elect's plans to talk with Iran,
      withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, and abandon the reckless Global War
      on Terrorism rhetoric of the Bush era.

      "Kinetic Action" Against Iran

      When it comes to Iran, however, it's far too early to dismiss the
      hawks. To be sure, they are now plying their trade from outside the
      corridors of power, but they have more friends inside the Obama camp
      than most people realize. Several top advisers to Obama – including
      Tony Lake, UN Ambassador-designate Susan Rice, Tom Daschle, and
      Dennis Ross, along with leading Democratic hawks like Richard
      Holbrooke, close to Vice-President-elect Joe Biden or Secretary of
      State-designate Hillary Clinton – have made common cause with war-
      minded think-tank hawks at the Washington Institute for Near East
      Policy (WINEP), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and other
      hardline institutes.

      Last spring, Tony Lake and Susan Rice, for example, took part in a
      WINEP "2008 Presidential Task Force" study which resulted in a report
      entitled, "Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel
      Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge." The Institute, part of
      the Washington-based Israel lobby, was founded in coordination with
      the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and has been
      vigorously supporting a confrontation with Iran. The task force
      report, issued in June, was overseen by four WINEP heavyweights:
      Robert Satloff, WINEP's executive director, Patrick Clawson, its
      chief Iran analyst, David Makovsky, a senior fellow, and Dennis Ross,
      an adviser to Obama who is also a WINEP fellow.

      Endorsed by both Lake and Rice, the report opted for an alarmist view
      of Iran's nuclear program and proposed that the next president set up
      a formal U.S.-Israeli mechanism for coordinating policy toward Iran
      (including any future need for "preventive military action"). It drew
      attention to Israeli fears that "the United States may be reconciling
      itself to the idea of 'living with an Iranian nuclear bomb,'" and it
      raised the spurious fear that Iran plans to arm terrorist groups with
      nuclear weapons.

      There is, of course, nothing wrong with consultations between the
      United States and Israel. But the WINEP report is clearly predisposed
      to the idea that the United States ought to give undue weight to
      Israel's inflated concerns about Iran. And it ignores or dismisses a
      number of facts: that Iran has no nuclear weapon, that Iran has not
      enriched uranium to weapons grade, that Iran may not have the know-
      how to actually construct a weapon even if, sometime in the future,
      it does manage to acquire bomb-grade material, and that Iran has no
      known mechanism for delivering such a weapon.

      WINEP is correct that the United States must communicate closely with
      Israel about Iran. Practically speaking, however, a U.S.-Israeli
      dialogue over Iran's "nuclear challenge" will have to focus on
      matters entirely different from those in WINEP's agenda. First, the
      United States must make it crystal clear to Israel that under no
      circumstances will it tolerate or support a unilateral Israeli attack
      against Iran. Second, Washington must make it clear that if Israel
      were indeed to carry out such an attack, the United States would
      condemn it, refuse to widen the war by coming to Israel's aid, and
      suspend all military aid to the Jewish state. And third, Israel must
      get the message that, even given the extreme and unlikely possibility
      that the United States deems it necessary to go to war with Iran,
      there would be no role for Israel.

      Just as in the wars against Iraq in 1990–1991 and 2003–2008, the
      United States hardly needs Israeli aid, which would be both
      superfluous and inflammatory. Dennis Ross and others at WINEP,
      however, would strongly disagree that Israel is part of the problem,
      not part of the solution.

      Ross, who served as Middle East envoy for George H.W. Bush and then
      Bill Clinton, was also a key participant in a September 2008 task
      force chaired by two former senators, Daniel Coats (R.-Ind.) and
      Chuck Robb (D.-Va.), and led by Michael Makovsky, brother of WINEP's
      David Makovsky, who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense
      in the heyday of the Pentagon neocons from 2002 to 2006. Robb,
      incidentally, had already served as the neocons' channel into the
      2006 Iraq Study Group, chaired by former Secretary of State James
      Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton. According to Bob
      Woodward's latest book, The War Within: A Secret White House History
      2006–2008, it was Robb who insisted that the Baker-Hamilton task
      force include an option for a "surge" in Iraq.

      The report of the Coats-Robb task force – "Meeting the Challenge:
      U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development" – went far beyond the
      WINEP task force report that Lake and Rice signed off on. It
      concluded that any negotiations with Iran were unlikely to succeed
      and should, in any case, be short-lived. As the report put the
      matter, "It must be clear that any U.S.-Iranian talks will not be
      open-ended, but will be limited to a pre-determined time period so
      that Tehran does not try to 'run out the clock.'"

      Anticipating the failure of the talks, the task force (including
      Ross) urged "prepositioning military assets," coupled with a "show of
      force" in the region. This would be followed almost immediately by a
      blockade of Iranian gasoline imports and oil exports, meant to
      paralyze Iran's economy, followed by what they call,
      vaguely, "kinetic action."

