Gary Sick on Iran and the Hawk-Realist Power Balance

Gary Sick, an acute observer of U.S.-Iranian relations for more than three decades who served on the National Security Council staff under president Ford, Carter and Reagan and now teaches at Columbia University, wrote a brief comment today on the latest developments in U.S. Iran policy and what it says about the balance of power between hawks and realists within the Bush administration. His essay, which refers to John Bolton’s op-ed, “Israel, Iran and the Bomb, published Monday on the opinion pages of the ever-hawkish ‘Wall Street Journal,’ is reproduced with the author’s permission. (Incidentally, I had the opportunity to talk briefly with former Amb. James Dobbins, who dealt extensively with Iranian diplomats over Afghanistan during and after the ouster of the Taliban and who has been one of the most outspoken and influential voices in the foreign-policy community here to urge direct engagement with Tehran on a whole range of issues. He called the decision to send Undersecretary of State for Policy William Burns to Geneva to join his counterparts from the EU-3, Russia, and China in talks with Iran Saturday a “remarkable” and a “dramatic departure” from previous U.S. policy.)

As usual, John Bolton is absolutely right. His policy prescriptions may be reckless to the point of foolishness (”When in doubt, bomb!”), but his understanding of what is happening in Washington policy (as outlined in his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday) is unerringly accurate.

While much of the world was hyper-ventilating over the possibility that the United States (and maybe Israel) were getting ready to launch a new war against Iran, Bolton was looking at the realities and concluding that far from bombing the US was preparing to do a deal with Iran. He had noticed that over the past two years the US had completely reversed its position opposing European talks with Iran.

First, the US indicated that it would participate if the negotiations showed progress. Then, when they didn’t, we went further and actively participated in negotiating a new and more attractive offer of incentives to Iran. Bolton noticed that when that package was delivered to Tehran by Xavier Solana, the signature of one Condoleeza Rice was there, along with representatives of the other five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

He had probably also noticed Secretary Rice’s suggestion of possibly opening a US interests section in Tehran — the first step toward reestablishing diplomatic relations. And he didn’t overlook the softening of rhetoric in Under Secretary Wm Burn’s recent testimony to the Congress about Iran.

Now, just one day after Bolton’s cry of alarm that the US is going soft on Iran, we learn that the same Bill Burns will participate directly in the talks that are going to be held on Saturday in Geneva with the chief Iranian negotiator on the nuclear file. Bolton’s worst suspicions seem to be confirmed.

Unlike many observers and commentators, Bolton has been looking, not at what the US administration says, but what it does. Ever since the congressional elections of 2006, the US has been in the process of a fundamental change in its policy on a number of key issues: the Arab-Israel dispute, the North Korean nuclear issue, and Iran. Since the administration proclaims loudly that its policies have not changed, and since the tough rhetoric of the past dominates the discussion, it is easy to overlook what is actually going on.

Bolton no doubt noticed that Rumsfeld is gone and replaced with Robert Gates, a very different sort of secretary of Defense. He will have observed that the worst of the neocons (including himself) are now writing books and spending more time with families and friends, cheer-leading for more war by writing op-eds from the outside rather than pursuing their strategies in policy meetings in the White House.

He will have seen the gradual shift of the policy center of gravity from Dick Cheney to Rice and Gates. He will have been listening when the Chairman of the JCS and others have said as clearly as they realistically can that the military option, though never renounced as a theoretical possibility, is the least attractive option available to us and in fact is close to impossible given our over-stretch in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In other words, Bolton, as someone whose policies (in my view) are certifiably insane, recognizes real pragmatism and moderation in Washington when he sees it. And he does not like what he sees in this lame duck administration.

Over the past two or three years, we have been treated to one sensational threat after another about the likelihood of imminent war with Iran. All of these alarms and predictions have one thing in common: they never happened. Perhaps it is time for us to join Bolton in looking at the real indicators. When Bolton quits writing his jeremiads or when he begins to express satisfaction with the direction of US policy, that is when we should start to get worried.

With a few quibbles here and there, I think Dr. Sick gets it exactly right.

Visit for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service’s Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

Author: Jim Lobe

Visit for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service's Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

21 thoughts on “Gary Sick on Iran and the Hawk-Realist Power Balance”

  1. Read Gareth Porter's piece on the site today. He demonstrates that none of this is any kind of "seismic shift". At best, it's Bush either putting off making a decision yet again, or using it as CYA to "prove" that he "tried diplomacy and it didn't work."

    This is cognitive dissonance on the part of those people, like Jim Lobe, who are afraid to admit that the US is being run as a criminal enterprise by people like Dick Cheney. People who are afraid to believe that things really CAN get much worse than they are now.

