Just when you thought it was safe to go back
in the water…
After all, that massive U.S. air attack on Iran that anti-imperial critics
long expected to arrive, that Seymour Hersh wrote
about, that so many feared, never happened and, with Barack Obama's election,
should certainly have been put to rest in a deep grave for all eternity. But
don't underestimate the neocons, or their ability to reconfigure themselves
for a Democratic administration. Robert Dreyfuss, author of Devil's
Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, who
also produces "The Dreyfuss
Report" for the Nation magazine's Web site, offers up some tantalizing
clues to their possible future resurrection – and some altogether eerie connections
between neocon Washington and the future Obama team.
To give Dreyfuss his creds, only the other day the Wall Street Journal
began an editorial on the new Obama national security "team" by attacking
analysis Dreyfuss had done of it the previous week. ("The names floated
for Barack Obama's national security team 'are drawn exclusively from conservative,
centrist, and pro-military circles without even a single – yes, not one! –
chosen to represent the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party.' In his plaintive
post this week on the Nation magazine's Web site, Robert Dreyfuss indulges
in the political left's wonderful talent for overstatement. But who are we
to interfere with his despair?") Given their right-wing proclivities, the Journal's
editorial writers then offer the equivalent of high praise for Obama's choices:
"So far," they conclude, "on security, not bad." That should make just about
anyone who voted for Obama to change American global policy in significant
ways pause a moment for reflection.
And the Journal isn't alone. Other Republicans are, according
to the Times of London, already "showering praise on these selections.
Senator Lindsey Graham said that Mr. Gates, President Bush's defense secretary,
had 'led us through difficult times in Iraq' and that Mrs. Clinton had a 'little
harder line' than Mr. Obama on foreign policy." The dark prince of neocons
Richard Perle commented,
"I'm relieved… Contrary to expectations, I don't think we would see a lot of
Give it a year and a little Iranian, American, and Israeli intransigence and
who knows what scenarios might arise. In the meantime, keep your eyes on the
neocons. Like vampires of legend, barring a stake through the heart, they arrive
on the scene as soon as darkness sets in. Tom
Still Preparing to Attack Iran
The neoconservatives in the Obama era
by Robert Dreyfuss
What, exactly, does Barack Obama's mild-mannered
choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services, former Sen. Tom
Daschle, have to do with neocons who want to bomb Iran?
A familiar coalition of hawks, hardliners, and neoconservatives expects Barack
Obama's proposed talks with Iran to fail – and they're already proposing an
escalating set of measures instead. Some are meant to occur alongside any future
talks. These include steps to enhance coordination with Israel, tougher sanctions
against Iran, and a region-wide military buildup of U.S. strike forces, including
the pre-positioning of military supplies within striking distance of that country.
Once the future negotiations break down, as they are convinced will happen,
they propose that Washington quickly escalate to warlike measures, including
a U.S. Navy-enforced embargo on Iranian fuel imports and a blockade of that
country's oil exports. Finally, of course, comes the strategic military attack
against the Islamic Republic of Iran that so many of them have wanted for so
It's tempting to dismiss the hawks now as twice-removed from power: first,
figures like John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith were purged from
top posts in the Bush administration after 2004; then the election of Barack
Obama and the announcement Monday of his centrist, realist-minded team of establishment
foreign policy gurus seemed to nail the doors to power shut for the neocons,
who have bitterly criticized the president-elect's plans to talk with Iran,
withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, and abandon the reckless Global War on Terrorism
rhetoric of the Bush era.
"Kinetic Action" Against Iran
When it comes to Iran, however, it's far too early to dismiss the hawks. To
be sure, they are now plying their trade from outside the corridors of power,
but they have more friends inside the Obama camp than most people realize.
Several top advisers to Obama – including Tony Lake, UN Ambassador-designate
Susan Rice, Tom Daschle, and Dennis
Ross, along with leading Democratic hawks like Richard Holbrooke, close
to Vice-President-elect Joe Biden or Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton
– have made common cause with war-minded think-tank hawks at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the American Enterprise
Institute (AEI), and other hardline institutes.
