Two weeks ago, Pentagon officials discussed a
strategy to escalate U.S. pressure on Iran with the intention of creating the
impression that the U.S. is ready to go to war, according to an account by one
of the participants.
A meeting at the Pentagon in mid-February was said by the participant to have
revolved around a plan to ratchet up U.S. rhetoric about an Iranian threat and
make further military preparations for war in a way that would be reminiscent
of what happened prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The account was
described by a source outside the Pentagon who obtained it directly from the
This description of Pentagon thinking suggests a strategy that is much more
aggressive than the line represented by Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice's announcement Tuesday that the United States would participate in
direct talks with Iran in the context of a conference to be convened by the
According to the account provided by the participant, the administration's
decision last month to increase U.S. military strength in Iraq by at least 22,000
troops is related more to a strategy of increased pressure on Iran than to stabilizing
the situation in Baghdad. The troop decision was described as putting the U.S.
military in a better position to respond to attacks by Shi’ite forces on U.S
troops in retaliation against a possible U.S. strike against Iran.
That description is consistent with other indications that Pres. George W.
Bush's decision on the troop "surge" was made primarily in the context of strategy
toward Iran. Immediately after Bush's Jan. 10 speech announcing the additional
troops, NBC's Tim Russert
reported that Bush and his top advisers had told a small group of journalists
the United States would not sit down with Iran until the United States had gained
That was the most direct indication from administration officials that they
believed the United States could negotiate successfully with Iran once the administration
had altered the bargaining relationship with Tehran.
In that same briefing for reporters, according to Russert, the officials indicated
that one of the administration objectives was to achieve a situation in which
Washington would not have to "go to Syria and Iran" and "ask for anything".
That was an indirect reference to the bargaining leverage that Iran was believed
to have derived from the widely shared belief that the United States would need
Iran's help to stabilize the situation in Iraq.
Bush was apparently convinced that the troops increase would convince Iran
that the United States would not have to rely on Iranian influence in Iraq to
deal with Shiite opposition to the occupation.
But the troop surge decision was also linked to another aspect of the U.S.-Iran
bargaining relationship. It had been widely speculated that the vulnerability
of the United States to retaliatory attacks in Iraq added to Iran's leverage
by restraining the Bush administration from waging a preemptive war against
The briefing before Bush's Jan. 10 speech also provided a key piece of evidence
that the Bush strategy would involve increasing pressure on Iran by framing
the issue of U.S. policy in terms of new military threats from Iran to U.S.
and allied interests in the Middle East. Russert reported that administration
officials had tipped off journalists that Iran would soon be raised as a major
issue in what Russert called "a very acute way."
The January Bush speech was followed by a carefully orchestrated campaign of
administration statements and leaks alleging official Iranian involvement in
providing armor-penetrating weapons to Shi’ite militias in Iraq. The administration
admitted in a briefing in Baghdad aimed at bolstering that charge that it was
based on "inference" rather than actual evidence.
To increase the sense of heightened tension with Iran and suggest momentum
toward a military confrontation, the administration had already moved an additional
carrier task force into the Persian Gulf.
Another move in the increased pressure on Iran, according to the same source,
is that refueling assets are now being flown into the U.S. base complex at Diego
Garcia in the Indian Ocean. "You can't launch air strikes against Iran without
refueling assets being there," the source observed.
High administration officials have used carefully chosen words in recent weeks
to suggest that they are planning for war against Iran even as press leaks about
as possible attack multiplied. On Feb. 15, Defense Secretary Robert
Gates said, "We are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran...We
are not planning a war with Iran."
Meanwhile, however, the administration maintains the position that the option
of a military strike against Iran remains as its last resort if Iran does not
agree to U.S. terms for negotiations.
After the administration failed to produce evidence of such Iranian government
involvement in exporting weapons to the Shi’ites in a Baghdad press conference
on Feb. 11, the administration introduced a new line on an alleged Iranian threat.
Walsh, who is leaving his position as Commander of U.S.
Naval Forces Central Command, told reporters Feb. 19 that the Iranian military
conducts exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting that they could use mines
to close the Strait. Walsh called mines "an offensive terrorist type of weapon."
Iranian officials have always placed their threats to close the Strait of Hormuz
explicitly in the context of retaliation for a strike by the United States against
"The question is not what the Americans are planning," Walsh said, "but what
the Iranians are planning." That statement indicates that the United States
is designing a new campaign to portray Iran's military posture as threatening
to U.S. allies and security in the Middle East.
The participant's account of the Pentagon meeting did not indicate any timetable
for the sequence of steps or what the climactic move in the campaign would be.
Nor did it suggest that a decision had been made by the White House to launch
air strikes against Iran. However, the moves now planned would increase the
likelihood of war in the event that Washington's escalatory moves fail to sway
A former assistant secretary of defense in the Bill Clinton administration,
Freeman, who was also ambassador to Saudi Arabia, calls Bush's escalation
of military pressure "brinksmanship" – a term recalling the practice by President
Dwight D. Eisenhower and his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles of threatening
war against China over Korea and the Taiwan Strait.
"By deploying forces to add credibility to the threat," Freeman told IPS, "you
increase the risk of military conflict, which is fact what is intended."
(Inter Press Service)