    Look, last year everybody was saying Condi Rice had won out over Dick Cheney on Iran. Then some months back everybody was saying Cheney was back in the saddle. Now everybody is claiming Condi has won again.

    Nothing has changed. The bottom line is that either Iran or the US has to blink and give up. And Iran can't do that because they have to have that nuclear energy program. So either Bush gives up – and then Israel attacks Iran – or Cheney wins and the US attacks Iran. Or neither happens, McCain is elected and HE attacks Iran. Or Obama wins and when his stupid incompetent "diplomacy" fails because HE doesn't understand that Iran will NEVER give up enrichment, then HE will attack Iran.

    Read my lips. The war is still on – this year, next year, whenever. It's on. There IS NO solution when the US and Israel are criminal empires.

  2. Please give me an f@#@ing break. War with Iran will happen whether it’s now or in 10 years. It’s what Isreal wants, and what Isreal wants Isreal gets. This is the second one of Jim’s blogs in the last few weeks saying the war won’t happen. I would love to think he’s right, but I won’t hold my breath. Does anyone really believe that if Isreal attacks we won’t be drawn in? It’s easy enough to say our policies have changed but I have not seen any change in either Iran or Isreal policy and thats what is driving this hole mess.

    I have a great deal of Respect for Jim Lobe, but I think he’s all wet on this subject. I realy don’t believe that the neo-cons have given up their hope of re-shaping the middle east. The mistake Jim is making is believing anything that comes out of any of their mouths. They lie as an act of priciple. They truly believe that keeping us off balance with continuous disinformation is in the benifit of the US and Isreal.

    When they say one thing I almost always believe it must be the other. Most notably is the constant blathering about the “broken” military”. Just think about it, why on earth would anyone in power let the rest of the world know that we were in trouble militarily. I am convinced that the opposite is true. We now have the strongest military we have ever had. More joe’s, equipment, actual combat experience, etc. If anyone thinks that we haven’t used the billions that congress keeps throwing around to upgrade the military they just don’t understand how things work. It’s simple disinformation bait and switch style. tell the public they don’t have to worry about an attack because we don’t have the strength. It lulls both the American public and Iran into a false sense of comfort.


    1. What Israel wants, It gets. So true. I wouldn’t put it past them to attack American forces and make it look like Iran was responsible. Remember the Liberty?

      1. Your right about that, they wouldn’t think twice if it would get them what they want. The US population wouldn’t find out what really happened for about 50 years.

    2. wars are like chocolate sticky puddings the cooks who make them say–dark sweet and messy but is needed to complete the meal. To make sense out of any of the world policy decisions from 100’s and 1000’s toppings good luck—it makes about as much sense as this scribble

  3. Sick’s analysis, and, apparently Lobe’s, is in direct opposition to that of Justin Raimondo offered only this morning. While I respect Lobe’s analytical skills, I respect Raimondo’s prognosticative track record more. Its unusual to see the two in such obvious disagreement. But I wouldn’t trust to peace quite yet. The AIPAC Congress closed only a few weeks ago. We have yet fully to grasp our marching orders.

  4. I agreee with Mr.Lobe. I predicted the same thing just a few days ago. It seems to me the administration has been following the Baker-Hamilton plan for the last 2 years. I think bush has seen what a disaster listening to the neocons has been. The realists have been running things for awile and the neocons are getting desparate. I have this dream of a deal brokered with the help of the Vatican that will open up Iranian american relations. The Baker plan calls calls for working with Iran to get us out of Iraq. It also calls for pushing peace in Israel Palistine. I think this is what is happening. It is the only way bush can salvage anything. If he doesn’t hate the neocons for what they have done to his administion, it would be surprising.

  5. After Iraq invaded Kawait,James Baker met several times with Iraq’s Tariq Azziz in Geniva claimming to want to resolve the issue diplomatically.But in reality the Bush Sr adminstration was just buying time to have its forces deployed in Saudi Arabia.This is not much difference than that.The meeting with the Iranians will be made to fail,and the Iranians would be blamed for its failure.The rest is clear from there.The US is not intrested in solving anything peacefully.Many enteties are dependent on wars “to give peace any chance”.

  6. Anyone who can reliably control, or predict, the chronicling of acta or dicta in the mainstream media persuasively seeming to increase or decrease the “chances” of an Israeli or US or combined attack on Iran can make an enormous amount of money in oil futures, both on the upside and the downside.

