Amid growing speculation about prospects for military
action against Iran, neoconservatives and other hawks won a significant – if
somewhat incomplete – victory in rallying the Democratic-led Congress to its
In a 76-22 vote Wednesday, senators approved a non-binding amendment to the
2008 defense authorization bill that called for the administration of President
George W. Bush to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) "a
foreign terrorist organization."
Among those voting for the measure was the Democratic front-runner for the
2008 presidential election, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
At the same time, the House of Representatives voted nearly unanimously –
408-6 – for another measure, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, which would force
Bush to impose sweeping sanctions against foreign companies that invest more
than 20 million dollars in Iran's energy sector.
That bill, which is opposed by the Bush administration itself due to strong
pressure from Washington's European and Asian allies and key multinational
companies, is considered likely to stall in the Senate through the remainder
of this year.
But its huge margin of approval, which some observers said was boosted by this
week's controversial visit to New York by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
helped demonstrate once again how responsive members of both major parties are
to the so-called "Israel Lobby," which has made the sanctions bill
its top legislative priority this year.
Both votes took place amid an intensifying struggle within the administration
over control of Iran policy, with hawks, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and
his neoconservative advisers, pitted against the State Department and Pentagon
chief Robert Gates and his top military brass.
The State Department, while never ruling out military action, has consistently
argued for continuing diplomatic efforts to address both alleged Iranian backing
for anti-Shi'ite militias in Iraq and Iran's rejection of U.N. Security Council
demands that it freeze its uranium-enrichment program.
For the past two months – since the last time the and Iranian ambassadors
met in Baghdad – the struggle appears to have reached an impasse.
In late July, Bush agreed in principle to a proposal by Cheney for cross-border
military strikes against IRGC targets that have allegedly been involved in training
and supplying Iraqi Shi'ite militias, according to Philip Giraldi, a former
military intelligence and CIA officer, writing recently in the American Conservative.
But the Pentagon brass, which has become increasingly outspoken about the overextension
of ground forces in Iraq and the uncertainty about how Iran would react,
countered with a more cautious strategy of building a new military base and
extending patrolling along suspected smuggling routes, according to knowledgeable
Similarly, the diplomatic dialogue between the and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad
over stabilizing Iraq – originally launched last May – has not resumed since
their second and last meeting in late July when Amb. Ryan Crocker publicly complained
about Tehran's alleged increase in support, via the IRGC, for Shi'ite militias
that were attacking troops.
In testimony here two weeks ago, Crocker said he "found no readiness on
the Iranians' side at all to engage seriously on these issues," while Gen.
David Petraeus, Washington's top military commander in Iraq, charged that Tehran
was engaged in a "proxy war" against the in Iraq.
Last month, the Washington Post reported that the administration had decided
in principle to designate the IRGC, which, in addition to its military role,
controls a number of large businesses that could be subject to sanctions, but
had yet to determine whether it would name the entire organization. or only
its elite unit, the Quds Force. That no announcement has yet been made is indicative
of the continuing infighting around Bush.
The continuing paralysis, however, appears to have favored the hawks, who have
pressed their campaign for cross-border military action against Iran in the
opinion pages of such neoconservative publications as the Weekly Standard,
the National Review, and the Wall Street Journal.
Their calls for action became so intense that the commander of the Central
Command and Petraeus' superior, Adm. William Fallon, who has been trying to
get authorization to negotiate an "incidents at sea" agreement with
Iran, complained publicly that "this constant drumbeat of conflict is ...not
helpful and not useful.
"It is not a good idea to be in a state of war. We ought to try and to
do our utmost to create different conditions," he told al-Jazeera.
In fact, the first call for cross-border attacks on Iranian targets was made
by the Senate's "independent" Democrat, Joseph Lieberman, who is regarded
as particularly close to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee
Indeed, it was Lieberman and Republican Sen. John Kyl – the honorary co-chairs
of the pro-Likud Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) – who co-sponsored the
Senate amendment naming the IRGC as a terrorist group in an effort clearly designed
to help tilt the internal balance within the administration.
As introduced, the amendment, which, according to several Capitol Hill sources,
was drafted by AIPAC, actually went considerably further, deploying language
that some senators argued could be interpreted as authorizing war against Iran.
Among other provisions, it called for the to "combat, contain and roll
back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government
of the Islamic Republic of Iran...and its indigenous Iraqi proxies...and "the
prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power
in Iraq, including...military instruments, in support of (that) policy
But those paragraphs were deleted after Democratic Sen. Jim Webb delivered
a passionate speech in which he charged that the amendment "is Dick Cheney's
fondest pipe dream" and "could be read as tantamount to a declaration
In a further softening, the drafters changed one policy statement that claimed
it was a "vital national interest" to prevent Iran from turning Shi'ite
militias in Iraq into its proxies to a "critical national interest."
The previous wording generally connotes an interest over which the would be
prepared to go to war.
Still, the fact that the amendment was approved by a significant margin –
and with the support of key Democrats, including Clinton and Majority Leader
Harry Reid – is certain to be used by hawks within the administration as an
indication of bipartisan support for a more aggressive policy toward Iran.
(Inter Press Service)