Just four days after the American Enterprise Institute will launch its September 6 “All or Nothing” campaign to save the Surge, it will debut “Freedom Scholar” Michael Ledeen’s forthcoming book, “The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction” (St. Martin’s Press), a rehash of neo-con arguments for “regime change” – by military force, if necessary – in Tehran. Judging by the excerpts that have been released to date, Ledeen’s latest tract will be entirely predictable, although, in addition to emphasizing, as he has for much of the last several years, the urgent need to support and fund the regime’s domestic opposition, he concludes that “[t]his presidential administration or the next will likely face a terrible choice: appease a nuclear Iran, or bomb it before their atomic weapons are ready to go. While a sad exclamation point at the end of nearly thirty years of failed policy, confrontation may be virtually inescapable. Like other ideological wars of the twentieth century, this war will likely only end when one side has lost.”
Joining Ledeen at the afternoon panel will be former CIA director James Woolsey, the long-time Iran hawk who still believes Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were tight and no doubt agrees with Ledeen’s analysis that Iran and al Qaeda have been even tighter, and – this is most interesting – ret. Gen. Jack Keane, one of the architects, along with Fred Kagan and other AEI scholars, of the Surge. Perhaps Keane is being brought in in order to echo the recent crescendo of charges regarding Iran’s alleged supply of explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) to Shi’a militias, but I will be interested to see whether he promotes the increasingly fashionable idea among hawks in and outside the administration in favor of cross-border raids into Iran, something that the Pentagon, I am told, is definitely against. Keane, of course, is regarded as close to Gen. David Petraeus, and whatever he says on the subject of Iran should be listened to closely for evidence if a widening split between the Joint Chiefs, on the one hand, and Petraeus, the neo-cons’ Caesar, on the other.
The chronological juxtaposition of the Surge panel September 6 and the roll-out of Ledeen’s book September 10 underlines the balance that AEI and other hawks (including the vice president’s office) are trying to achieve between their two top priorities at the moment – sustaining the Surge well into next year and rallying Congress and the public behind an attack on Iran before the end of Bush’s term, if by then “diplomacy” does not achieve the desired results of 1) freezing its nuclear program and/or 2) halting Tehran’s support for its Shi’a allies (including the Maliki government) in Iraq. To their dismay, they have been forced to spend far more time, effort, and, above all, ink, on defending the Surge over the past eight months than on laying the groundwork for an attack on Iran, although they are showing signs in recent days of trying hard to make up the difference. If it becomes clear by late September or early October that Democrats and uneasy Republicans will indeed acquiesce in the continuation of the Surge at least until next spring (when troop numbers will almost certainly have to be reduced anyway), I think it’s very likely we will see a much bigger focus by AEI and the neo-cons, as well as their allies within the administration, on Iran and the necessity of a military confrontation before Bush leaves.
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that AEI continues to go great guns on the Iran-divestment front, although its vice president of foreign and defense policy studies, Danielle Pletka, has an interesting op-ed on the subject in Tuesday’s Washington Post. While the column helps explain her somewhat surprising comment to the Financial Times earlier this month about the possible “serious repercussions for our multilateral effort” if Congress added sanctions to the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), it also appeared to contain a number of contradictions. While, on the one hand, Pletka suggests that additional ISA sanctions risked alienating the European Union just when it is ‘’doing more to withdraw support from the Iranian economy,” she lauds pending measures both in Congress and a growing number of state legislatures that would either encourage or compel pension funds and other institutional investors to divest their holdings in companies that do business with Iran. Why Europeans would be offended by ISA’s expansion and not similarly offended by the divestment movement, she fails to explain. (The EU has been actively lobbying on Capitol Hill against the divestment-related legislation for at least two months. Her failure to address this distinction between the ISA and the divestment legislation is particularly notable in light of another column published by the Washington Times and National Review this week by her new AEI colleague, Michael Barone. His op-ed, “Divest Iran,” points that the “(f)irms that do the most business in Iran” – and hence will presumably be hit hardest by a successful divestment campaign – are European, as well as Asian and Russian. I just don’t understand the logic underlying Pletka’s column. Perhaps someone can explain it to me.