In an essay for Bitter
Lemons last year, I discussed
the ways in which neoconservatives (in tandem with their allies in the Likud
Party) were directly involved in manufacturing the invasion of Iraq. What evidence
is available to us today if we seek to support the hypothesis that neoconservatives
are following a similar script against Iran, a probability that Noam Chomsky,
Robert Fisk, Dilip Hiro, Seymour Hersh, Scott Ritter, and others have repeatedly
alluded to? Let me frame this question with three political realities that define
the institutional and ideological habitat of contemporary U.S. neoconservatism
and its impact on U.S.-Iranian relations.
First, the "global war on terror" and the Bush doctrine of preemption
have emerged as the primary planks of U.S. foreign policy advocating military
intervention against potential adversaries even if they are not considered an
immediate threat to U.S. national security. According
to Norman Podhoretz, who was editor-in-chief of the influential neoconservative
magazine Commentary between 1960 and 1995, the "global war on terror"
is instrumental in producing a "new species of imperial mission for America,
whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in
the [West Asian] region more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms
now in place." After taking Baghdad, Podhoretz prophesied, "we may
willy-nilly find ourselves forced by the same political and military logic to
topple five or six or seven more tyrannies in the Islamic world." The preemptive
strategic doctrine, which was announced in June 2002 by President Bush at the
military academy at West Point, provides the political legitimacy for such an
agenda. Setting out an interventionist framework for U.S. foreign policy, Bush
declared that the country will confront "evil and lawless regimes"
if necessary by military force. The U.S. National
Security Strategy published three months later institutionalized the "Bush
doctrine." According to its authors, the U.S. "has long maintained
the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat. … The greater
the threat," it proclaimed, "the greater is the risk of inaction and
the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves,
even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack"
(emphasis added). There is convincing evidence that Iran is on that target list.
A classified version of the National
Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 17 and Homeland Security Presidential
Directive 4, leaked to the Washington Post, broke with 50 years of
U.S. counterproliferation efforts by authorizing preemptive strikes on states
and terrorist groups that are close to acquiring weapons of mass destruction
or the long-range missiles capable of delivering them. In a top-secret appendix,
the directive named Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Libya among the countries
that are the central focus of the policy.
Second, it has become a central pillar of neoconservative strategy to discredit
the infantile yet indigenous democratic process in Iran in order to minimize
the diplomatic power of the Iranian state. In accordance with that campaign,
neoconservative activists inject the public discourse with false facts and predictions.
This was evident before, during, and after Iran's ninth presidential elections
in June 2005. "Any normal person familiar with the Islamic republic knows
that these are not elections at all," wrote Michael Ledeen of the American
Enterprise Institute (AEI) in an article entitled "When
Is an Election Not an Election?" "They are a mise en scene,
an entertainment, a comic opera staged for our benefit. The purpose of the charade,"
Ledeen claimed, "is to deter us from supporting the forces of democratic
revolution in Iran." Kenneth Timmerman reiterated the neoconservative message
in an article for the National Review online (NRO) entitled "Fake
Election, Real Threats," which was reprinted by the Washington Times.
Citing Abolhassan Banisadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic, who
was forced into exile, Timmerman predicted that no more than 27 percent of eligible
voters in Iran would participate in the elections (his estimate missed the real
turnout by over 34 percent). Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and
defense policy studies at the AEI, made a similarly misleading prophecy. In
Our Man in Iran," she argued that Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was
handpicked by the "machinations of the mullahs" to win the election
(Rafsanjani lost, of course, having received seven million votes less than Ahmadinejad).
Other articles by Nir Boms, vice president of the Center for Freedom in the
Middle East and former academic liaison at the Israeli embassy in Washington,
D.C.; Elliot Chodoff, a major in the reserves of the Israeli army; and Abbas
Milani and Michael McFaul, who direct the Project on Iranian Democracy at the
conservative Hoover Institution in California, were similarly misleading.
The campaign to trivialize the infant democratic process before and during
the elections in Iran served a dual purpose: dislodging the presidential election
from the political process in Iran and rendering the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
illegitimate. The strategy appeared to be successful. After the election, leading
journalists, including John Simpson of the BBC, alleged that Ahmadinejad had
been one of the students responsible for holding U.S. diplomatic staff captive
between 1979 and 1980. This rather apocryphal claim was rejected by the CIA
only after it had its impact on global opinion. Crucially, it minimized the
diplomatic power of the Ahmadinejad administration before its first serious
engagement with the international community at the United Nations in September
2005. (All this happened before Ahmadinejad's tirades against Zionism in general
and the Israeli state in particular.)
Third, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has made fears
about Iran's nuclear intentions a central pillar of its congressional agenda.
