Neo-Cons Share Uncertainty About Bush on Iran

While Norman Podhoretz seems pretty confident that George W. Bush will indeed attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before the end of his term, other neo-cons, admittedly with less direct access to the president or to Podhoretz’ son-in-law, Elliott Abrams, who directs Middle East policy in the National Security Council, appear much less so. (Speaking of Podhoretz and his family, congratulations are due to John Podhoretz, who has just been named editor of ‘Commentary,’ the same post his dad held from 1960 to 1995. It just shows again that neo-conservatism seems to run in the family.)

The latest agonizing display of uncertainty appears in an article entitled “Dangerous Obtuseness” by Danielle Pletka, the Australian-born former Jesse Helms aide and currently vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at American Enterprise Institute (AEI). As confusing as as the article — as has been Pletka’s and AEI’s position on unilateral sanctions against Iran — it certainly suggests that the she and other hard-line hawks among the neo-cons by no means think an attack is a done deal.

Particularly notable is her dismissal as “ridiculous” the notion that any military strike should be limited to cross-border raids on infrastructure related to alleged Iranian support for Shia militias in Iraq, as suggested recently by Seymour Hersh’s latest in The New Yorker. If there is an attack, she argues, it should be a big one:

“Recently, speculation has centered around an American strike on Iranian terrorist training camps, with the US taking a pass on the nuclear program. On the face of it, this is ridiculous. The Clinton administration proved the efficacy of the symbolic cruise missile attack in its bombing of a bin Laden camp in Afghanistan. A hole in the ground is no more likely to deter the Iranians than it did al-Qaeda. Worse yet, it will likely trigger a wave of terrorist response from the Iranians–a high price to pay for little reward.

“More serious studies suggest a variety of key targets, including known nuclear installations, missile and air defense sites, Revolutionary Guard operations centers, intelligence ministries, etc. Strikes across a broad spectrum of Iran’s terrorist and WMD infrastructure would have a huge impact, to be sure, but would raise a host of difficult questions as well. Would a military assault decapitate the regime? Would the Iranian people rise up in the rubble and take out the mullahs? There’s no substantial reason to believe so. Most importantly, would such strikes end Tehran’s WMD and terror programs?”

Pletka published her piece on bitterlemons, the always-interesting Middle East site put out by Yossi Alpher, the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies who also served as a top adviser to Israeli Defense Minister, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He has a fascinating analysis in the current issue of the indispensable Forward in which he argues that “stopping Iran” must be ”the highest priority goal for [U.S. policy in] Iraq” and that Gen. Petraeus’ current counter-insurgency strategy, as well as the Senate’s support for Sen. Biden’s notion of federalizing Iraq are inconsistent with that objective. In the Realpolitik logic that has generally dominated Israeli government foreign-policy thinking, he calls on Washington to abandon democracy and the al-Maliki government in Iraq in favor of a new regime that puts a premium on order — call it a benevolent Baathism [my words] that can Iran stop the westward spread of Tehran’s influence. “All other strategic requirements — even the elimination of Al Qaeda or other Sunni terrorist bases — pale in comparison to the damage Iran’s radical Shi’ite regime could do the region if Tehran establishes a hegemonic presence throughout most of Iraq…”

While Alpher is no neo-conservative, I think neo-conservatives, who, with a tiny number of exceptions, never really believed all that “democracy” rhetoric they’ve been spouting for the last few years but used it to both enhance their influence with Bush and more effectively rally public opinion behind the Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation, are now embracing, at varying speeds, a similar analysis, albeit it not so explicitly. For them, Iran is now the main target, and, if that means a resurrection of the Baathists and bolstering Islamists previously allied to al Qaeda in Iraq, so be it.

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. It seems like the neocon love affair with the Shia is over, now, apparently, the pundits of the right love the Sunni again. Too bad a few years ago the same people were saying that Sunni Islam was the problem and Shia Islam was the solution, but since the Shia haven’t proven to be the obedient clients that Washington talking heads hoped for, all bets on a semi-espectable withdrawal from Iraq are now placed on the Sunni sheiks of Anbar. The more things change the more they stay the same.

  2. thanks for your insight mr Lobe. it really matters little what opinions these neocons are expressing, what we do know with certainty is that they are trying to exert their ideas onto the world scene via an attack on iran and the transmission belt for those ideas to be implented must of necessity be the united states govt and its military.

    our hope to keep us out of war is a reticent military willing to stand up and express their opinions, and if they get filibustered, then resign and let the american people see our military leaders in revolt.

  3. “benevolent Baathism [my words]”

    You should be proud of that, pretty funny. Thanks for doing the dirty work of decoding these hyperventilating Neocon and quasi-Neocon texts.

    It’s really hard to see modern-day Persians as the enemy. The administration focuses on the only one who’s obviously odious, the president. And he’s but a pale imitation of the iconic (and truly frightening) Ayatollah Khomeini.

  4. I think, as long as Iran’s government barks like a “fundamentalist” one, and as long as neo-cons imagine they can make Iran’s government look like a fundamentalist one and a threat to Israel, then everyone will be happy.

    Iranian governments are guaranteed power.
    Israelies are guaranteed financial and military support.
    Neo-conservatives are guaranteed arms race!

    They will erect the Iraqi bogyman only IF Iran succeeds in showing to the world that it is the “closest” thing to democracy on the middle east!

    I think, however, what is worrying the neoconservatives, is not iran’s spread to the West of its borders (i.e. Arab countries) but the ties it is developing to the east, i.e. China, Russia, India, Pakistan and south America.

    All these nonesense about shiite extermism is bullshit! (sorry for the language) There are two other reasons for containing Iran (other than Israel’s nagging):

    1- and Islamic country that is advancing and developing and challenging the notions of islamic “inferiority”
    2- an economic mutiny kick started by Iran’s Oil Bourse.

    It doesn’t matter what neo-cons do now. I think they are in a checkmate position. Attacking Iran will only bring their demise closer!

  5. I was pleased to stumble on this blog through I have been very worried about the impending/prospective attack on Iran. One key question is why are so few journalists following it? I’m loath to believe in conspriacy theories but it does seem that some group of editors/press “deciders” do establish what is “in bounds” for the American press. I saw that in 1974 when the press ignored the Watergate break-in. In 2000 when the BBC carried news of Haliburton breaking Iran sanctions but the US press didn’t mention it. How does this selective and apparently indirect censorship work?

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