Two very different messages about the future of
U.S. foreign policy were broadcast to the world on Inaugural Day Thursday, and
listeners everywhere could be forgiven for feeling confused about their import.
On the one hand, George W. Bush's lofty rhetoric about his administration's
commitment to bring democracy, liberty and freedom to every country where tyrants
rule naturally grabbed the most attention; after all, he is the president.
Even as the speech was much criticized by normally friendly critics –
probably more than the White House had anticipated – as being hopelessly
ambitious and unrealistic, the idealism that it expressed was widely praised
On the other hand, Vice Pres. Dick Cheney's dark words of warning against Iran
on MSNBC's "Imus in the Morning" television show conveyed something
altogether different, both in tone and substance, even if they were relegated
to the inside pages.
"You look around the world at potential trouble spots, (and) Iran is right
at the top of the list," the vice president intoned, noting that Washington's
chief concern with Tehran had less to do with democracy or even terrorism but
rather with its "fairly robust new nuclear program."
And while Cheney stressed that Washington still hoped Europe's efforts to persuade
Tehran to abandon any ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon would succeed, he
grimly observed that Israel might well decide to attack Iran's nuclear facilities,
presumably before the Bush administration, "and let the rest of the world
worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards."
"We don't want a war in the Middle East, if we can avoid it," he
concluded as cheerfully as he could – at least until he was caught up short
by the cowboy-hatted Imus, who reminded him that the U.S. already has a war
To former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, Cheney's remarks sounded
"like a justification or even an encouragement for the Israelis" to
carry out an attack.
He noted that, coinciding with Bush's idealistic address, they underlined that
the administration was "really very unclear regarding its genuine strategic
For neoconservatives, who have long used the velvet glove of pro-democracy
rhetoric to hide the steel fist of what has consistently been a U.S.- and Israel-centered
Machtpolitik, Cheney's warning came as the perfect topper to Bush's inaugural
speech, much of which was borrowed from right-wing Israeli leader Natan Sharansky's
new book, The
Case for Democracy.
After biting their tongue about making Iran the next target of U.S. military
power after Iraq through most of 2004 so as not to jeopardize Bush's re-election,
they have been noisily pushing Tehran as the chief candidate for Public Enemy
Number One in Bush's second term.
Just the day before the inaugural, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol,
who doubles as chairman of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC),
had told an audience at the neoconservative Hudson Institute that the administration
considered Iran to be a much bigger threat than North Korea.
"I don't think George W. Bush thinks he got re-elected to preside over
the theocratic regime getting nuclear weapons," he confidently asserted,
although he also admitted that there were "big practical questions"
as to how to stop it.
Both Cheney's and Kristol's remarks followed the publication earlier in the
week of a much-noted
article in the New Yorker magazine by prize-winning investigative
reporter Seymour Hersh, which maintained that Washington has been infiltrating
Special Operations Forces (SOFs) into Iran from Iraq and Pakistan since last
summer precisely to seek out Tehran's secret nuclear facilities and other weapons
targets in preparation for possible combined air and ground strikes.
The article, which the Pentagon said was "riddled with errors" that
it declined to further identify, also reported that Undersecretary of Defense
Douglas Feith, whose Middle East views accord closely with Israel's extreme
right and whose office is widely blamed for corrupting the intelligence process
leading up to the Iraq war, has been working with Israeli planners and consultants
on a target list.
It asserted that he and other hard-liners in the Pentagon, Cheney's office
and the White House fervently believe that a major military blow against Tehran
will topple the regime.
"The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered,
and with it the ability to hoodwink the West," one unnamed Pentagon consultant
told Hersh, "the Iranian regime will collapse" like the regimes in
Romania, East Germany and the Soviet Union because of popular hatred for the
Hersh's article was greeted with unrestrained joy by neoconservative publications,
such as the New York Sun, the New York Post and the Jerusalem
Post, as evidence that the administration, hopelessly split over Iran policy
during the Bush's first term largely because of the State Department's and the
CIA's desire to gain Tehran's cooperation on Afghanistan and Iraq, has finally
opted for confrontation.
For regional specialists, such as Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University,
however, both the Hersh article and Cheney's grim mutterings are "deja
vu all over again."
"In Iraq, we listened to the exiles who said we'd be greeted with flowers
and candies so it would be 'cakewalk,' but it turned out not to be quite that
way," said Sick, who served on the National Security Council under former
President Jimmy Carter and later wrote a book, All
Fall Down, about U.S. policy in Iran.
"I can't believe there are people who want to repeat that process now,"
Sick and other regional specialists insist that the assumptions apparently
being made by administration hawks about the nature of the government, its goals
in Iraq, and how a U.S. or Israeli military strike would affect internal Iranian
politics are all deeply flawed.
"The ramifications of a military strike are going to be all negative,"
according to Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst now at the Brookings Institution,
who supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He said it would likely rally the population
behind the regime and provoke serious retaliation both in Iraq and beyond.
Even the "big practical questions" acknowledged by Kristol represent
formidable hurdles to ensuring the destruction of Iran's ability to build a
bomb, according to Pollack. Anticipating Cheney, he asserted at a Council on
Foreign Relations (CFR) forum last week that "we would all like the Israelis
to take care of this problem, (but) they can't."
Central and eastern Iran, where most of the facilities are believed to be situated,
is beyond the range of their fighter jets. So in order to reach their targets,
the bombers would have to fly over U.S.-occupied Iraq, thus making Washington
Worse, "(a)ny bombing raid that tries to take out so many sites will be
of no value unless it's followed up on the ground," Sick told IPS.
"My guess is that neither Cheney nor anyone around him really looks forward
to putting boots on the ground in Iran."
Moreover, while there is "quite a lot of real respect for the United States
and for Bush in Iran today, if there were an American attack, all of that would
just vanish overnight," he said, pressing a more hopeful view of Cheney's
and the administration's intentions.
"I think this is actually a campaign to intimidate Iran," he said.
"It's holding out a palpable threat that if you don't cooperate this is
what is going to happen to you."
(Inter Press Service)