Hard Times for Iran Hawks

by Jim Lobe

via IPS News

Just three weeks ago, Washington’s hawks, particularly of the pro-Israel neoconservative variety, were flying high, suddenly filled with hope.

President Barack Obama, having trapped himself with his own “red-line” rhetoric, appeared on the verge of ordering air strikes designed not only to deter Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from re-using his chemical weapons, but also, at their urging, to degrade his military machine in a way that could shift the tide of battle toward the rebels in the two-year-old civil war that Obama had desperately tried to stay out of.

It was win-win all the way. In addition to landing a heavy body blow against Iran’s closest ally in the Arab world, they whispered to themselves that such an attack might also sabotage prospects for serious negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear programme with its moderate-sounding and dangerously appealing new president, Hassan Rouhani.

In any event, a strike would serve as a valuable precedent for similar – if even more ambitious – action against Iran’s nuclear facilities some time in the next year, as well restore U.S. military credibility in a region from which U.S. power was seen to be dangerously in retreat.

Today, with those promising attacks suspended indefinitely, the same hawks are down in the dumps, not to say downright desperate. Some are even comparing the chain of events over the past two weeks to the West’s “appeasement” policies that contributed to the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

“…[S]yria is merely Act One. Next week Act Two opens at the United Nations,” wrote Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, co-founder of The Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) and the neo-conservative Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), Friday.

“There, we’ll see a charm offensive worthy of Richard III by the new Iranian president and veteran deceiver of the West, Hassan Rouhani. In response the Obama administration will move on from punting in Syria to appeasing Iran.

“Smaller retreats lead to larger ones. The West’s failure to resist Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 – and his troops’ use of poison gas – was merely a foretaste of the failure to resist Hitler when he took the Rhineland in March 1936,” he warned, evoking Winston’s Churchill’s denunciation in the British Parliament of London’s appeasement policies in the run-up to the World War Two.

Ironically, it was the British Parliament that appears to have set off the extraordinary chain of events that brought the hawks to their current depths of despond. Its vote against participating in any military action against Syria persuaded Obama to yield to a rising bipartisan tide in Congress demanding that he seek its formal authorisation before launching strikes.

The administration mounted an intense lobbying effort, enlisting key Republican hawks, notably Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham (who demanded stronger military action and increased support for the rebels as the price of their backing), as well as the powerful American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) and other pro-Israel groups, in their cause. But popular support was not forthcoming. In fact, it actually fell sharply over the course of 10 days, according to a series of public opinion polls that found opposition running at upwards of 60 percent.

Worse, because of the August recess, most lawmakers were in their home districts among their constituents, rather than in the “Beltway Bubble” where elite opinion and the “talking heads” who dominate the airwaves tilted generally in favour of military action. And while the Congressional leadership of both parties supported the authorisation, they said members were free to vote their conscience.

As Congress reconvened, it became clear that the White House would be lucky to win in the Senate but had no chance of prevailing in the House. Despite the efforts of McCain and Graham, who had long been treated by the mainstream media as the party’s chief spokesmen on foreign policy issues, Republican support for the authorisation virtually collapsed. Both Obama and the hawks faced certain defeat.

It was at that moment that Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad’s most influential foreign backer, threw Obama a lifeline.

By offering a deal whereby Damascus agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and place its chemical arms under international control, he permitted Obama to suspend both Congressional and military action pending implementation of the plan, the operational details of which are now being worked out.

If the White House was relieved, the hawks were furious.

“What could be worse for America’s standing in the world than a Congress refusing to support a President’s proposal for military action against a rogue regime that used WMD [weapons of mass destruction]?” asked the Wall Street Journal’s neo-conservative editorial page. “Here’s one idea: A U.S. President letting that rogue be rescued from military punishment by the country that has protected the rogue all along.”

“The Iranians will take it as a signal that they can similarly trap Mr. Obama in a diplomatic morass that claims to have stopped their nuclear program,” it went on, a point ceaselessly echoed since by other hawks, including McCain and Graham.

But several polls have shown overwhelming public support for the deal – as high as 80 percent, even as majorities also voice scepticism that the agreement will be effective. The findings are widely seen as an expression of the country’s deep war-weariness and opposition to any new Middle East military adventures in the absence of any clear and imminent threat.