At its largest ever policy conference in May 2005, AIPAC presented a Disney-inspired
multimedia tour aimed at fostering the argument that Iran is developing nuclear
weapons. Moreover, AIPAC spearheads a whole army of networked think tanks with
the explicit aim of bringing about regime change in Iran. The Coalition for
Democracy in Iran (CDI), which was founded in 2002 by Michael Ledeen and Morris
Amitay, a former director of AIPAC, is a typical example. Members include Raymond
Tanter of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (itself an invention
of AIPAC) and the Committee for the Present Danger; Frank Gaffney, president
of the Center for Security Policy (CSP); and Rob Sobhani, who has close personal
and political links to the son of the deposed Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi. Ledeen,
Amitay, and Sobhani joined forces at the AEI in a seminar on "The Future
of Iran," co-sponsored by the Hudson Institute and the Foundation for Defense
of Democracies. The former institution also supports the Alliance for Democracy
in Iran (ADI), which is backed by prominent political strategists such as Jerome
Corsi, who argued that negotiations between Iran and the European Union will
collapse and that Israel, supported by the U.S., will eventually launch military
strikes against the country. Whereas the CDI and ADI support monarchists tied
to Reza Pahlavi, the Iran Policy Committee (IPC) acts as a lobbying organization
for the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), which is listed as a terrorist organization
by the U.S. State Department and the European Union. Those readers who are familiar
with Fox News and its propensity for ready-made, formulaic analysis by former
members of the U.S. armed forces will recognize some of the supporters of the
IPC: Lt. Col. Bill Cowan, USMC (ret.); Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney USAF
(ret.); Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely, U.S. Army (ret.); Capt. Charles T. Nash,
USN (ret.); and Lt. Gen. Edward Rowny, U.S. Army (ret.). Other IPC members are
also familiar faces: the aforementioned Raymond Tanter; Clare Lopez, a former
CIA analyst; and Jim Atkins, U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the presidency
of Richard Nixon. Creating more and more interlinked foundations, think tanks,
and other institutional platforms tied to the neoconservative cabal has served
its political purpose. In Congress, the Iranian government has been targeted
by several bills, including the Iran Freedom and Support Act, sponsored by Senators
Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), and a comparable bill proposed
by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican and strident anti-Castro campaigner.
Moreover, funding of $3 million for Iranian opposition activities has already
been inserted by Congress in the 2005 budget on the initiative of Sen. Sam Brownback,
a Kansas Republican.
The purpose of tracing the impact of neoconservatism on U.S.-Iranian relations
is not to defend the political process in Iran. The Islamic Republic has not
constituted a representative democracy at this stage of its development, and
the political agenda of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be out of tune with the
demands of Iran's post-revolutionary generation. It should be added in parenthesis
that neoconservative activists favor this type of West Asian politician. "[T]here
are benefits to having an enemy that openly bares its teeth," suggests
Daniel Pipes in that regard: "[f]or Westerners, it clarifies the hostility
of the regime much more than if it subtly spun webs of deceit." The Muslim
democrat, I am in no doubt, is anathema to the neoconservative Weltanschauung.
Neither do I believe that an attack on Iran is imminent. It appears to me that
the Bush administration has not been won over on this one yet. Rather, what
is at stake in revealing neoconservative propaganda against Iran, China, Cuba,
Venezuela and other countries is the destructive international agenda it promotes.
Consider the comments of Patrick Clawson at a symposium organized by the militant
FrontPageMag.com in July 2005. Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy in Washington, bluntly advocated
covert operations in order to sabotage nuclear facilities in Iran: "Accidents
are known to happen (remember Three Mile Island or Chernobyl). If there
were to be a series of crippling accidents at Iranian nuclear facilities, that
would set back the Iranian program."
Ultimately then, neoconservative activists inscribe the narrative of conflict
in international relations; they inscribe it in institutions (e.g., the Project
for a New American Century), language (e.g., the "axis of evil"),
mindsets (e.g., Why do they hate us?), and policies (e.g., the doctrine of preemption).
This strategy transforms other countries into replaceable variables. To be more
precise, preemption and the "war on terror" are made into versatile
ideational agents that can be employed to legitimate war globally – not
only in the Iraqi, Iranian, North Korean, or Syrian context, but also with regard
to other conflicts (China-Taiwan, Russia-Chechnya, etc.). Hence, Iraq, Iran,
Venezuela, and others are just episodes in the same neoconservative project,
namely the "Fourth World War" invented by Eliot
Cohen and popularized by James Woolsey. Even if we successfully avert one
crisis, neoconservatives are always planning for the next. It is in this sense
that U.S. neoconservatism reveals itself as war – a war continued by other means.
It depends on the forces of peace to contain this pestilential doctrine.