Whether wittingly or witlessly, President Barack Obama is pursuing a neocon-charted path on Iran that parallels the one that George W. Bush took to war with Iraq – ratcheting up sanctions against the “enemy,” refusing to tolerate more peaceful options, and swaggering along with the propagandistic tough-guy-ism of the major U.S. news media.
The Obama administration is celebrating its victory in getting the UN Security Council on Wednesday to approve a fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran. Obama also is expected to sign on to even more draconian penalties that should soon sail through Congress.
Obama may be thinking that his UN diplomatic achievement will buy him some credibility – and some time – with American neocons and Israel’s Likud government, which favor a showdown with Iran over its nuclear program.
However, the end result of the new sanctions may well be a greater likelihood that the debate within the Iranian government will tilt toward a decision to proceed with ever-higher-level enrichment of uranium and possibly construction of a nuclear bomb as the only means of self-defense.
That may be the opposite of what Obama seeks, but it is what the neocons and Likud would cite as justification for another Middle East war.
Just as the neocons and Israel wanted “regime change” in Iraq, they have long hungered for “regime change” in Iran, too. A favorite neocon joke at the time of the Iraq War was to speculate on which direction to go next, to Syria or Iran, with the punch-line, “Real men to go Tehran!”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that he considers the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon an “existential threat” to Israel, one that would justify a military strike. While Israel’s powerful air force would likely inflict the first blows, national security analysts believe that the U.S. military would be pulled in to finish off Iran’s military capabilities.
The neocon/Likud hope would be that these military attacks would embolden Iran’s internal opposition to rise up and overthrow the Islamic system that has governed Iran since 1979, in other words, “regime change.” Much like the neocon/Likud thinking about Iraq, however, these grandiose plans often end up with unpredictable and bloody outcomes.
Many war-gamers believe the economic, geo-political and military consequences of an attack on Iran are impossible to gauge, though some in the U.S. military fear that such a conflict could ignite a regional war and cause serious strategic damage to the United States. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Bomb-Bomb-Iran Parlor Game.”]
Whether President Obama comprehends these risks – or may invite them – is unclear. What is known is that he staffed his administration with a number of hardliners on Iran, from Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State to Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff. Voices of moderation, if there are any, have been noticeably silent.
Some analysts believe that the President is a relative “dove” on Iran, citing his private letter to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that encouraged Brazil and Turkey to work out a deal to get Iran to transfer about half its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for more highly enriched uranium that could only be used for peaceful medical purposes.
However, after Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan got Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to agree to that deal, the arrangement was denounced by Secretary of State Clinton and was ridiculed by the major U.S. news media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Even after Brazil released Obama’s supportive letter, the President would not publicly defend his position. Instead, his administration pressed ahead with the new round of sanctions.
What is also clear is that tough-guy-ism is running strong, much like it was in the months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
A New York Times editorial on Thursday praised the new round of anti-Iran sanctions, but complained they “do not go far enough.” Still, the Times took encouragement from the hope that the United States and European countries might impose much harsher sanctions on their own.
The Times also took another mocking swipe at Brazil and Turkey, which voted against the new sanctions from their temporary seats on the Security Council.
“The day’s most disturbing development was the two no votes in the Security Council from Turkey and Brazil,” the Times wrote. “Both are disappointed that their efforts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran didn’t go far. Like pretty much everyone else, they were played by Tehran.”
Though this Times point of view fits with neocon orthodoxy – that any reasonable move toward peace and away from confrontation is a sign of naivete and weakness – the fact is that the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal was torpedoed by the United States, after Obama had encouraged it. This wasn’t a case of the two countries being “played by Tehran.”
The Times star columnist Thomas L. Friedman has more explicitly laid out the real goal regarding Iran, not nuclear safeguards, but “regime change.” In a May 26 column, Friedman wrote that the United States should do whatever it can to help Iran’s internal opposition overthrow President Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Islamic-directed government.
“In my view, the ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran is the most important, self-generated, democracy movement to appear in the Middle East in decades,” Friedman wrote.
“It has been suppressed, but it is not going away, and, ultimately, its success — not any nuclear deal with the Iranian clerics — is the only sustainable source of security and stability. We have spent far too little time and energy nurturing that democratic trend and far too much chasing a nuclear deal.”
Friedman’s argument again tracks with the neocon case for war with Iran – as he earlier was onboard for war with Iraq – claiming that “regime change” was the only acceptable outcome.
As an institution, the New York Times also played a key role in making war with Iraq inevitable, with bogus reporting about Iraq getting aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges. Similarly, in the case of Iran, the Times and other leading U.S. news outlets have promoted the propaganda line that Iran’s presidential election last June was “fraudulent” or “rigged.”
However, an analysis by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes found that there was little evidence to support allegations of fraud or to conclude that most Iranians viewed Ahmadinejad’s reelection as illegitimate.
Not a single Iranian poll analyzed by PIPA – whether before or after the June 12 election, whether conducted inside or outside Iran – showed Ahmadinejad with less than majority support. None showed the much-touted Green Movement’s candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi ahead or even close.
"These findings do not prove that there were no irregularities in the election process,” said Steven Kull, director of PIPA. “But they do not support the belief that a majority rejected Ahmadinejad." [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It!”]
Nevertheless, President Obama has refused to contest Washington’s conventional wisdom on the Iranian election or to buck the neocon-favored trend toward a heightened confrontation with Iran.
Having let his administration rebuff the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal in favor of more UN sanctions and soon even tougher U.S. sanctions, Obama has let his foreign policy either drift – or be piloted – toward a worsening crisis.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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This story was published on June 10, 2010.