Vice President Dick
Cheney and his neoconservative allies in the George W. Bush administration
only began agitating for the use of military force against Iran once they had
finally given up the illusion that regime change in Iran would happen without
And they did not give it up until late 2005, according to a former high-level
Foreign Service officer who participated in U.S. discussions with Iran from
2001 until late 2005.
Hillary Mann, who was the director for Persian Gulf and Afghanistan Affairs
on the National Security Council (NSC) staff in 2003 and later on the State
Department's Policy Planning Staff, told the Inter Press Service (IPS) in a
recent interview that the key to neoconservative policy views on Iran until
2006 was the firm belief that one of the consequences of a successful display
of U.S. military force in Iraq would be to shake the foundations of the Iranian
That central belief was conveyed to conservative columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave
of the Washington Times in April 2002 by prominent neoconservative figures
who told him the Bush administration "had decided to redraw the geopolitical
map of the Middle East," he wrote later.
The Bush doctrine of preemption, they told him, "had become the vehicle
for driving axis of evil practitioners out of power." The removal of Saddam
Hussein, according to this scenario, would bring a democratic Iraq that would
then spread through the region, "bringing democracy from Syria to Egypt
and to the sheikhdoms, emirates, and monarchies of the Gulf."
Under the influence of this central myth, after the 9/11 attacks, some of Cheney's
allies in the Pentagon conceived the objective of removing every regime in the
Middle East that was hostile to the United States and Israel.
In November 2001, Gen. Wesley Clark, who had then recently retired from his
post as head of the U.S. Southern Command, learned from a general he knew in
the Pentagon that a memo had just come down from the office of the secretary
of defense outlining the objective of the "take down" of seven Middle
Eastern regimes over five years.
The plan would start with the invasion of Iraq, and then target Syria, Lebanon,
Libya, Somalia, and Sudan, according to an account in Clark's 2003 book, Winning
Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire. The memo indicated
the plan was to "come back and get Iran in five years."
The neoconservatives were particularly serious about going after Syria. In
the weeks following the initial U.S. invasion of Iraq, Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz, the
chief neoconservative architect of the Iraq invasion, argued unsuccessfully
for taking advantage of the presumed military triumph there to overthrow the
Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, according to an account from the right-leaning
But contrary to the popular notion that the neoconservatives believed that
"real men go to Tehran," no one was yet proposing that Iran should
be the military target.
In September 2003, Cheney brought in David
Wurmser (a close friend and protégé of Richard
Perle and one of the key proponents of the plan for regime change in Iraq)
as his adviser on the Middle East. Wurmser had previously articulated very specific
ideas about how taking down Hussein by force would help destabilize the Iranian
In a 1999 book, Wurmser had laid out a plan for using the Iraqi Shi'ite majority
and their conservative clerics as U.S. allies in the "regional rollback
of Shi'ite fundamentalism" meaning the Islamic regime in Iran.
But Wurmser also believed that the Ba'athist regime in Syria was an obstacle
to regime change in Iran. Beginning with the 1996 "Clean Break" memo,
written by Wurmser with the help of other future Bush administration figures
like Perle and Douglas
Feith for the then-incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Wurmser
had argued that once Hussein was removed, the next step was to take down the
Assad regime in Syria.
In a September 2007 interview with the Telegraph, a few months after
he had left Cheney's office, Wurmser confirmed his belief that regime change
in Syria by force, if necessary would directly affect the stability
of the Tehran regime. If Iran were seen to be unable to do anything to prevent
the overthrow of the regime in Syria, he suggested, it would seriously undermine
the Islamic regime's prestige at home.
From 2003 to 2005, Wurmser and his neoconservative colleagues were in denial
about the increasingly obvious reality that the U.S. occupation of Iraq was
actually boosting Iranian influence there rather than shaking the regime's power
at home, according to former NSC specialist Mann. She was well acquainted with
the neoconservatives' thinking from her associations with the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy in the 1990s, and she told IPS that she was
"astounded" to hear neoconservatives in the administration suggest
as late as 2005 that the situation in Iraq was on track to help destabilize
the Iranian regime.
The neoconservatives had long viewed the Iranian reformists, led by President
Mohammed Khatami, as the primary obstacle to the popular revolution against
the mullahs for which they were working. As French Iran specialist Frédéric
Tellier noted in an early 2006 essay, they believed the electoral defeats of
the reformists in 2003 and 2004 would also help open the way to a revolutionary
political upheaval in Tehran.
In an appearance on the Don Imus show on January 21, 2005, Cheney said the
Israelis might attack Iran's nuclear sites if they became convinced the Iranians
had a "significant nuclear capability." That remark underlined the
fact that Cheney was not thinking seriously about a U.S. strike against Iran.
By the end of 2005, however, the neoconservatives had finally accepted the
reality of the failure of the Bush administration's military intervention in
Iraq, according to Mann. She also notes that the electoral victory of Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, representing a new breed of nationalist conservative with a mass
base of popular support, in Iran's June 2005 presidential election, spelled
the "death knell" to the neoconservative optimism about regime change
Mann observes that the neoconservatives had never foresworn the use of force
against Iran, but they had argued that less force would be needed in Iran than
had been used in Iraq. By early 2006, however, that assumption was being discarded
by prominent neoconservatives.
Reuel Marc Gerecht
of the American Enterprise
Institute had been more aggressive than anyone else in arguing that Iraq's
Shi'ites, liberated by U.S. military power, would help subvert the Iranian regime.
But in April 2006, he called in a Weekly
Standard article for continued bombing of Iran's nuclear sites until
the Iranians stopped rebuilding them.
Within the administration, meanwhile, Wurmser was looking for the opportunity
to propose a military option against Iran. In his September 2007 interview with
the Telegraph, he insisted that the United States must be willing to
"escalate as far as we need to go to topple the [Iranian] regime if necessary."
That opportunity seemed to present itself in the aftermath of Israel's failed
attempt to deal a major blow to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in the summer
Neoconservatives aligned with Cheney argued that Iran was now threatening U.S.
dominant position in the region through its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, and the
Palestinian territory, as well as with its nuclear program. They insisted the
administration had to push back by targeting Iran's Quds Force personnel in
Iraq, increasing naval presence in the Gulf, and accusing Iran of supporting
the killing of U.S. troops.
Although the ostensible rationale was to pressure Iran to back down on the
nuclear issue, in light of the previous views, it appears that they were hoping
to use military power against Iran to accomplish their original goal of regime
Reprinted with permission from Right