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April 14, 2006

Neocons Turn Up Heat for Iran Attack

by Jim Lobe

Led by a familiar clutch of neoconservative hawks, major right-wing publications are calling on the administration of President George W. Bush to urgently plan for military strikes – and possibly a wider war – against Iran in the wake of its announcement this week that it has successfully enriched uranium to a purity necessary to fuel nuclear reactors.

In a veritable blitz of editorials and opinion pieces published Wednesday and Thursday, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, and National Review warned that Tehran had passed a significant benchmark in what they declared was its quest for nuclear weapons and that the administration must now plan in earnest to destroy Iran's known nuclear facilities, as well as possible military targets, to prevent it from retaliating.

Comparing Iran's alleged push to gain a nuclear weapon to Adolf Hitler's 1936 march on the Rhineland, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol called for undertaking "serious preparation for possible military action – including real and urgent operational planning for bombing strikes and for the consequences of such strikes."

"[A] great nation has to be serious about its responsibilities," according to Kristol, a leading neoconservative champion of the Iraq war and co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, "even if executing other responsibilities has been more difficult than one would have hoped."

National Review, another prominent right-wing weekly, echoed the call. "Any air campaign should … be coupled with aggressive and persistent efforts to topple the regime from within," advised its lead editorial, entitled "Iran, Now," and almost certainly written by Michael Ledeen of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

"Accordingly, it should hit not just the nuclear facilities, but also the symbols of state oppression: the intelligence ministry, the headquarters of the Revolutionary Guard, the guard towers of the notorious Evin Prison."

The hawks' latest campaign appeared timed not only to exploit the alarm created by Iran's nuclear achievement and by a spate of reports last weekend regarding the advanced state of U.S. war plans, but also to counter new appeals by a number of prominent and more mainstream former policymakers for Washington to engage Iran in direct negotiations.

The Financial Times Wednesday published a column by Richard Haass, president of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations and a top adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell during Bush's first term, in which he called for Washington to make "a fair and generous diplomatic offer" to Iran that would permit it to retain a small uranium enrichment program, if for no other reason than to rally international opinion behind the U.S. in the event rejects it.

Arguing that the "likely costs of carrying out such an attack substantially outweigh probable benefits," Haass noted that "the most dangerous delusion [among those who support military action] is that a conflict would be either small or quick."

On Thursday, he was joined by Powell's deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, who, in an interview with the Financial Times, also called for direct talks.

"It merits talking to the Iranians about the full range of our relationship … everything from energy to terrorism to weapons to Iraq," said Armitage, who is considered a strong candidate to take over the Pentagon if Donald Rumsfeld resigns or is forced out.

"We can be diplomatically astute enough to do it without giving anything away," he added, noting that Washington could be patient "for a while" given the estimated five to 10 years the U.S. intelligence community believes it will take before Tehran can obtain a nuclear weapon.

Such statements are anathema to the hawks, who have long depicted any move to engage Iran as equivalent to the appeasement policies toward Hitler of France and Britain in the run-up to World War II.

"Is the America of 2006 more willing to thwart the unacceptable than the France of 1936?" asked the title of Kristol's editorial, which, despite the reports of advanced Pentagon planning that included even the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons against hardened Iranian targets, asserted that the administration's policy had been "all carrots and no sticks."

His view echoed that of the neoconservative editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal, who said the administration's "alleged war fever is hard to credit, given that for three years the Bush Administration has deferred to Europe in pursuing a diplomatic track on Iran." The Journal said the government must give priority to developing "bunker buster" nuclear bombs.

While Kristol insisted that the "credible threat of force" should initially be used in support of diplomacy with Washington's European allies, he also called for "stepping up intelligence activities, covert operations, special operations, and the like," as well as "operational planning for possible military strikes."

What he had in mind was laid out in a companion article by ret. Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a member of the ultra-hawkish Iran Policy Committee (IPC), entitled "Target: Iran."

If Iran resists diplomatic pressure, according to McInerney, Washington should be prepared to carry out a "powerful air campaign" led by 60 stealth aircraft, and more than 400 non-stealth strike aircraft with roughly 150 refueling tankers and other support aircraft, 100 unmanned aerial vehicles, and 500 cruise missiles to take out some 1,500 nuclear-related and military targets.

Before or during such an attack, he wrote, "a major covert operation could be launched, utilizing Iranian exiles and dissident forces trained during the period of diplomacy." The IPC has long advocated support for the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), an Iraq-based paramilitary group listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department.

In yet another op-ed published in Thursday's Washington Post, Mark Helprin, a novelist and Israeli military veteran, called for anticipating the possibility that U.S. forces in Iraq and its broader interests in the region could be imperiled by Iranian retaliation and popular outrage in the Arab Middle East.

To prepare for such an eventuality, "we would do well to strengthen – in numbers and mass as well as quality – the means with which we fight, to reinforce the fleet train with which to supply fighting lines, and to plan for a land route from the Mediterranean across Israel and Jordan to the Tigris and Euphrates."

Such concerns, counseled Reuel Marc Gerecht, a Gulf specialist at AEI, are overblown. In a lengthy analysis of the possible costs of a military attack that was also published in the Standard, he argued that Washington should "not be intimidated by threats of terrorism, oil-price spikes, or hostile world opinion."

"What we are dealing with is a politer, more refined, more cautious, vastly more mendacious version of bin Ladenism," according to the article, entitled "To Bomb, or Not to Bomb: That Is the Iran Question." "It is best that such men not have nukes, and that we do everything in our power, including preventive military strikes, to stop this from happening."

(Inter Press Service)

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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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