      That "kinetic action" – a U.S. assault on Iran – should, in fact, be
      massive, suggested the Coats-Robb report. Besides hitting dozens of
      sites alleged to be part of Iran's nuclear research program, the
      attacks would target Iranian air defense and missile sites,
      communications systems, Revolutionary Guard facilities, key parts of
      Iran's military-industrial complex, munitions storage facilities,
      airfields, aircraft facilities, and all of Iran's naval facilities.
      Eventually, they say, the United States would also have to attack
      Iran's ground forces, electric power plants and electrical grids,
      bridges, and "manufacturing plants, including steel, autos, buses,

      This is, of course, a hair-raising scenario. Such an attack on a
      country that had committed no act of war against the United States or
      any of its allies would cause countless casualties, virtually destroy
      Iran's economy and infrastructure, and wreak havoc throughout the
      region. That such a high-level group of luminaries should even
      propose steps like these – and mean it – can only be described as
      lunacy. That an important adviser to President-elect Obama would sign
      on to such a report should be shocking, though it has received next
      to no attention.

      Palling Around with the Neocons

      At a November 6 forum at WINEP, Patrick Clawson, the erudite,
      neoconservative strategist who serves as the organization's deputy
      director for research, laid out the institute's view of how to talk
      to Iran in the Obama era. Doing so, he said, is critically important,
      but only to show the rest of the world that the United States has
      taken the last step for peace – before, of course, attacking. Then,
      and only then, will the United States have the legitimacy it needs to
      launch military action against Iran.

      "What we've got to do is to show the world that we're making a big
      deal of engaging the Iranians," he said, tossing a bone to the new
      administration. "I'd throw everything, including the kitchen sink,
      into it." He advocates this approach only because he believes it
      won't work. "The principal target with these offers [to Iran] is not
      Iran," he adds. "The principal target of these offers is American
      public opinion and world public opinion."

      The Coats-Robb report, Meeting the Challenge," was written by one of
      the hardest of Washington's neoconservative hardliners, Michael Rubin
      of the American Enterprise Institute. Rubin, who spent most of the
      years since 9/11 either working for AEI or, before and during the war
      in Iraq, for the Wolfowitz-Feith team at the Pentagon, recently
      penned a report for the Institute entitled: "Can A Nuclear Iran Be
      Deterred or Contained?" Not surprisingly, he believes the answer to
      be a resounding "no," although he does suggest that any effort to
      contain a nuclear Iran would certainly require permanent U.S. bases
      spread widely in the region, including in Iraq:

      "If U.S. forces are to contain the Islamic Republic, they will
      require basing not only in GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries,
      but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.
      Without a sizeable regional presence, the Pentagon will not be able
      to maintain the predeployed resources and equipment necessary to
      contain Iran, and Washington will signal its lack of commitment to
      every ally in the region. Because containment is as much
      psychological as physical, basing will be its backbone."

      The Coats-Robb report was issued by a little-known group called the
      Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). That organization, too, turns out to
      be interwoven with WINEP, not least because its foreign policy
      director is Michael Makovsky. Perhaps the most troubling participant
      in the Bipartisan Policy Center is Barack Obama's éminence grise and
      one of his most important advisers during the campaign, Tom Daschle,
      who is slated to be his secretary of health and human services. So
      far, Daschle has not repudiated BPC's provocative report.

      Ross, along with Richard Holbrooke, recently made appearances amid
      another collection of superhawks who came together to found a new
      organization, United Against Nuclear Iran. UANI is led by Mark
      Wallace, the husband of Nicole Wallace, a key member of Senator John
      McCain's campaign team. Among UANI's leadership team are Ross and
      Holbrooke, along with such hardliners as Jim Woolsey, the former
      director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Fouad Ajami, the
      Arab-American scholar who is a principal theorist on Middle East
      policy for the neoconservative movement.

      UANI is primarily a propaganda outfit. Its mission, it says, is
      to "inform the public about the nature of the Iranian regime,
      including its desire and intent to possess nuclear weapons, as well
      as Iran's role as a state sponsor of global terrorism, and a major
      violator of human rights at home and abroad" and to "heighten
      awareness nationally and internationally about the danger that a
      nuclear-armed Iran poses to the region and the world."

      Barack Obama has, of course, repeatedly declared his intention to
      embark on a different path by opening talks with Iran. He's insisted
      that diplomacy, not military action, will be at the core of his
      approach to Tehran. During the election campaign, however, he also
      stated no less repeatedly that he will not take the threat of
      military action "off the table."

      Organizations like WINEP, AIPAC, AEI, BPC, and UANI see it as their
      mission to push the United States toward a showdown with Iran. Don't
      sell them short. Those who believe that such a confrontation would be
      inconceivable under President Obama ought to ask Tony Lake, Susan
      Rice, Dennis Ross, Tom Daschle, and Richard Holbrooke whether they
      agree – and, if so, why they're still palling around with
      neoconservative hardliners.

      Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com, is
      the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of
      Victory Culture, has recently been updated in a newly issued edition.
      He edited, and his work appears in, the first best of TomDispatch
      book, The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of
      Empire (Verso), which is being published this month. A brief video in
      which Engelhardt discusses American mega-bases in Iraq can be viewed
      by clicking here. Robert Dreyfuss, an independent journalist in
      Alexandria, Virginia, is a contributing editor at the Nation
      magazine, whose website hosts his The Dreyfuss Report, and has
      written frequently for Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, Mother
      Jones, and the Washington Monthly. He is the author of Devil's Game:
      How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.



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