For several weeks now, Washington has been abuzz
with rumors that U.S. President George W. Bush is preparing to attack nuclear
and other sites in Iran this spring rumors deemed sufficiently credible
that lawmakers from both parties are hastily preparing legislation precisely
to prevent such an eventuality.
The evidence cannot be ignored.
As cited by former CIA officer Philip
Giraldi in the most recent edition of American Conservative, Bush's
charges that Iran is supplying bombs to Shi'ite militias to kill U.S. soldiers
in Iraq; the seizure by U.S. forces of Iranian diplomatic and intelligence officials
there; the deployment of two aircraft carrier groups with a flotilla of minesweepers
to the Gulf; the supply of Patriot antimissile batteries to Washington's allies
in the region; the unprecedented appointment of a navy admiral and former combat
pilot as the head of Central Command; the "surge" of as many as 40,000
troops into Iraq; persistent reports of U.S. covert operations inside Iran
all suggest that Washington is preparing for a military confrontation, and soon.
No one doubts that the administration has developed detailed plans for attacking
Iran and is certainly putting in place a formidable armada that, if so ordered,
has the means to carry out those plans without delay.
But if indeed a decision has already been made, it appears that the faction
that led the pro-war propaganda offensive in the run-up to the Iraq invasion
and that has long favored "regime change" in Iraq the neoconservatives
has either not been clued in, or more likely, believes that any such
attack is still some time off, if it takes place at all.
It is not that the neocons don't favor war with Iran if diplomatic and other
means fail to achieve either regime change or, at the very least, Tehran's abandonment
of its nuclear program.
The group, whose views on the Middle East generally span those of Israel's
Likud Party and the extreme right, has long warned that a nuclear-armed Iran
is, in Bush's words, "unacceptable" and that military means to prevent
that outcome must be used if all other means fail.
"The only way to forestall an Iranian nuke," wrote Joshua Muravchik,
a leading neocon polemicist at the American Enterprise Institute in this month's
Foreign Service Journal, ..".is by military strikes to cripple the
regime's nuclear program."
It is, rather, more the fact that the neocons, who helped lead the yearlong
propaganda campaign to rally the country behind the invasion of Iraq in March
2003 with an admirable single-mindedness and urgency, appear far less focused
on Iran, at least for the moment. If an attack on Iran is on the near-term agenda,
the neoconservatives have been decidedly off-message.
The contrast with the run-up to the Iraq war is instructive.
For a full year or more before the March 2003 invasion, the neocons and their
major media outlets notably, the Weekly Standard, the National
Review Online, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the New
York Post, and Fox News kept up a virtually daily drumbeat of op-ed
articles, television appearances, and selective leaks by their confreres within
the administration with only one aim in mind: to persuade the public that Saddam
Hussein represented such a threat that he could only be dealt with by military
As the invasion drew near, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the movement's
de facto headquarters, drew scores of reporters to its weekly "black coffee
briefings," where such neocon worthies as Weekly Standard editor
William Kristol, then-Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, former CIA
director James Woolsey, and Iraq National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi held
forth on the evils of the Ba'athist regime and the regional implications of
the forthcoming "liberation" of the Iraq people.
Carefully orchestrated and coordinated with their comrades in the offices of
Vice President Dick Cheney and former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, neocons
were able to create a powerful media "echo chamber" that, by late
2002, centered entirely on Iraq, and the necessity of going to war, to the exclusion
of almost everything else.
Their discipline and focus on Iraq four years ago has been nowhere in evidence
with respect to Iran over the past month. Judging by their writings and television
appearances, they have seemed far more concerned with the growing public and
Congressional pressure to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and prevent
Bush from adding more forces there.
That has been the overriding preoccupation of Kristol's Weekly Standard,
National Review Online and the Wall Street Journal's editorial
page. Article after article has assailed turncoat Republicans, as well as "defeatist"
Democrats, for opposing the surge. AEI has held four briefings on Iraq compared
to only one on Iran in the past two months.
Despite the sharply rising tensions between Iran and the U.S. over the past
month, for example, the lead editorials of the last four issues of the Standard
always a reliable indication of neocon priorities were all devoted
to rallying lawmakers behind the surge.
That doesn't mean that Iran is not a major concern and ultimate target
for the neocons. Indeed, the cover story of this week's Standard, entitled
Obsession with the Jews: Denying the Holocaust, Desiring Another One,"
shows no hesitation in building up the case for eventual war against Tehran.
But the same issue ran yet another story that illustrates the relative lack
of urgency for war: "Sanctions
Against Iran Would Work," it was entitled, although its subtitle, "Too
Bad They Won't Be Tried," hinted at the inevitability of war.
Nonetheless, to the extent that neocons, and their allies in the right-wing
"Israel Lobby," are addressing themselves to Iran policy at the moment,
expanding and enforcing sanctions, rather than imminent war, appears to be the
Indeed, AEI fellows and fixtures in its "black coffee briefings"
four years ago, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt, just published an article
this week on precisely this theme in the Financial Times: "How
the West Can Avert War With Iran."
Similarly, television ads by the neoconservative American Foreign Policy Council
running on the major cable television networks in the Washington D.C. area at
the moment warn the viewer about Iran's nuclear program, its status as "the
world's largest state sponsor of terrorism," and its president's alleged
Holocaust denial and threats to "wipe Israel off the map." But they
conclude with the relatively anodyne exhortation: "Call the White House
and tell them to enforce sanctions against Iran today." Not exactly what
one would expect on the eve of a military attack.
This tack may simply be a ruse to lull antiwar forces into complacency. Or
it may reflect a fear that, given their record on Iraq, beating the drums for
war with Iran may prove counterproductive (although AEI has not hesitated to
take credit for the "surge" option). Or it may indicate that prominent
neocons have somehow lost touch with the hawks in the White House and Cheney's
office who are now determined to go to attack Iran this spring.
But it may also reflect the neocons' assessment, based no doubt on inside information,
that Bush who spoke about U.S. policy on Afghanistan at AEI Thursday
intends to let the diplomatic game play out a little longer, perhaps
as long as another year, before deciding to attack.
(Inter Press Service)