Neocons Still Demanding Regime Change in Iran

070403-D-2987S-036 Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman conducts a Pentagon press briefing on Missile Defense on April 3, 2007. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel. (Released)

by Jim Lobe

The Israeli political leadership, with some notable exceptions, appears to have reduced its all-out efforts to derail the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the P5+1 and Iran in hopes of cadging a new 10-year, $50-billion dollar military aid package out of the Obama administration. But hard-line neocons here have clearly not given up on their cherished goal of achieving regime change in Tehran.

Thus, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the successor organization of the notorious Project for the New American Century (PNAC) that did so much to cheerlead the U.S. into Iraq, has recommended to its subscribers a new essay published in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs co-authored by Eliot Cohen, Eric Edelman (one of FPI’s co-directors), and Ray Takeyh. The title of the essay, “Time to Get Tough on Tehran: Iran Policy After the Deal,” doesn’t quite capture how badly the three men want to see the Islamic Republic overthrown. But the clear intent of the article is to inject the concept of regime change into the 2016 presidential debate and the policy of the winner. Here’s their upfront assessment of the incompatibility of any real understanding, let alone rapprochement, with Tehran:

In the long term, the Islamic Republic will join the Soviet Union and other ideological relics of the twentieth century in eventual collapse. Until then, however, there can be no real peace between Washington and Tehran.

…A regime as dangerous to U.S. interests as Tehran requires a comprehensive strategy to counter it. That means exploiting all of Iran’s vulnerabilities: increasing the costs of its foreign adventures, weakening its economy, and backing its domestic discontents. Pursuing that strategy will take time, but eventually, it will put the United States in a position to impose terms on Iran, including in the nuclear realm.[Emphasis added]

In that context, they clearly see Iran as public enemy number one in the Middle East and thus relegating the Islamic State (whose inspiration they actually blame on Iran) to a relatively minor distraction:

Some in Washington believe that the Iran problem is of secondary importance to the United States compared with violent jihadist groups such as ISIS. Not so. For all their achievements in the chaotic lands of Syria and western Iraq, those radical movements do not yet possess the resources and capabilities of a large, sophisticated state. Iran does. Remember, the Iranian regime was the original Islamic revolutionary state. Its successes inspired a wave of radicals across the Middle East.

Despite the strong consensus among professional non-proliferation experts in favor of the deal, the essay predictably denounces the JCPOA as “one of the most deficient arms control agreements in history” and calls on Washington to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization and thus subject to enhanced economic and other sanctions. It also insists that Iran “remains vulnerable to popular revolt” and urges the next administration, among other measures, to condition arms sales and other assistance to its Arab allies on their isolating Tehran diplomatically and economically and to encourage those with “formidable special-forces capabilities, such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates,” to deploy them “inside Iran to exploit the grievances of various ethnic minorities.”

Convergent Approaches

A word about the authors may be in order, though the links attached to their names provide the essentials in greater detail. Both Cohen and Edelman served in the George W. Bush administration. Cohen, who teaches at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, worked alongside the Richard Perle and James Woolsey on the Pentagon’s Defence Policy Board (DPB) that also played a key role with PNAC in rallying support for invading Iraq. More important perhaps, he authored a book, Supreme Command, that Bush himself was conspicuously photographed carrying shortly after its publication in mid-2002. At a time when U.S. generals (and the intelligence community) were advising caution about starting yet another war after Afghanistan, the book’s main thesis was that great war-time presidents like Abe Lincoln have a far greater grasp of strategy than their top military officers. Cohen later served as counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the latter part of Bush’s second term.

For his part, Edelman, a former foreign service officer, served as Vice President Dick Cheney’s senior deputy national security adviser in the critical first two years of the Bush administration (when the neocons reached their zenith). He subsequently served as a very unpopular (not entirely his fault) U.S. ambassador to Turkey when Ankara declined to serve as a launching pad for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and then succeeded Perle protégé Douglas Feith as undersecretary of defence for policy during Bush’s second term.

Takeyh, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, is an Iran specialist who served as a senior advisor at the State Department in the Obama administration but then left the administration when his boss at the time, Dennis Ross, moved over to the White House. Before he joined the administration, he, like Ross, was based at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). His 2006 book, Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, was well received by other Iran specialists for its nuanced view of the complexity of Tehran’s domestic politics—he wrote at the time that Bush’s hostile rhetoric served only to strengthen the regime’s hardliners and undermine reformers and that the U.S. and Iran could forge a “selective partnership” based on mutual interests, such as stabilizing Iraq. But since then Takeyh has drifted steadily into the neocon embrace. Indeed, judging by the Foreign Affairs essay, it would seem that he has drifted about 180 degrees.

