Is Iran Policy Still Up for Grabs?
- 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
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
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 19901991 and 20032008, 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
20062008, 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
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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