Key Neocons Giving Up on Iran Attack?

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While hard-line neo-conservatives associated with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Commentary, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page (See Bret Stephens column, “The NIE Fantasy”) continue to rage against last week’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, two key — if more pragmatic — movement leaders appear to now be resigned to the fact that, barring a particularly provocative move by Tehran, the Bush administration is highly unlikely to carry out an attack against Iran before its term expires.

I hope to write an article about this development for IPS in the coming days, but Robert Kagan’s column, “Time to talk to Iran,” which appeared in the Washington Post last Wednesday (but which I read only over the weekend as I was catching up with a two-week accumulation of newspapers), marks a major turning point in the debate over Iran policy. Not only does he state flatly, “[t]he Bush administration cannot take military action against Iran during its remaining time in office, or credibly threaten to do so, unless it is in response to an extremely provocative Iranian action,’’ but he goes on to argue that there is now ‘’a good case for negotiations” on a range of issues, including those which Iran offered to talk about in April-May, 2003 (to which, however, he does not allude). In other words, Robert Kagan, co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, believes it’s worth testing the notion that a “grand bargain” is possible. He’s not happy about it, but that’s his conclusion.

While his PNAC co-founder, Bill Kristol, doesn’t go nearly as far in embracing the notion of negotiations with Tehran, his lead editorial in the latest edition of the Weekly Standard, “What Happened in 2003?”, offers a mixture both of indignation against the NIE and resignation that it marks the end of the chances for a U.S. attack on Iran before Bush’s term expires. Bush’s task over the next year, he argues, is to try to restore U.S. credibility — including military credibility — by achieving “victory” in Iraq. Here’s the last paragraph:

“The complete and unequivocal defeat of al Qaeda and of Iranian-backed proxies in Iraq is the best way to show Iran that the United States is a serious power to be reckoned with in the region. Resisting the temptation to throw away success in Iraq by drawing down too fast or too deep is the greatest service this president can render his successor. Only if Bush wins in Iraq will the next president have a reasonable chance to defeat the threat of a nuclear-weapons-seeking Islamic Republic of Iran.”

So Kristol appears to have given up — however reluctantly (Remember, it was his publication which featured Kimberley Kagan’s piece late last summer that lay the groundwork for a military attack on Iran based on its alleged interference in Iraq) — on the idea of a military attack on Iran in the next year.

Kristol and Kagan have obviously been the leading lights of the — for lack of a better word — “moderate” wing of the neo-conservative movement since the mid-1990s when they co-authored their influential article, “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy” in Foreign Affairs and went on to found PNAC the following year. Unlike neo-con hardliners like Norman Podhoretz or Richard Perle and his numerous proteges — some of whom, like Danielle Pletka and Frank Gaffney and Podhoretz himself, have all but accused the NIE’s authors of deliberate deception — scattered around Washington, the two have generally been less wedded to the views of former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. For example, while the hardliners opposed former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza, Kristol and Kagan lined up behind Sharon, even when he deserted Likud to form Kadima.

Of the two columns, Kagan’s is, of course, the more notable, simply because he believes Washington has no choice at this point but to engage with Iran in a way that the administration until now has never considered. That Kagan has been close to Elliott Abrams since they worked together in the State Department back in the 1980s makes his latest position — which now approaches that of Americans for Peace Now (which called this week for unconditional U.S. engagement with Iran) — all the more remarkable.

Kagan’s advice has also been echoed in recent days by two other influential voices identified with or previously embraced by the neo-conservative movement. In a column in the Washington Times today. Roll Call columnist Morton Kondracke called for Bush to “drop his objections to direct talks with the Iranians,” even while he insisted that Washington should continue to push for more sanctions against Tehran. He still sounds very hawkish on Iran but appears to have given up on the idea that Bush will take military action against Iran, arguing, ‘’the question of whether to go to war …is gone.” Over the weekend, British historian Niall Ferguson, whose neo-imperial views have long been embraced by the neo-conservatives, explicitly agreed in his Financial Times column with Kagan’s analysis — that “the time may well have arrived to rethink US policy towards Iran,” although he thinks “it just is not in this president’s nature to beat his sword into a plowshare” and that, in any event, “it seems doubtful the Iranians would take such a volte-face seriously.” He goes on to call for Bush’s successor to offer Tehran “a grand bargain” — economic assistance and diplomatic rapprochement for a renunciation of nuclear weapons and terrorism.” He thinks John McCain is the candidate who could best pull that off.