Indeed, the events of the past few weeks suggest that the public has lost confidence in the war hawks and their military solutions. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, a prominent foreign-affairs commentator, noted this week that McCain is becoming “a kind of Republican version of Jesse Jackson” whose proposals “have no political support at home”.

While the Syria crisis unfolded, of course, a bigger threat to neo-conservatives has been developing in Tehran, where Rouhani appears to have consolidated his authority over foreign policy and carried out a highly sophisticated public-relations campaign.

This has ranged from the release of political prisoners to tweets wishing Jews a happy Rosh Hashanah, to an interview with a U.S. television network and an op-ed in Friday’s Post, all aimed at conveying the impression that he is someone the West “can do business” with (as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said of Mikhail Gorbachev after their first meeting in 1984) in the run-up to his appearance at the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week.

That both Tehran and Obama disclosed this week that they have exchanged letters and speculation that the two leaders may actually meet – even if it’s only momentarily in a U.N. corridor — Tuesday when each addresses the General Assembly have only increased the hawks’ anxiety that a 21st version of Munich (shorthand for the 1938 accord that permitted Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia) is at hand.

Taking their cue from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warned Thursday that “the Iranians are spinning in the media so that the centrifuges can keep on spinning,” several pro-Israel groups here, including AIPAC and FPI, demanded Friday that Washington increase pressure against Tehran on all fronts and ignore growing calls to take a more conciliatory approach.

Photo Credit: ISNA/Hamid Forootan

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Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. The last paragraph, just who is spinning what? Seems that Netanyahoo and the American neocons just might be left with egg all over their faces. We should believe them and not give the so far unknown a chance? These same people don’t wear the military uniforms, but want the U.S. do their bidding. Are they afraid that their call to war will be rebuffed as the bombing of Syria didn’t come off as planned? They have put too much capital on the line, not their own, but of the U.S. One thing is for sure, if war with Iran were to happen, these same people who are pontificating for war, and I don’t mean the Catholic Church or the Pope in my usage of the word.

  2. I think we’ve had enough of Richard the Third from the neocons, and its time they ate more than egg off their faces, and did it behind bars wearing orange.

  3. Rouhani stated his desire for a negotiated settlement of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and said that he was open to direct talks with the United States on the issue. Rouhani repeatedly said his country would not give up its nuclear ambition and demanded that any negotiation must begin with the West retreating from, rather than intensifying, sanctions on the Islamic regime. But this was a clever move. Rouhani probably showed just enough leg in this statement to entice the U.S. into more talks about talks. In doing so, Rouhani probably bought Iran’s nuclear engineers and scientists as much as another year of time to get closer to their goal of a weapon that would destabilize the Middle East. Though President Obama appears desperate to seize on any excuse to get out from under his promises never to allow Iran to go nuclear. This is a ruse that the United States shouldn’t fall for.

  4. To each his own when we comment. That said, exactly what is wrong with negotiations? And why is it that the same old tired lines are dragged out about Iran and the bomb? We only sit here on the side lines, gleaming what bits of information we can, from whom ever we trust to tell us the truth, against all the rumors as well as the P.R., that inundate the internet today, I guess it’s easier for some to parrot the naysayers, for what ever the reason, but that doesn’t mean they are right. True, the majority of us who comment, are just arm chair voices, but that doesn’t mean we are duped into thinking a Peaceful settlement can’t be reached through negotiation. Consider all the treasure that has been spent on this issue, which could have been spent building a modern M.E., as the Oil Countries have done, save for Iraq, Libya, others. Instead, the U.S. and its willing partners have resorted to bombing a few back into the stone age, then move on to the next (target) country. Who benefits from this destruction? Certainly not the population of which ever country is blown to rubble. I might add this to the mix, “just how long have we heard Netanyahoo rant about Iran being 6 months away from having the bomb and will use it on Israel, so the U.S. better bomb Iran first? Perhaps I’m just being naive on this, but it seems to me that if Iran wanted a bomb, then they probably already have one or more, as they have the means to obtain them from certain countries, just like the Israelis don’t have any or huge stock piles of other W.M.D.S either. But that’s another story.

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