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May 29, 2003

Despite Thin Intelligence Reports, US Plans To Overthrow Iranian Regime


by Jason Leopold

Here we go again. While postwar Iraq continues to crumble, the Bush administration is now setting its sights on a new target – Iran – in its so-called effort to reshape most of the Middle East and bring democracy to countries ruled by vicious dictators. But the Bush administration is again relying on flimsy evidence and thin intelligence information in claiming that the Iran poses an immediate threat to the United States.

The U.S. still hasn't uncovered any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which was the prime reason for launching an attack against the country. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in an interview reported by CNN Tuesday that it's possible the WMD in Iraq may have been destroyed prior to the war. So, right now, the Bush administration has a credibility problem similar to that of The New York Times, which is still reeling from a spectacular scandal that one of its reporters fabricated dozens of national stories.

In taking a hardline stance against Iran, the Bush administration is going to have to do better than "trust us" and this time offer some hard evidene that countries like Iran pose an immediate threat to U.S. interests.

Still, if the rhetoric coming out of the White House this week is any indicator, the U.S. is gearing up for war, again. The reasons, however, are based on accusations, not tangible evidence.

Ari Fleischer, Bush's press secretary, said during his daily press briefing Tuesday that Iran hasn't taken the appropriate steps to round up al Qaeda terrorists allegedly hiding out within its borders, a claim disputed by the CIA. Moreover, Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons puts the U.S. in grave danger. Therefore, regime change is in order.

"The future of Iran will be determined by the Iranian people, and I think the Iranian people have a great yearning for government that is representative of their concerns," Fleischer said.

Fleischer also said Iran's claim that its nuclear program is designed to produce fuel for civilian nuclear reactors is a "cover story."

"Our strong position is that Iran is preparing instead to produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons," Fleischer said. "That is what we see."

An Iranian opposition group says the Iranian government is building two secret nuclear sites that might already be partially operational, producing enriched uranium that could be used in nuclear weapons.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, claims the Iranian government has "planned it" so that it can "be able to get the bomb by 2005."

The NCRI provided detailed information about the previously undisclosed sites – Lashkar-Abad and Ramandeh, about 25 miles west of Tehran, but offered no direct evidence.

Iranian officials have denied harboring al-Qaeda operatives and said the country would vigorously defend itself against any U.S. threat, which in the eyes of the Bush administration, could set the stage for another war and further increase anti-American sentiment and put the U.S. in more danger of terrorist attacks, according to several Democratic lawmakers.

However, the real cover story is the one the Bush administration is spinning in order to win public support for what was already planned for Iran months ago, well before "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

Before the United States military decimated Iraq, the neocons at the highly influential think tanks the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century were already advising Bush administration officials, like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on how to overthrow the ruling parties in Iran, Libya and Syria after the war in Iraq was over.

Many of AEI and PNAC's former members are now working in Bush's administration. PNAC's influence on Bush's foreign and defense policies are so powerful that many of its recommendations on how to transform the military have already been adopted by the Pentagon.

But unlike Iraq, using military force in these other countries to replace the rulers wasn't being considered as a way to oust the regimes, according to former Bush administration officials. Whether or not that becomes the course of action now is debatable, but even if military force isn't used for regime change in Iran or other Middle Eastern countries the reasons for engaging in political warfare in that region is just as troubling as the reasons the U.S. launched a military attack on Iraq: intelligence information that suggests these countries pose an immediate threat to the U.S. is thin and possibly non-existent.

Still, the Bush administration has its agenda and it seems that Iran is indeed its next target. Instead of military action, the Bush administration will encourage a "popular uprising" in its effort to overthrow Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and lend financial support to Iranians to get the job done.

To get Iranians to rise up against its government, U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, has drafted an amendment to the Senate Foreign Authorization bill titled The Iran Democracy Act that calls for using the new Radio Farda to host programming from Iranian Americans who communicate with their families inside Iran about the desire for an internationally monitored referendum vote on what form of government Iran should have.

The amendment would also provide grants for private radio and TV stations in the U.S. that broadcast pro-democracy news and information into Iran. The amendment also provides funds to translate books, videos and other materials into Persian - specifically, information on building and organizing non-violent social movements.

Moreover, Brownback introduced legislation that would establish an Iran Democracy Foundation to provide grants to the Iranian-American community and for the radio and TV stations in the U.S. that broadcast directly into Iran.

This is the type of political warfare the Bush administration believes will force Iran's government from power. But the Bush administration will have a hard time convincing Iranians that it can follow through on its promise. For one, anarchy is running amok in postwar Iraq and many critics have accused the Bush administration of abandoning its goal of democratizing the country. Furthermore, Iranians remember how the first President Bush encouraged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam Hussein during the 1990s only to be abandoned by that administration and ultimately slaughtered by Hussein.

But that doesn't stop the think tanks from believing that it can't be done.

"For Iran, the approach might be compared to the approach the United States and other democratic states took to Poland in the 1980s," said David Frum, President Bush's former speechwriter, who is credited with coining the phrase "axis of evil," in an April 5 presentation at AEI. "In Poland, as in Iran, an economically incompetent authoritarian regime ruled over an increasingly angry population. In Poland, as in Iran, a mass opposition movement rose up against the regime: Solidarity in Poland, the student democratic movement in Iran. Back in the 1980s, the United States and its allies never confronted the Polish communists directly. Instead, they imposed stringent economic sanctions on the regime – and contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for its covert newspapers and radio stations and to support the families of jailed or exiled activists…as the regimes economy disintegrated, the Polish communists were compelled first to open negotiations with Solidarity, next to permit Solidarity to compete in semi-free elections, and finally to step aside for a Solidarity government. Fourteen years later, Poland is a democratic state and a staunch NATO ally."

Richard Perle, who sits on the Defense Policy Board, a group that advises Rumsfeld, is more blunt in the reasons for going after Iran and he is not shy about suggesting that military force be used if necessary.

"The idea that our victory over Saddam will drive other dictators to develop chemical and biological weapons misses the key point: They are already doing so. That's why we may someday need to preempt rather than wait until we are attacked," Perle said in a letter to AEI members earlier this month.

Michael Ledeen, another influential AEI scholar, claims that the U.S. ought to "bag" Iran's regime because of its anti-American views.

"The Iranian people have shown themselves to be the most pro-American population in the Muslim world, but the Iranian regime is arguably the most anti-American on Earth. Let's support the people, and help them bag the regime."


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  • Jason Leopold is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. He spent two years covering the Enron bankruptcy and the California energy crisis. He just finished writing a book on the energy crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield.

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