Author: Jim Lobe

Visit for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service's Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

27 thoughts on “Key Neocons Giving Up on Iran Attack?”

  1. The neocons probably see that negotiations with Iran are inevitable and if they want a seat at the table they better change their tune now. Also if they want to disrupt those negotiations having one of their own on the team is a good way to go. I think of Abrams undermining Rice in her efforts to negotiate the IP peace process or how Dennis Ross, the agent from AIPAC, scuttled the Camp David meetings between Barak and Arafat.

  2. Oh, the bitter disappointment of it all. Just when the neocons were gearing up for another glorious, gratuitous war, the latest NIE lets them down. Now they’ll have to rely on old Iraq recordings of bereaved parents’ and newly minted orphans’ wailing to sate their bloodlust, rather than fresh material from Iran.

  3. this is what iraq should have felt like in 03. we would have had whining neo cons and a real NIE.

    I don’t think anyone told the non ron paul GOP candidates about the new neo position on iran. they are floundering around with the old one as of yesterday

  4. If even some neocons see the folly of war on Iran, it’s time to press for a withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. Both wars are draining our military and lowering our readiness.

    We have commitments in Korea and the Balkans. We really cannot afford the adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq any more. Attrition–psychological, physical, and economic–is very real, and can eat away at a country’s military until it is a hollow shell.

    Today, real patriots are calling for withdrawal from these two disastrous wars. Will both countries erupt in violence when we leave? In all probability, they will. We are, however, only postponing the inevitable.

    Don’t let the debate about Iran be used to sow resignation to the Iraq mission.

  5. They “wage wars by way of deception”!

    Two steps forward, one step backward, in the deadly dance of the tarantula.

    The fundamentals have been clear for a while – “full spectrum dominance”. The tactics will vary depending on what else is happening on the “Grand Chessboards”.

    Deception is also the cornerstone, nay the hallmark, of the Straussian world of the neo-cons where “Noble Lies” to achieve any end is the quintessential ‘ubermenschen’ morality!

    So please be not deceived! And try not deceive others either by repeating ad nauseum what the neo-cons are tactically saying at any given minute, without also reminding us of their long term agendas. Neo-cons are merely the tip of the iceberg of an ’empire’ hell bent on “imperial mobilization” since the days of George Kennan – see his PPS 23 from 1948, a tiny excerpt below:

    “We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population …. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming, and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction …. We should cease to talk about vague and – for the Far East – unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

    What has changed since? Only tactical manueverings on the Grand Chessboards.

    Thus war on Iran is very much on! Followed by the war on Pakistan.

    The only way to deflect it, is not by what the neo-clowns are saying any given minute, but by a real MAD detente on the Grand Chessboard! It is the only viable realpolitik solution for world peace when some portion of the world has been occupied by a handful of ‘hectoring hegemons’.

    Thank you.


    1. Bravo Zahir

      A passage from “The Taking of Tigert Hall” is appropriate here:

      “We felt that we could take back our government from the vested interests that controlled it. We still had a quasi-independent press, not yet totally subservient and owned by corporate America, to help us achieve lofty goals… It is very hard if not near impossible for the students of today to comprehend the mood and determination that existed on American campuses of the late sixties… But of course we lived in a fundamentally different world, one in which the influence of the Soviet Union and Mao Tse-tung’s China were pervasive in international relations. The existence of a semblance of balance of power in the world was more conducive to healthy debate. The constant possibility of confrontation if not conflict with another major world power gave cause for reflection. Mutual Assured Destruction or MAD was the supreme creed of cold war catechism as both sides built more and more nuclear warheads along with a multitude of delivery systems… It would have been as impossible for us back then to imagine the collapse of the Socialist Bloc, the global hegemony achieved by the U.S., the amalgamation of the press under the aegis of corporate America, or the frivolous mindless consumerism and apathy that would so totally impregnate the character of the majority of today’s old and young.”

