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April 19, 2006

Iran War Drumbeat Has a Familiar Rhythm


by Bill Berkowitz

The drumbeat in some Washington foreign policy circles for "regime change" in Iran has striking similarities to the run-up to the Iraq invasion, and is being led by some of the usual suspects – like the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Ledeen.

Though not well-known outside of Washington, Ledeen's "views virtually define the stark departure from American foreign policy philosophy that existed before the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001," Pacific News Service's William Beeman commented in May 2003. "He basically believes that violence in the service of the spread of democracy is America's manifest destiny. Consequently, he has become the philosophical legitimator of the American occupation of Iraq."

Regardless of what Ledeen thinks of conflict in the Middle East, Iran has been in the George W. Bush administration's sights for quite some time. Administration officials, and some members of the European Union, have warned that conflict with Iran over its nuclear program may be inevitable, particularly in light of the announcement last week that Iran had managed to perfect the uranium enrichment process.

In its recent National Security Strategy, the White House placed Iran squarely in its crosshairs. How U.S. policy toward Tehran will play itself out remains to be seen, but economic sanctions and/or the use of military force appear to be very much on the table.

If the unfolding scenario visa via Iran seems familiar, that's because, well… it is familiar.

While the run-up to a possible military strike against Iran doesn't directly mirror the run-up to the war on Iraq, there are a number of similarities.

Like Iraq, right-wing think tanks and administration-connected neoconservatives are pushing for regime change. As during the run-up to the war on Iraq, administration officials are claiming that an Iranian-developed nuclear program could threaten the U.S.

Competing Iranian exile groups and leaders are vying for the attention and financial support of the administration. Information from some of these groups – like much of what was provided by Iraq's Pentagon-designated exile-in-chief, Ahmed Chalabi – has been less than stellar. There have been policy disagreements within the administration as to how to proceed. And now, there's "show and tell" at the UN Security Council.

The Nobel Prize-winning head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, remembers very well those politically and emotionally charged days at the United Nations before the war in Iraq.

At a recent forum in Doha, the capital of Qatar, ElBaradei told the audience that the international community should "steer away from threats of sanctions against Iran," saying the country's nuclear program was not "an imminent threat" and the time had come to "lower the pitch" of debate.

ElBaradei's conciliatory remarks in Qatar followed on the heels of a late-March agreement by the UN Security Council to give Iran a month to comply with requests by the IAEA, the UN's nuclear watchdog, that it halt uranium enrichment.

"There is no military solution to this situation," said ElBaradei. "It's inconceivable. The only durable solution is a negotiated solution."

Three years after the invasion of Iraq, many of the most prominent neoconservative hawks that promoted the ill-conceived war have moved away from the spotlight.

Not Michael Ledeen, who, for a huge chunk of his professional life, has been out to remake the world. Ledeen, who used to work at the Pentagon, the State Department, and the National Security Council, was deeply involved in the transfer of arms to Iran during the Iran-Contra affair.

A resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank, Ledeen recently told Raw Story's Larisa Alexandrovna that the invasion of Iraq was the "Wrong war, wrong time, wrong way, wrong place."

Ledeen's interest, as it has been for a number of years, is "regime change" in Iran.

In a conversation with The New Yorker's Connie Bruck, Ledeen indicated that back in 2001 and 2002, "when he pressed the case for Iran with friends in the administration, he had support from some officials in the Pentagon and in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney."

According to Ledeen, however, administration officials felt that "the road to Tehran lies through Baghdad."

The New Yorker notes that, "Ledeen has been predicting for many years that Iran is on the verge of popular revolution, which only requires some outside help to become a reality."

A few years ago, he was brash enough to tell a group of Iranian expatriates in Los Angeles, where some 600,000 exiles live: "I have contacts in Iran, fighting the regime. They need funds. Give me 20 million, and you'll have your revolution."

In a National Review online (NRO) post dated March 28, Ledeen stepped up his criticism of the Bush administration, charging it with being asleep at the wheel with regards to the Iranian threat.

Ledeen claimed that the administration had "done nothing to make the mullahs' lives more difficult, even though there is abundant evidence for Iranian involvement in Iraq, most including their relentless efforts to kill American soldiers."

If the White House was serious about spreading democracy, "We would be actively supporting democratic revolution in Iran," Ledeen wrote. While it's true that Secretary Rice "went to Congress to ask for an extra 75 million dollars to 'support democracy' in Iran … the small print shows that the first 50 million dollars will go to the toothless tigers at the Voice of America and other official American broadcasters, which is to say to State Department employees," he added.

Ledeen recommended that the U.S. "take action against Iran and its half-brother Syria, for the carnage they have unleashed against us and the Iraqis. We know in detail the location of terrorist training camps run by the Iranian and Syrian terror masters; we should strike at them, and at the bases run by Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards as staging points for terrorist sorties into Iraq."

"We could even expand the agenda from Iraqi matters to the real issue: we could negotiate their departure, and then turn to the organization of national referenda on the form of free governments, and elections to empower the former victims of a murderous and fanatical tyranny that has deluded itself into believing that it is invincible."

ElBaradei's assessment of the current situation with Iran is based less on ideology and more on his work in the field. After UN inspectors didn't find any signs of a nuclear arms program in Iraq, that finding was ignored by the Bush administration.

The intervening years, however, proved that the IAEA got it right when it determined that Saddam Hussein did not possess any of the alleged weaponry, or any programs to create it.

"I work on facts," ElBaradei said in remarks reported by Reuters. "We fortunately were proven right in Iraq, we were the only ones that said at the time that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons, and I hope this time people will listen to us."

 

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Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column ”Conservative Watch” documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories, and defeats of the U.S. Right.

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