Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Leveraging the Surge

Two weeks ago, Pentagon officials allegedly discussed a strategy to escalate U.S. pressure on Iran with the intention of creating the impression that...

Two weeks ago, Pentagon officials allegedly discussed a strategy to escalate U.S. pressure on Iran with the intention of creating the impression that Washington is ready to go to war.

One of the alleged participants said the mid-February Pentagon meeting revolved around a plan to ratchet up U.S. rhetoric about an Iranian threat and make further military preparations for war in a way that would be reminiscent of what happened prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. (The account was described by a source outside the Pentagon who obtained it directly from the participant.)

If true, the description of Pentagon thinking suggests a strategy that is much more aggressive than the line represented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who announced last Tuesday that the United States would participate in direct talks with Iran in the context of a conference to be convened by the Iraqi government.

Skeptics believe the administration’s recent decision to "surge" U.S. military strength in Iraq by at least 22,000 troops is related more to a strategy of increased pressure on Iran than to stabilizing the situation in Baghdad. The surge decision could be seen as putting the U.S. military in a better position to respond to Shiite attacks on U.S troops in retaliation to a possible U.S. strike against Iran.

That would be consistent with other indications that President George W. Bush’s "surge" decision was made primarily in the context of an Iran strategy. Immediately after Bush’s January 10, 2007 speech announcing the additional troops, NBC’s Tim Russert reported that Bush and his top advisers had told a small group of journalists that the United States would not sit down with Iran until the United States had gained "leverage." That was the most direct indication from administration officials that they believed the United States could negotiate successfully with Iran once the administration had altered the bargaining relationship.

In that same briefing for reporters, according to Russert, officials indicated that one administration objective was to achieve a situation in which Washington would not have to "go to Syria and Iran" to "ask for anything." That was probably an indirect reference to the bargaining leverage that Iran was believed to have derived from the widely shared belief that the United States would need Iran’s help to stabilize the situation in Iraq.

Bush was apparently convinced that the troop-level increase would convince Iran that the United States would not have to rely on Iranian influence in Iraq to deal with Shiite opposition to the occupation.

But the troop-surge decision was also linked to another aspect of the U.S.-Iran bargaining relationship. It was widely speculated that the vulnerability of the United States to retaliatory attacks in Iraq added to Iran’s leverage by restraining the Bush administration from waging a preemptive war against Iran.

The briefing before Bush’s January 10 speech also provided a key piece of evidence that the Bush strategy would involve increasing pressure on Iran by framing the issue of U.S. policy in terms of new military threats from Iran to U.S. and allied interests in the Middle East. Russert reported that administration officials had tipped off journalists that Iran would soon be raised as a major issue in what Russert called "a very acute way."

Bush’s January speech was followed by a carefully orchestrated campaign of administration statements and leaks alleging official Iranian involvement in providing armor-penetrating weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq. The administration admitted in a briefing in Baghdad aimed at bolstering that charge that it was based on "inference" rather than actual evidence.

To increase the sense of heightened tension with Iran and suggest momentum toward a military confrontation, the administration had already moved an additional carrier task force into the Persian Gulf.

Another move in the increased pressure on Iran, according to the same source outside the Pentagon, is that refueling assets are now being flown into the U.S. base complex at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. "You can’t launch air strikes against Iran without refueling assets being there," the source observed.

Senior administration officials have used carefully chosen words in recent weeks, yet Defense Secretary Robert Gates sounded quite straightforward on February 15, when he said, "We are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran … We are not planning a war with Iran." Meanwhile, however, the administration maintains the position that the option of a military strike against Iran remains as its last resort if Iran does not agree to U.S. terms for negotiations.

After the administration failed to produce evidence of Iranian government involvement in exporting weapons to the Shiites, the administration introduced a new line on an alleged Iranian threat during a Baghdad press conference on February 11.

Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, who is leaving his position as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, told reporters on February 19 that the Iranian military conducts exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting that they could use mines to close the strait. Walsh called mines "an offensive terrorist type of weapon."

Iranian officials have always placed their threats to close the Strait of Hormuz explicitly in the context of retaliation for a strike by the United States against Iran.

"The question is not what the Americans are planning," Walsh said, "but what the Iranians are planning." His statement indicates that the United States is designing a new campaign to portray Iran’s military posture as threatening to U.S. allies and security in the Middle East.

It is unknown whether the White House has a plan to launch air strikes against Iran. However, the moves now planned would increase the likelihood of war in the event that Washington’s escalatory moves fail to sway Iran’s leaders.

A former assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, Chas Freeman, who was also ambassador to Saudi Arabia, calls Bush’s escalation of military pressure "brinksmanship"—a term recalling the practice by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles of threatening war against China over Korea and the Taiwan Strait.

"By deploying forces to add credibility to the threat," Freeman told the Inter Press Service, "you increase the risk of military conflict, which is in fact what is intended."

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy. His latest book is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (2005).

Citations

Gareth Porter, "Leveraging the Surge," Right Web Analysis (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, March 6, 2007).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Haim Saban is a media mogul and major donor to the Democratic Party known for his hardline stance on Israel and opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.


Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is known for her lock-step support for Israel and is widely considered to be a future presidential candidate.


Brian Hook is the director of policy planning and senior policy advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and is the head of the Iran Action Group.


Josh Rogin is a journalist known for his support for neoconservative policies and views.


Laurence Silberman, a senior justice on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was a mentor to controversial Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and has been a vocal supporter of right-wing foreign and domestic agendas, including the campaign to support the invasion of Iraq.


The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, advocates regime change in Iran and has strong connections with a wide range of top political figures in the U.S.


Eli Lake is a columnist for Bloomberg View who has a lengthy record of advocating for aggressive U.S. foreign policies towards the Middle East.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The tragic end of Jamal Khashoggi should serve as a reminder that it’s time for the United States to move on and leave the motley crew of undesirable Middle Eastern partners, from Israel to Saudi Arabia, to their collective fate. They deserve each other.


Jobs should not be an excuse to arm a murderous regime that not only appears to be behind the assassination of a U.S. resident and respected commentator but is also responsible for thousands of civilian casualties in Yemen—the majority killed with U.S-supplied bombs, combat aircraft, and tactical assistance.


The contradictions in Donald Trump’s foreign policy create opportunities for both rivals and long-standing (if irritated) US allies to challenge American influence. But Trump’s immediate priority is political survival, and his actions in the international arena are of little concern to his domestic supporters.


While the notion that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic is decades old, it has been bolstered in recent years, by the campaign to add to the definition of anti-Semitism any criticism that singles Israel out and doesn’t apply the same standard to other countries. The bottom line is that this entire effort is designed not to combat anti-Semitism but to silence criticism. 


Short-term thinking, expedience, and a lack of strategic caution has led Washington to train, fund, and support group after group that have turned their guns on American soldiers and civilians.


Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


RightWeb
share