  7. I’m with Gareth Porter too.

    You know – we don’t always realise what a fishbowl journalism in DC is. I mean, half the biggies are eating out the hands of their CIA briefers, and the other half are keeping quiet about the first half.

    Can you spell ‘Rozen’?

  8. “As usual, John Bolton is absolutely right.”
    Surely this is a tongue-in-cheek comment? LMAO,Bolton has predicted for the last four years that Iran will build a bomb – by next week – and will immediately use it to attack Israel. I can only hope that the author was joking.
    And by the way, the US isn’t about to attack Iran in the immediate future. From the ‘deal’ with N.Korea to establishing diplomatic ties in Iran, methinks Condi has been whispering sweet nothings into Chimp’s ear regarding his ‘historical legacy.’ Chimp would like a couple of diplomatic ‘victories’ on his record to soften the American-made genocide in Iraq. Rush can shake his flacid penis in anger all he wants, but the attack will have to wait until the next administration.

    God Bless America.


    The question is that how far does Israel dare to go if given green light by a faction in the Bush Administration to bomb Iran.

    The most likely scenario in such a case is that Israel would at best want to test the waters first before diving in headlong
    There is no question that Israel would do anything big, risky and foolish to begin with. Sending one hundred or more aircrafts to bomb Iran is an absolute non-starter.

    At its very most daring; Israel will do a Syria number on an easy target in Iran and hope to get away with it with minimum of costs.

    Israel will then sit back and hope for the best; i.e. Iran taking the bombing passively like Syria did. And hopefully introducing more turmoil to US-Iran relations.

    The Israeli problem right now is that the country has painted itself into a corner, and ever more commitment into the above course of action.
    if Israel were not now to lose face and credibility both at home and abroad it would simply have to do something stupid with many unforeseen consequences for Israel itself and the world.

    And finally; Israeli decision-makers admit privately all that Iran will never become an existential threat to the Jewish State. They consider the Islamic leadership in Iran highly calculating and intelligent; not at all bent on committing nuclear suicide. Scary talk of Iran ever becoming an existential threat to the Jewish State is only for US public consumption.

    So why risk a war with Iran, when you have no idea what the consequences will be?

  10. If you watch the poker games on TV, you know that a player with limited chips has to soon go “all in” or surely lose. Israel is losing the demographics battle with the Muslims. They sense that without a series of spectactular wins in the region, they will soon have to leave and return to the West. Why go quietly?

    1. The Muslims are the least of Israel’s problems, especially when compared to their own government.

  11. I can only say that it will be a disaster if America attacks Iran. Whatever happened to the idea that congress was supposed to declare war. This imperial presidency is a disaster waiting to happen.

  12. I marvel at the naivete of some regarding the Obama withdrawal plan. The man has made quite clear that troops exiting Iraq are headed for Afghanistan. The whole thing begins to take on the appearance of a shell game with force levels of American troops in the region remaining constant, actually. Just as easy – perhaps easier – to position American ground forces for a pincers movement of sorts on the Iranian capital, one prong the troops redeployed under the ruse of assisting the NATO force in Afghanistan, the other prong fashioned from the remaining force in Iraq. One should never forget the concepts expressed in Securing The Rhelm, it seems to me. Iran was always the purpose of Iraq militarily. And this purpose remains unfulfilled. Obama, Oschmama.

    1. Well John I have to say I agree with you on this one. I have also thought that from day one the purpose has been to put Iran in a vice grip. If we don’t attack now we will later, whenever it’s the most adventagous.

  13. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, what is needed here by all of us is “more action less speculation”.

    1. reggie,

      Lets hope that whatever “action” is “needed here by all of us” carries absolutely no resemblance to the jackassity just forged by Glenn Greenwald together with the blessing of the Barr Campaign called Accountability Now and Strange Bedfellows. Pretending to be in rebellion with fellow “progressives” and allied “libertarians” against those members of the Democratic Congress that have consistently sided with the Republicans on the war and on privacy questions, Greenwald’s out to get ’em. Why he’s going to go right into their districts and run embarrasing ads, that’s what he’s going to do. But all of that outrage won’t have anything to do with the Obama candidacy. No sir, Obama, his FISA vote and his AIPAC grovelling are going to get a pass:

      “Speaking only for myself, anyone devoted to these issues ought to prefer an Obama presidency to a McCain presidency, and those are the only two choices.”

      It never seems to occur to Greenwald – or to Barr – that any meaningful accountability is an accountability of the system, not simply isolated aspects of it. And no, “those” aren’t “the only two choices”, there are Nader and Baldwin besides.