Last spring, Tony Lake and Susan Rice, for example, took part in a WINEP "2008
Presidential Task Force" study which resulted in a report titled
"Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the
Iranian Nuclear Challenge." The Institute, part of the Washington-based Israel
lobby, was founded in coordination with the American-Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC), and has been vigorously supporting a confrontation with
Iran. The task force report, issued in June, was overseen by four WINEP heavyweights:
Satloff, WINEP's executive director, Patrick Clawson, its chief Iran analyst,
a senior fellow, and Dennis Ross, an adviser to Obama who is also a WINEP fellow.
Endorsed by both Lake and Rice, the report opted for an alarmist view of Iran's
nuclear program and proposed that the next president set up a formal U.S.-Israeli
mechanism for coordinating policy toward Iran (including any future need for
"preventive military action"). It drew attention to Israeli fears that "the
United States may be reconciling itself to the idea of 'living with an Iranian
nuclear bomb,'" and it raised the spurious fear that Iran plans to arm terrorist
groups with nuclear weapons.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with consultations between the United States
and Israel. But the WINEP report is clearly predisposed to the idea that the
United States ought to give undue weight to Israel's inflated concerns about
Iran. And it ignores or dismisses a number of facts: that Iran has no nuclear
weapon, that Iran has not enriched uranium to weapons grade, that Iran may
not have the know-how to actually construct a weapon even if, sometime in the
future, it does manage to acquire bomb-grade material, and that Iran has no
known mechanism for delivering such a weapon.
WINEP is correct that the United States must communicate closely with Israel
about Iran. Practically speaking, however, a U.S.-Israeli dialogue over Iran's
"nuclear challenge" will have to focus on matters entirely different from those
in WINEP's agenda. First, the United States must make it crystal clear to Israel
that under no circumstances will it tolerate or support a unilateral Israeli
attack against Iran. Second, Washington must make it clear that if Israel were
indeed to carry out such an attack, the United States would condemn it, refuse
to widen the war by coming to Israel's aid, and suspend all military aid to
the Jewish state. And third, Israel must get the message that, even given the
extreme and unlikely possibility that the United States deems it necessary
to go to war with Iran, there would be no role for Israel.
Just as in the wars against Iraq in 1990-1991 and 2003-2008, the United States
hardly needs Israeli aid, which would be both superfluous and inflammatory.
Dennis Ross and others at WINEP, however, would strongly disagree that Israel
is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Ross, who served as Middle East envoy for George H.W. Bush and then Bill Clinton,
was also a key participant in a September 2008 task force chaired by two former
senators, Daniel Coats (R.-Ind.) and Chuck Robb (D.-Va.), and led by Michael
Makovsky, brother of WINEP's David Makovsky, who served in the Office of the
Secretary of Defense in the heyday of the Pentagon neocons from 2002-2006.
Robb, incidentally, had already served as the neocons' channel into the 2006
Iraq Study Group, chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former
Representative Lee Hamilton. According to Bob Woodward's latest book, The
War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008, it was Robb who insisted
that the Baker-Hamilton task force include an option for a "surge" in Iraq.
The report of the Coats-Robb task force – "Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy
Toward Iranian Nuclear Development" – went far beyond the WINEP task force
report that Lake and Rice signed off on. It concluded that any negotiations
with Iran were unlikely to succeed and should, in any case, be short-lived.
As the report put the matter, "It must be clear that any U.S.-Iranian talks
will not be open-ended, but will be limited to a predetermined time period
so that Tehran does not try to 'run out the clock.'"
Anticipating the failure of the talks, the task force (including Ross) urged
"pre-positioning military assets," coupled with a "show of force" in the region.
This would be followed almost immediately by a blockade of Iranian gasoline
imports and oil exports, meant to paralyze Iran's economy, followed by what
they call, vaguely, "kinetic action."
That "kinetic action" – a U.S. assault on Iran – should, in fact, be massive,
suggested the Coats-Robb report. Besides hitting dozens of sites alleged to
be part of Iran's nuclear research program, the attacks would target Iranian
air defense and missile sites, communications systems, Revolutionary Guard
facilities, key parts of Iran's military-industrial complex, munitions storage
facilities, airfields, aircraft facilities, and all of Iran's naval facilities.
Eventually, they say, the United States would also have to attack Iran's ground
forces, electric power plants and electrical grids, bridges, and "manufacturing
plants, including steel, autos, buses, etc."
