New Battle Joined Between Realists and Neo-Cons
round in the ongoing battle between realists and neoconservative
hawks over Iran policy got underway here Monday with the publication
by a task force of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) of a new
report urging Washington to engage Tehran on a selected range of
issues of mutual concern.
task force, which was co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter's
national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the head of
the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under former President George
H. W. Bush, argues that neoconservative and other analysts who are
urging that Washington pursue "regime change" in Iran
underestimate the staying power of the current government there.
considerable political flux and popular dissatisfaction," the
79-page report said, "Iran is not on the verge of another revolution.
Those forces that are committed to preserving Iran's current system
remain firmly in control
report, "Iran: Time for a New Approach," also argues that
Washington's invasion of Iraq, as well as the rapid progress by
Iran in developing a possible nuclear-weapons capability, makes
it more urgent than ever to resume and broaden bilateral talks that
were broken off 14 months ago.
stresses, however, that a "grand bargain" to settle all
outstanding conflicts between Washington and Tehran is unrealistic
and that talks should focus instead on making "incremental
progress" on a variety of key issues, including regional stability
and Iran's nuclear ambitions.
21 task-force members also stressed that the U.S. offer fewer sticks
and more carrots than it has in the past, suggesting that "the
prospect of commercial relations with the United States could be
a powerful tool in Washington's arsenal."
report's recommendations are considered anathema to the neoconservative
hawks who are closely associated with Vice President Dick Cheney
and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and who led the drive to war
its release was met with a furious attack by Michael Ledeen, a fellow
at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) who is particularly close
to both former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle and Defense
Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, and who has long asserted
that Iran is ripe for revolution by "democratic" forces
that deserve U.S. support.
who considers Tehran the global capital of Islamist "terror
masters," wrote in National Review Online that the CFR
recommendations were "humiliating" and constituted "appeasement,"
particularly in light of leaks this weekend that the soon-to-be-released
final report of the bipartisan commission investigating the Sept.
11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon will assert that
Iran provided al-Qaeda members, including some of the 9/11 hijackers,
safe passage during the year before the attacks.
point-counterpoint comes at particularly sensitive moment in the
evolution of U.S.-Iranian relations that were formally broken off
25 years ago after militants captured the U.S. embassy in Tehran
and held its diplomats hostage.
noted in the report, the United States currently has about 160,000
troops 20,000 in Afghanistan and 140,000 in Iraq deployed just
across their borders with Iran, named by President George W. Bush
in 2002 as a charter member of the "axis of evil" along
with Iraq and North Korea.
the same time, reports over the past month that Israel may be planning
a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities have added
to existing tensions, particularly due to uncertainties regarding
Tehran's dialogues over its nuclear program with Britain, France
and Germany and with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
new factors have intensified the three-and-a-half-year old struggle
within the administration between the hawks, particularly the neoconservatives
for whom the security of Israel is a core commitment, and the realists
who are led within the administration by Secretary of State Colin
Powell. Powell, in turn, is backed by a number of top alumni of
past Republican and Democratic administrations, including Bush I's
former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, Brzezinski, and
Frank Carlucci, who served as Ronald Reagan's former national security
adviser and Defense secretary and also participated in the task
the hawks dominated Middle East policy from Sept. 11 through the
Iraq invasion, their star faded as that adventure came increasingly
to resemble a quagmire, so that the realists appear to have gained
the upper hand at the moment, at least as concerns Iraq.
realists have also been strengthened by the perception that U.S.
forces in the region, which seemed irresistible in the wake of the
Afghan and Iraq campaigns, are now seen as much more vulnerable
and thus less of a military threat to Iran than 14 months ago. "[M]ilitary
action [is now] highly unlikely to be attempted, and, if attempted,
to be successful," Gates said Monday.
if the internal balance of power on Iraq favors the realists, the
situation regarding Iran is less clear. While few analysts believe
Washington would launch a military strike on Tehran before the November
elections, speculation that a second Bush term would make "regime
change" in Iran a top priority has been persistent. Meanwhile,
pro-Likud forces in Congress are already moving to endorse legislation
that would officially endorse such a goal as official U.S. policy.
is in this context that the task force, whose membership was convened
by CFR's new president and former top Powell aide, Richard Haass,
is calling for selective engagement with Tehran. "The realistic
alternative," according to Gates, " is U.S. isolation
critical message contained in them is that neoconservative claims
that the Islamic Republic is on its last legs represent wishful
thinking. Given Iran's ability to make trouble for the U.S. in both
Iran and Afghanistan, as well as advances made in its nuclear program,
the current situation "mandates the United States to deal with
the current regime rather than wait for it to fall," according
to the report which recommends five specific steps.
it should offer Tehran a "direct dialogue on specific issues
of regional stabilization," much as it did for 18 months between
the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan and May, 2003, when Washington
accused Iran of harboring al-Qaeda leaders responsible for attacks
in Saudi Arabia.
that connection, according to Brzezinski, Washington might offer
to sign a "basic statement of principles" similar to the
1972 Shanghai Communique between the U.S. and China that eventually
resulted in normalization in 1979.
Washington should press to clarify the status of al-Qaeda operatives
detained by Tehran and in exchange for ensuring that the Iraq-based
Iranian rebel group, Mujahideen-e-Khalq, is disbanded and its leaders
brought to justice for terrorist acts. Any security dialogue, however,
must be conditioned on assurances that Tehran is not providing support
to groups violently opposed to the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan.
the U.S. should work closely with Europe and Russia to ensure that
Iran follows through on its commitment that it is not developing
nuclear weapons by getting it to extend its freeze on all enrichment-related
and reprocessing activities to a permanent ban and take other steps
to guarantee compliance. In exchange, Washington should remove its
objections to an Iranian civil nuclear program.
Washington should resume an active role in negotiating peace between
Israel and the Palestinians which is "central to eventually
stemming the tide of extremism in the region."
the U.S. should promote people-to-people and commercial exchanges
between Iran and the wider world, including authorizing U.S. non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) to operate in Iran and agreeing to Iran's application
to begin accession talks with the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Gates and Brzezinski said the Bush administration should also use
its influence to prevent a possible Israeli military strike against
Iran's nuclear facilities which, according to Brzezinski, would
have "extremely adverse consequences" both for proponents
of change in Iran and for the U.S. position in Iraq and Afghanistan
where Tehran could be expected to retaliate. Brzezinski pointed
out that it would be impossible for Israeli warplanes to reach their
targets without flying in air space controlled by the U.S. military.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service