      Since a “Sword of Damocles” hung over their heads, the Staussians had to reign in their lust for dominance. A unipolar world has proven a calamity for 99% of humanity. But it seems that Vladimir Putin may restablish MAD “detente”.

    2. I so agree, Zahir. Also, reading Kennan’s 1948 remarks made me tremble, with shame and with trepidation.

      1. Peace, according to the late Che Guevara, the true revolutionary is one who trembles with indignation whenever and wherever an injustice is committed. You have a beautiful mind.

  6. The World has moved on – without us. The “indispenable nation” is now just a dangerous crank; molified if necessary, avoided at all cost. Iran is going ahead with their oil bourse where dollars are unwelcome. Latin America and the Far East are working out their own financial and trade agreements where you know who is not invited. The European Union is still somewhat loyal; like old friends of an outrageous fool, loyal but hoping not to be seen in public in tandem. Our enormous debts will be paid to our ruin. We blew it! It is almost all gone – reputation and wealth – blown on promoting our narcisstic empire and trying to ram rapacious Zionism down the World’s throat. I hope at least that we don’t now try to toady our way back to respectability by “negociating” (the World can be so cruel to bullies on bended knee).

  7. Persons attempting to find any frankness in the scribblings of Kagan or Kristol will be prosecuted; persons attempting
    to find anything supportive of US interests in them will be banished; persons predicting that the neo-connivers are throwing in the towel will be lobotomized.

  8. Since the US is so bad why don’t we just scrap our whole military. Let the Muslims have militaries,since they don’t want to hurt anyone. The US, England, France, Australia and all of these wicked imperialistic nations should just give up their arms and allow the Muslims to have all the power so they can bring true peace and brotherhood to the world.

    1. Tim R,
      “Scrapping our whole military” is not necessary – we just don’t need to have one that is more expensive than all of the other countries’ militaries combined. Our bullying reliance upon our supposed military strength has lead to our downfall. And it is not just in our insane Israel-First foreign policies in the Mid East, look at what morons we are acting like at the climate conference in Bali. Who did we send as delegates? Rush Limbaugh ditto-heads instead of scientists? For God’s sake we have Presidential candidates that publically denounce the Theory of Evolution. Tell me again how Islamic fundamentalism clouds Arabs’ thinking. What purpose did we accomplish by p-ssing off Russia with our cockamanie missile deployments planned for the Czech Republic and Poland?
      America is acting the fool on the World’s stage and our role will be short, I fear.

      1. Ditto. Perhaps if America’s first response to every conflict of interest wasn’t to threaten war then it might get a good deal more cooperation from the international community. Of course, America doesn’t want diplomatically induced cooperation, since this gives the target states an unacceptable degree of latitude in setting policy. When you’ve got a stupidly large hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

      2. Richard Vajs,

        You are exactly right, I could not agree with you more on the climate change issue, the Bush Administration is making us look rather silly by not taking the lead on this matter and by trying to obstruct those nations who want to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

        However, on the military front, I am actually very happy that we have the most powerful military in the world, call me ethnocentric and jingoistic if you will, but I’m not ashamed of it. As for allies, we have plenty of allies. England and Austalia have been historic and great allies and they still are. Canada as well has fought alongside us in Afghanistan. In Germany, Merckel has been supportive and the new French President, Sarkozy has been a great defender and supporter of the United States.

        1. Ok, Tim R., you’re ethnocentric and jingoistic. By the way, if America had the power and influence of, say, Switzerland, would you still love it? Or do you just get orgasmic about America because it has a huge military?

          The idea of a military designed merely for self-defense is an idea long dead in America. Warmongering is the activity of the day, an speaking against it is treason. There’s practically nothing about modern America our founders would recognize.

  9. Bush refers to himself as “the Decider”, the implication being that he is in a position to control, absolutely, the events in the real world (where *most* people live; but he, apparently, does not.)

    This is at least an illusion (see: )
    if not a florid *delusion* indicative of insanity.

    Similarly, what is, apparently, ignored by the writer of this article is that the Iranians as well as the Israelis also have a vote in this matter.