      Greenwald just has to be one of the most formidable self-promoters since Rush Limbaugh came on the scene and that requires his being system through and through, of course. In this respect, Greenwald never disappoints. With all the kvetching he manages about perfidious Democrats, when it really counts, Greenwald has no more courage than they do.
      Any meaningful remedial action must be action bent on dismantling the system, that and nothing less. I’ve seen enough Shirley Temple outrage of the Greenwald variety.

  14. Oil was down yesterday from a high of $147 per barrel to about $128 per barrel. That seems roughly the amount of variation due to options trading in regard to the possibility of the US treating with or attacking Iran. Most of the rest above the initial $30 is at this point clearly the collapse of USD.

    After demurring for years, supposedly because it would “help Chavez”, the state of New Hampshire is now going to help itself to Chavez’s offer of free heating oil, which offer no “US oil company” has joined in making.

    Besides Kucinich, I see no politician on the national scene worth paying any really serious attention to.

    It is a curiosity that so many continue to pay such attention to the dramatis personae of the Bush administration, and its nefarious deeds, as well as to the Democrats, but do not join Kucinich in his call for immediate impeachment.

    Paul Craig Roberts is one of the few honest brokers on the scene, left or right, and with the economic insight to grasp what is going on.

    The USD is no longer the world reserve currency.

    The Americans can threaten to bomb any sandbox, and deliver on it if the American people put up with it, but as the world knows, and most Americans seem not to, the fat lady is preparing to sing, and the song is a satire of the American national anthem.

    The Israelis meanwhile are building up a reserve of Euros, as are “the nation’s top five oil companies”, as Fox News incongruously calls them in regard to Maxine Waters’ supposedly inadvertent summons to the “socialization” of oil.

    Finally, the mainstream media, if one pays close attention, has begun a systematic campaign to persuade the morons who pay any mind to what it promulgates as “reality” that oil at $128 per barrel is just peachy, and at such a low premium that the American economy may survive at that price level.

    Walk more, eat less–the jingle goes–“Americans” will be happier and healthier in the concentration camp Chertoff is building to protect them from–are you ready?–“terrorists”.

    One may or may not see on Monday what a U.S. ultimatum to Iran is worth in the price of oil and the collapse of USD.

  15. Ahmadinejad calls oil price hikes ‘manipulated’

    Online Journal Jun 26, 2008 Jerry Mazza

    How is that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, a country we’re about to attack for building a nuclear power reactor, is commenting more cogently on our soaring oil prices than our own president, George Bush, who continues to perceive enemies everywhere, but sees no solutions to our oil price crisis in the immediate future?

    In a televised speech Tuesday, the Iranian president, who was called “either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated” by President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University, said, with the precision of a graduate school instructor that he also is, that oil was abundant in the world’s crude market and that the current high oil prices were, “fake.” Ahmadinejad attributed the daily increases in the price of crude oil as “unwarranted” since the market “has more than enough oil.”

    These comments were made at a meeting of the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) Fund for International Development, not exactly a group lacking oil savvy. It took place in the central Iranian city of Isfahan. Like a good economist, he added. “The dollar is being manipulated weaker, too.”

    Specifically he said, “At a time when the growth of consumption is lower than the growth of production and the market is full of oil, prices are rising, and this trend is completely fake and imposed.” He ironically attributed the oil price manipulation to “visible and invisible hands.”

    ….Ahmadinejad underlined the fact that “The price of oil is skyrocketing in order to secure economic and political gains.” Could that possibly be? Yes. “Speculation is the reason behind the increasingly high prices of crude, not a lack of supply,” the ‘provocative’ president added….

    Ahmadinejad, obviously no fool, pointed out that Iran has “repeatedly blamed geopolitical factors and the weak US dollar for the out of control oil prices.” Once again, he was on the money.

    He added that “the dollar has already lost 15 percent of its value over the past 12 months against the euro, to $1.54 per euro. Since oil is priced in dollars [petrodollars], producers have had to increase prices in part to offset losses when converting that money into local currency.” So our sinking currency is at the root of the problem, which has to do with our excessive debt, the constant bailouts to subprime debt-ridden banks, to making war, and giving tax cuts to the rich, among a few of the reasons.

    “As you know,” Ahmadinejad said, “the decrease in the dollar’s value and the increase in energy prices are two sides of the same coin which are being introduced as factors behind the recent instability.”

    Oil prices have climbed to $140 per barrel of late. Yet they leveled, the Iranian President pointed out, as Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, announced it will increase output to its highest rate in decades. This as consumption has slipped as well, and there are signs that a slowing US economy could lower prices. Could it be that some hedge funds and oil brokers are hoarding oil futures….


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