March 14, 2006
Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2005). Dreyfuss is a
freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics
and national security issues. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone.He can be reached through his website: www.robertdreyfuss.com
Comedians might be forgiven for making jokes that
President Bush is talking about drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq
because he needs them next door in Iran. It isn’t, however, so far off
The pieces are falling into place for Operation Regime Change II,
this time in Iran. You’d think, given how badly it went the first time,
and how utterly unpredictable a showdown with Iran would be, that the
Bush administration would have at least changed its m.o.—but no.
Shaking his head in New York, where he was attending United Nations
Security Council discussions on Iran, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov said bluntly: "It looks so déjà vu." He ridiculed the idea of
sanctions on Iran as useless and ineffective, and he called the U.S.
push for a showdown over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program a
He’s right. Even John Bolton, the neoconservative saber-rattler who
represents the United States at the U.N., agrees. Said Bolton, when
asked about Lavrov’s comment: "If that is déjà vu, then so be it, but
that is the course we are on in an effort to get Iran to reverse its
decision to acquire nuclear weapons."
So let’s look precisely at what course that is. In the past few
weeks, we’ve seen the Bush administration create a brand-new Office of
Iranian Affairs at the State Department, which looks suspiciously like
a step toward creating the Iraq war planning office at the Pentagon
called the Office of Special Plans. No word yet on whether the
Department of Defense plans to create a parallel Office of Iranian
Affairs, but it can’t be far behind. So that’s déjà vu, for sure.
The United States is pressing the U.N. to sanction Iran, to be more
aggressive in shutting down a nuclear program that, so far at least,
the International Atomic Energy Agency has not been able to find,
exactly. Even the least charitable among us might forgive the U.N.’s
diplomats, including Lavrov, for being suspicious of the Bush
administration when it pledges to take Iran to the U.N. Security
Council and to abide by the result. In 2002, the Bush administration
took Iraq to the UNSC, got the IAEA inspectors invited back in, began
pressing for further U.N. action—and then gave up the whole thing and
invaded Iraq unilaterally. So that, for sure, sounds like déjà vu.
Then there are the exiles. The Bush administration, backed once
again by a bloodthirsty Republican Congress—with the same cast of
characters, led once again by Sen. Sam Brownback—is planning to spend
$75 million to support Iranian "democrats" and to back Iranian exile
television stations. And, according to a recent State Department
planning document, the United States is busily setting up anti-Iranian
intelligence and mobilization centers in Dubai, Istanbul, Ankara,
Adana, Tel Aviv, Frankfurt, London and Baku to work with "Iranian
expatriate communities." I wonder how many Ahmad Chalabis they can find
in those places. Dozens, I’d guess. More déjà vu.
Finally, believe it or not, almost as if the United States were
deliberately trying to undercut its own diplomacy at the U.N., various
U.S. officials are talking openly about bypassing the U.N., ignoring
international legitimacy, and forging yet another ad hoc coalition of
allies—a "coalition of the willing"—to confront Iran. Still more déjà
And then, of course, there is the saber-rattling. No one is better
at that than the Israelis, and last week the neoconservative Hudson
Institute gave a platform to a rabid former Israeli army chief of
staff, Moshe Yaalon, who had these charming words to say:
Israel has the ability to disrupt the Iranian air defense system;
Israel can strike Iran through a number of ways, not only through
aerial attack. … The Israeli strike can be precise, like targeted
assassination. Just as we succeed in striking a lone terrorist, we can
also strike a nuclear site without causing major damage to the
environment and harming civilians.
But U.S. officials, too, from Vice President Cheney to Bolton to the
president himself continue to insist that all options are on the table,
that a military attack against Iran cannot be ruled out, and so forth.
Lots more déjà vu there.
As cooler heads have pointed out, none of this amounts to an actual
strategy. The Iranians know that a military attack on their nuclear
facilities isn’t a feasible option. Not only would it kill hundreds,
perhaps thousands of civilians (if all of the more than 50 sites, many
in populated areas, were attacked), but the Iranians know that they
could strike back at the United States with a deadly combination of
counterstrikes. Martin Indyk, the hard-headed hawk at the
Brookings Institution, ridicules the idea of a military strike against
The Iranians have 500,000 battle-hardened Pasdaran [members of the
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp], plus the people they have control or
influence over in Iraq. I would just put this proposition on the
table—the United States cannot strike Iran while we still have our
troops in Iraq.
The Iranians also know that the idea of U.N. sanctions is hollow,
since neither China nor Russia will go along with economic sanctions
against the country.
The Iranians know that the exile community is weak and fractious,
and they don’t fear its might. They know that they have tremendous
assets to bring to bear against the United States in a confrontation.
The fact is that the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of
Iraq knocked off two of Iran’s deadliest regional enemies, the Taliban
and Saddam Hussein. Iran has amassed great power inside Iraq, not by
supporting the insurgents, as President Bush claims, but simply by
using its Shiite allies to gain power in Baghdad. Iran is building its
influence in Lebanon, too, and among the Shiite population in Saudi
Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Bush
administration seems incapable of understanding the need to engage with
Iran, to seek their help in Iraq, and to search for an accommodation
with the ayatollahs. Ironically, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad of the
United States in Iraq has been given permission to talk to Iran about
calming tensions in Iraq, but according to the latest statements from
U.S. embassy he has not yet done so. According to a March 12 Reuters
The U.S. ambassador in Baghdad denied on Sunday seeking Iran's help
to calm violence in Iraq and said there were still concerns about the
Islamic Republic's links with militias in Iraq. ...
"Ambassador Khalilzad has the authority to meet with Iranian
officials to discuss issues of mutual concern," the embassy said in a
statement. "But he has not sent a letter in any language to the
And, that, unfortunately, is the saddest commentary of all.