This is, of course, a hair-raising scenario. Such an attack on a country that
had committed no act of war against the United States or any of its allies
would cause countless casualties, virtually destroy Iran's economy and infrastructure,
and wreak havoc throughout the region. That such a high-level group of luminaries
should even propose steps like these – and mean it – can only be described
as lunacy. That an important adviser to President-elect Obama would sign on
to such a report should be shocking, though it has received next to no attention.
Palling Around With the Neocons
At a Nov. 6 forum at WINEP, Patrick
Clawson, the erudite, neoconservative strategist who serves as the organization's
deputy director for research, laid out the institute's view of how to talk
to Iran in the Obama era. Doing so, he said, is critically important, but only
to show the rest of the world that the United States has taken the last step
for peace – before, of course, attacking. Then, and only then, will the United
States have the legitimacy it needs to launch military action against Iran.
"What we've got to do is to show the world that we're making a big deal of
engaging the Iranians," he said, tossing a bone to the new administration.
"I'd throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into it." He advocates this
approach only because he believes it won't work. "The principal target with
these offers [to Iran] is not Iran," he adds. "The principal target of these
offers is American public opinion and world public opinion."
The Coats-Robb report, "Meeting the Challenge," was written by one of
the hardest of Washington's neoconservative hardliners, Michael Rubin of the
American Enterprise Institute. Rubin, who spent most of the years since 9/11
either working for AEI or, before and during the war in Iraq, for the Wolfowitz-Feith
team at the Pentagon, recently penned a report for the Institute entitled:
A Nuclear Iran Be Deterred or Contained?" Not surprisingly, he believes
the answer to be a resounding "no," although he does suggest that any effort
to contain a nuclear Iran would certainly require permanent U.S. bases spread
widely in the region, including in Iraq:
"If U.S. forces are to contain the Islamic Republic, they will require basing
not only in GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries, but also in Afghanistan,
Iraq, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Without a sizable regional presence,
the Pentagon will not be able to maintain the predeployed resources and equipment
necessary to contain Iran, and Washington will signal its lack of commitment
to every ally in the region. Because containment is as much psychological as
physical, basing will be its backbone."
The Coats-Robb report was issued by a little-known group called the
Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). That organization, too, turns out to be
interwoven with WINEP, not least because its foreign policy director is Michael
Makovsky. Perhaps the most troubling participant in the Bipartisan Policy Center
is Barack Obama's éminence grise and one of his most important
advisers during the campaign, Tom Daschle, who is slated to be his secretary
of health and human services. So far, Daschle has not repudiated BPC's provocative
Ross, along with Richard
Holbrooke, recently made appearances amid another collection of superhawks
who came together to found a new organization, United
Against Nuclear Iran. UANI is led
by Mark Wallace, the husband of Nicole Wallace, a key member of Sen. John McCain's
campaign team. Among UANI's leadership team are Ross and Holbrooke, along with
such hardliners as Jim
Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Fouad
Ajami, the Arab-American scholar who is a principal theorist on Middle
East policy for the neoconservative movement.
UANI is primarily a propaganda outfit. Its mission, it says, is to "inform
the public about the nature of the Iranian regime, including its desire and
intent to possess nuclear weapons, as well as Iran's role as a state sponsor
of global terrorism, and a major violator of human rights at home and abroad"
and to "heighten awareness nationally and internationally about the danger
that a nuclear-armed Iran poses to the region and the world."
Barack Obama has, of course, repeatedly declared his intention to embark on
a different path by opening talks with Iran. He's insisted that diplomacy,
not military action, will be at the core of his approach to Tehran. During
the election campaign, however, he also stated no less repeatedly that he will
not take the threat of military action "off the table."
Organizations like WINEP, AIPAC, AEI, BPC, and UANI see it as their mission
to push the United States toward a showdown with Iran. Don't sell them short.
Those who believe that such a confrontation would be inconceivable under President
Obama ought to ask Tony Lake, Susan Rice, Dennis Ross, Tom Daschle, and Richard
Holbrooke whether they agree – and, if so, why they're still palling around
with neoconservative hardliners.
Robert Dreyfuss, an independent journalist in Alexandria, Va., is a contributing
editor at the Nation magazine, whose Web site hosts his "The
Dreyfuss Report," and has written frequently for Rolling Stone,
The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and the Washington Monthly.
He is the author of Devil's
Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.
Copyright 2008 Robert Dreyfuss