Although the brief bios provided by Foreign Affairs omit this rather relevant fact, the common denominator of all three co-authors is their membership on the 12-man Gemunder Center Iran Task Force of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Indeed, Edelman co-chairs the task force, which has published a number of very hawkish reports on Iran and the JCPOA over the last couple of years, several of which have promoted the hare-brained notion of providing Israel with the latest in Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs) and the giant bombers to deliver them to their target—an idea that Israel’s own military establishment rejected. Thankfully, the Cohen-Edelman-Takeyh essay does not include that recommendation, which is perhaps a sign that JINSA may be paying attention to what Israeli national-security professionals—as opposed to the country’s right-wing leaders—actually think about how best to defend their country. The fact that Ross, Edelman’s co-chair, did not co-author the essay is potentially significant, suggesting that a split persists between the more and less hawkish factions on the task force that surfaced in the reaction to the original Joint Plan of Action. After all, Ross is considerably better known and more influential than Cohen in the foreign-policy establishment.

Common Ignorance

What also ties the three co-authors together is the fact that none of them is a recognized expert on nuclear proliferation issues, which is remarkable given their detailed indictment of the JCPOA as “one of the most deficient arms control agreements in history.” Thus, even as most proliferation specialists have concluded that the regime established by the deal for monitoring Iran’s nuclear program will make it virtually impossible for Tehran to divert fissile material, the essay asserts, without any supporting evidence that “Iran could easily build a small facility producing weapons-grade uranium that would evade detection.” The experts at the U.S. Department of Energy seem not to agree.

Similarly, the co-authors insist that “Iran’s ballistic missiles …have no legitimate function other than delivering a nuclear payload…” Say what? As Iran knows very well from the Iran-Iraq war, ballistic missiles have been used more for carrying conventional weapons than for nuclear ones. And, as pointed out by Edward Levine, a retired staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the current board chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, for a non-nuclear-weapon state with an ineffective air force like Iran, conventionally armed missiles may be the only way to deter attacks by hostile neighbors. In fact, Saudi Arabia, a non-nuclear state whose highly destructive air campaign in Yemen the three authors fully support, has ballistic missiles with longer ranges than Iran’s. (And despite their strong advocacy of human rights in Iran, the authors also believe Washington should encourage Jordan and those Gulf states with special-forces capabilities to help Bahrain “deal with [its] internal security problems.” Consistency has never been a hallmark of the neoconservatives.)

Calling for “Regional Rollback,” the essay also cites the expense of Iran’s promotion of “chaos” throughout the Middle East, noting that “[i]ts clients dominate three Arab capitals—Damascus, Baghdad, and Sanaa—and are highly influential in a fourth, Beirut” and that it is subsidizing militias across the region and suffering battlefield casualties in Syria.

[T]hese activities carry the risk of overextension. …Imperialism may be tempting, but it is also financial draining.

Of all the people to make that observation, Cohen and Edelman, given their roles in promoting the invasion of Iraq, should be in a position to know.

Photo: Eric Edelman

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. They’ll grab the money while it is available, then go right back to subverting peace with Iran and keeping the Mid East in such turmoil that Israel will be a villa in that jungle. Their greatest fear is peace and development of the people of the region, because that would very quickly overwhelm the power potential of tiny Israel. All must be ruined, and kept ruined, in service of Israel.

  2. NOTHING has changed in almost all aspects of the relationship between the USA and Iran. The evolution has occurred is with the majority of the others in the 6+1 and the UN. While America (and Israel, Saudi Arabia and he Gulf States) “stand alone’ in continuing to treat Iran a ‘threat to world peace’ – and will maintain whatever sanctions they can, the EU seems bent on including, rather than excluding, the Persians.

    It’s a good thing, in a way, that all the ‘good guys’ are engaged in their own hegemonic undertakings at present, and that, hopefully, they will be for the foreseeable future – otherwise Iran would be in the gunsights rather than in the press or the twitterverse.

  3. @ Mark Thompson

    “All must be ruined, and kept ruined, in service of Israel.”

    Exactly. Tis is Zionist “long term” policy. It is self-evidently unsustainable. The Israelis, with their advanced death machine inventory, can contain, immiserate, and slowly exterminate the helpless Palestinians, but not a billion and a half Muslims living across the planet from Morocco to Mindinao. They’re just building the next holocaust. Five-thousand years and they still haven’t learned.

  4. The neocons should be the laughing stock of the nation, and toxic in Washington. But it’s a sign of how debased our political system has become that some ignorant politicians still regard them as credible. They got everything wrong, but they’re still pushing their garbage.

  5. Donna – – US politicians who “regard neocons as credible” tend to receive rewards. There is a powerful structure in place to protect neocon warmongers, and to advance their agenda.

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