Iran War Drums Beat Harder
the Bush administration's insistence that, at least for now, it
remains committed to using diplomatic means to halt Iran's alleged
nuclear weapons program, war drums against the Islamic Republic
appear to be beating more loudly here.
of State Condoleezza Rice assured Europeans on her trip this past
week that Washington does indeed support the efforts of France,
Britain and Germany (EU-3) to reach a diplomatic settlement on the
issue. However, she also made it clear that Washington has no interest
in joining them at the negotiating table or extending much in the
way of carrots.
her consistent refusal to reiterate former Deputy Secretary of State
Richard Armitage's flat assertion in December that Washington does
not seek "regime change" in Teheran has added to the impression
that the administration is set firmly on a path toward confrontation.
the administration is pursuing a "good cop/bad cop" strategy
in which Washington's role is to brandish the sticks and
the EU-3 the carrots remains unclear, but the voices in favor
of an "engagement" policy are being drowned out by crescendo
of calls to adopt "regime change" as U.S. policy.
latest such urging was released here Thursday by the Iran Policy
Committee (IPC), a group headed by a former National Security Council
staffer Ray Tanter, several retired senior military officers, and
a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
30-page document, "US Policy Options for Iran" by former
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer Clare Lopez, appears to
reflect the views of the administration's most radical hawks among
the Pentagon's civilian leadership and in the office of Vice President
was Cheney who launched the latest bout of saber-rattling when he
told a radio interviewer last month that Teheran was "right
at the top of the list" of the world's trouble spots and that
Israel may strike at suspected Iranian nuclear sites even before
study echoes many of the same themes mainly support for the
Iranian exiled and internal opposition against the government
as another policy paper released by the mainly neoconservative Committee
on the Present Danger (CPD) in December, but it is also much harsher.
papers favored military strikes against suspected nuclear and other
weapons facilities if that was the only way to prevent Teheran from
acquiring nuclear weapons, and endorsed "regime change"
as US policy.
the CPD paper, which had the influential backing of former Secretary
of State George Shultz, called for a "peaceful" strategy
that involved elements of both engagement and nonviolent subversion
similar to that pursued by Washington in Poland and elsewhere in
Central Europe, particularly during the 1980s.
latest report does grant a role for "carrots" in achieving
a delay in Iran's nuclear ambitions and even in regime change, although
the IPC's members expressed greater skepticism that the EU-3 talks
will be effective or even desirable.
will not work," said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Paul Vallely, chairman
of the military committee of the neoconservative Center for Security
Policy, who described the Iranian regime as a "house of cards."
the IPC's main emphasis is on more aggressive actions to bring about
the desired goals, including military strikes and active efforts
to destabilize the government, in major part through the support
and deployment of what it calls "indisputably the largest and
most organized Iranian opposition group," the Mujahideen-e
Khalq (MEK) an idea that many Iran specialists here believe
is likely to prove exceptionally counterproductive.
an additional step (in a strategy of destabilization)," the
paper states, "the United States might encourage the new Iraqi
government to extend formal recognition to the MEK, based in Ashraf
(Iraq), as a legitimate political organization. Such a recognition
would send yet another signal from neighboring Iraq that the noose
is tightening around Iran's unelected rulers."
MEK fought on Iraq's side during the Iran-Iraq war and has been
listed as a "terrorist group" by the State Department
since 1997 as a result of its assassination of US officials during
the Shah's reign and of Iranian officials after the Revolution.
it has long been supported by the Pentagon civilians and Cheney's
office, and their backers in Congress and the press as a possible
asset against Iran despite its official "terrorist" status.
there have been persistent reports, most recently from a former
CIA officer, Philip Giraldi, in the current edition of the American
Conservative magazine, that US Special Forces have been directing
members of the group in carrying out reconnaissance and intelligence
collection in Iran from bases in Afghanistan and Baluchistan, Pakistan,
since last summer as part of an effort to identify possible targets
for military strikes.
bombing MEK bases in the opening days of the Iraq invasion in March
2003, the US military worked out a ceasefire agreement that resulted
in the group's surrender of its heavy weapons and the concentration
of about 4,000 of their members, some of whom have since repatriated
voluntarily to Iran, at their base at Ashraf.
State Department, which was then engaged in quiet talks with Iran
about dispersing the group in exchange for Teheran's handing over
prominent al Qaeda members in its custody, clashed repeatedly with
the Pentagon over the MEK's treatment.
State was forced by the White House to break off its dialogue with
Teheran following al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia, allegedly ordered
from somewhere on Iranian territory, the administration determined
that MEK members in Iraq should be given Geneva Convention protections.
IPC now wants the State Department to take the MEK off the terrorist
list, a position backed by several dozen members of Congress who
have been actively courted by the group and believe that a confrontation
with Iran is inevitable.
the terrorist designation from the MEK could serve as the most tangible
signal to the Iranian regime, as well as to the Iranian people,
that a new option is now on the table," according to the report.
might also have the effect of supporting President Bush's assertion
(in his State of the Union address) that America stands with the
people of Iran in their struggle to liberate themselves."
most Iran specialists, both inside and outside the government, who
agree that the regime is deeply unpopular, also insist that Washington's
endorsement of the MEK will actually bolster the regime in Teheran.
I've ever talked to in Iran or who have gone to Iran tell me without
exception that these people are despised," said Gary Sick,
who handled Iranian policy for the National Security Council under
former President Jimmy Carter.
they invaded Iran from Iraq in the last year of the Iran-Iraq war,
according to Sick, who teaches at Columbia University, they had
expected to march straight to Teheran gathering support all along
they never got beyond a little border town before running into stiff
resistance. It was a very ugly incident. They had a chance to show
what they can do, and the bottom line was nothing very much. I've
seen nothing since then to change my estimate," he said.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service