    It seems to be implied that, if merely the Neo-cons have given up on an attack against Iran, there will *be* no attack.

    But this ignores both the Iranians and the Israelis.

    And, in the event that the United States ‘decides’ against an attack, it may very well be anyone’s guess whether it is Iran or Israel who disagrees strongly enough to take the matter into their own hands first.

    Michael Cecil

  10. How can US offer Iranians an “economic assistance” when America itself is in dire need of it? In any case, Iran has won the battle of wills. Pure and simple.

  11. ..

    Remember the phrase,”absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event––like a new Pearl Harbor”?

    Consider Mr. Kagan’s current choice of words, “unless it is in response to an extremely provocative Iranian action.”

    Can you say False Flag?

    I knew you could.


    1. Well said RichardM.

      Expect a fabrication of the Gulf of Tonkin genre from these master fabricators.

  12. making the mideast safe for Israel has been an unmitigated disaster for the neocons, america and israel. looks good on the phoney bastards. i won’t be happy until kagan, podhoretz, perle, kristol, abrams et al are arrested and put behind bars for sedition.

  13. Excuse me.

    Since when have Dick Cheney and the Israelis died?

    If not, the Iran war is still on. Israel’s top general said yesterday that Israel must prepare for war with Iran if nobody stops Iran from developing nukes.

    And of course, nobody will because Iran isn’t developing nukes.

    So Israel will attack Iran – if they want that $30 billion arms package Cheney promised them for doing so. Cheney needs them to do this so as to avoid the blow back from the Congress (such as it is) and the public when the Iran war goes badly – as he knows it will. He doesn’t care as long as US troops get into Khuzestan province and get the oil. But he does care that the Republicans and neocons don’t go through all that Iraq recrimination all over again. So he needs Israel to take the blame by starting the war.

  14. I would expect further defamations in the mainstream media against the intelligence agencies which generated the recent intelligence report. You just know that is what the Zionist controlled media will do. Agencies like the CIA are no angels but they have just done America and the world a huge favor. Let’s hope more spokes get stuck in the Zionists bicycle wheel.

  15. they are down but not out. with cheney still in office, they will come up with something. mr lobe cites two guys who are kind of giving up but the crazies have not. Frank Gaffney, Michaell Ledeen , Dennis Prager, are beside themselves with sorrow. they won’t let this stand.

  16. Quite why there is so much importance being devoted to the apparent, though most likely only temporary, thwarting of the war plans of these neo-confidence tricksters beats me… This is nothing more than wishful thinking – not unlike the sigh of relief that accompanied the 2006 mid-term elections. Have the Democrats delivered on their promise to end the Iraq occupation? Has the war funding dried up. Has Guantanamo been closed, or the Military Commissions Act been repealed? There is NO evidence to suggest the administration has ceased its push for yet another illegal war of aggression, nor that the next will abandon it all together. America has been on the path to acquire global supremacy for a hundred years. CIA orchestrated coups and the use of the U.S. military to ensure that the world’s resources are reserved for American Corporations, regardless of how many innocent civilians are killed or displaced, are as American as apple pie. It’s what puts cheap gas in your tanks, cheap food on your table, and sweat shop goods in Wal-Mart.

    The world comes together to try to off-set the effects of climate change – too little too late in my opinion. America’s response? $100 million for a new space plane that can deliver a 12,000 pound bomb anywhere in the world in two hours. America does not belong to its people. It never has. Stop wasting time searching the outpourings of the mainstream media for the slightest sign that the madness is over. It isn’t. And it won’t be until the world is destroyed or America is finally reduced to irrelevance by its collapsing economy, ridiculous military spending, and new global trade and security alliances to which America is not invited.

    1. Gee, Trisha. I was with you until your last sentence, and so appreciate your telling it like it is. If SB1955, severely criminalizing our thoughts, is passed, and the refusal of MSM to even discuss its implications or our anger about the House’s overwhelmingly passing Jane Harmon’s (Rand Corp.) endorsed bill, then, yeah, that’s the way it’s going to be over. Halliburton jails weren’t built for nothing.

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