Right Web

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

Disappearing Diplomacy

Amid growing speculation about prospects for U.S. military action against Iran, neoconservatives and other hawks won a significant—if somewhat incomplete—victory in rallying the Democratic-led Congress to its side.

In a 76-22 vote last Wednesday, senators approved a non-binding amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization bill that called for the administration of President George W. Bush to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) "a foreign terrorist organization."

Among those voting for the measure was the Democratic front-runner for the 2008 presidential election, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

At the same time, the House of Representatives voted nearly unanimously—408-6—for another measure, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, which would force Bush to impose sweeping sanctions against foreign companies that invest more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector.

That bill, which is opposed by the Bush administration due to strong pressure from Washington’s European and Asian allies and key U.S. multinational companies, is considered likely to stall in the Senate through the remainder of this year.

But its huge margin of approval, which some observers said was boosted by last week’s controversial visit to New York by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, helped demonstrate once again how responsive members of both major parties are to the so-called "Israel Lobby," which has made the sanctions bill its top legislative priority this year.

Both votes took place amid an intensifying struggle within the administration over control of Iran policy, with hawks, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and his neoconservative advisers, pitted against the State Department and Pentagon chief Robert Gates and his top military brass.

The State Department, while never ruling out military action, has consistently argued for continuing diplomatic efforts to address both alleged Iranian backing for anti-U.S. Shiite militias in Iraq and Iran’s rejection of UN Security Council demands that it freeze its uranium-enrichment program.

For the past two months—since the last time the U.S. and Iranian ambassadors met in Baghdad—the struggle appears to have reached an impasse.

In late July, Bush agreed in principle to a proposal by Cheney for cross-border military strikes against IRGC targets that have allegedly been involved in training and supplying Iraqi Shiite militias, according to Philip Giraldi, a former military intelligence and CIA officer, writing recently in the American Conservative.

But the Pentagon brass, which has become increasingly outspoken about the overextension of U.S. ground forces in Iraq and the uncertainty about how Iran would react, countered with a more cautious strategy of building a new military base and extending patrolling along suspected smuggling routes, according to knowledgeable sources.

Similarly, the diplomatic dialogue between the U.S. and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad over stabilizing Iraq—originally launched last May—has not resumed since their second and last meeting in late July when Amb. Ryan Crocker publicly complained about Tehran’s alleged increase in support, via the IRGC, for Shiite militias that were attacking U.S. troops.

In testimony in Washington, DC, two weeks ago, Crocker said he "found no readiness on the Iranians’ side at all to engage seriously on these issues," while Gen. David Petraeus, Washington’s top military commander in Iraq, charged that Tehran was engaged in a "proxy war" against the United States in Iraq.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that the administration had decided in principle to designate the IRGC, which, in addition to its military role, controls a number of large businesses that could be subject to sanctions, but had yet to determine whether it would name the entire organization or only its elite unit, the Quds Force. That no announcement has yet been made is indicative of the continuing infighting around Bush.

The continuing paralysis, however, appears to have favored the hawks, who have pressed their campaign for cross-border military action against Iran in the opinion pages of such neoconservative publications as the Weekly Standard, the National Review, and the Wall Street Journal.

Their calls for action became so intense that the commander of the U.S. Central Command and Petraeus’ superior, Adm. William Fallon, who has been trying to get authorization to negotiate an "incidents at sea" agreement with Iran, complained publicly that "this constant drumbeat of conflict is … not helpful and not useful.

"It is not a good idea to be in a state of war. We ought to try and to do our utmost to create different conditions," he told al-Jazeera.

In fact, the first call for cross-border attacks on Iranian targets was made by the Senate’s "independent" Democrat, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who is regarded as particularly close to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

It was Lieberman and Republican Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ)—the honorary co-chairs of the pro-Likud Committee on the Present Danger (CPD)—who cosponsored the Senate amendment naming the IRGC as a terrorist group in an effort clearly designed to help tilt the internal balance within the administration.

As introduced, the amendment, which, according to several Capitol Hill sources, was drafted by AIPAC, actually went considerably further, deploying language that some senators argued could be interpreted as authorizing war against Iran.

Among other provisions, it called for the United States to "combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran … and its indigenous Iraqi proxies" and "the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including … military instruments, in support of [that] policy."

But those paragraphs were deleted after Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia delivered a passionate speech in which he charged that the amendment "is Dick Cheney’s fondest pipe dream" and "could be read as tantamount to a declaration of war."

In a further softening, the drafters changed one policy statement that claimed it was a "vital [U.S.] national interest" to prevent Iran from turning Shiite militias in Iraq into its proxies to saying it was a "critical national interest." The previous wording generally connotes an interest over which the United States would be prepared to go to war.

Still, the fact that the amendment was approved by a significant margin—and with the support of key Democrats, including Clinton and Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada—is certain to be used by hawks within the administration as an indication of bipartisan support for a more aggressive policy toward Iran.

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief for the Inter Press Service and a contributor to Right Web (https://rightweb.irc-online.org/).

 

Citations

Jim Lobe, "Disappearing Diplomacy," Right Web Analysis (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, October 2, 2007).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Nominated for the post of attorney general by Donald Trump, William Barr held the same post under George H.W. Bush, and established a reputation as a staunch conservative and supporter of executive authority.


Pundit Charles Krauthammer, who died in June 2018, was a staunch advocate of neoconservative policies and aggressive U.S. military actions around the world.


Former Weekly Standard editor and current Fox News commentator Bill Kristol is a longtime neoconservative activist who has been a leading right wing opponent of Donald Trump.


Jon Kyl, a hawkish conservative, served in the Senate from 1996-2013 and again in 2018, and helped guide Brett Kavanaugh through his confirmation process.


Paul Ryan (R-WI), Speaker of the House from 2015-2018, was known for his extremely conservative economic and social views and hawkish foreign policies.


On August 16, 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the formation of the Iran Action Group (IAG). It would “be responsible for directing, reviewing, and coordinating all aspects of the State Department’s Iran-related activity, and it will report directly to me,” he stated. Amid speculation that the Donald Trump administration was focused on…


Norm Coleman is a lobbyist for the Saudi Arabian government, chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and former senator from Minnesota, known for hawkish, pro-Likud, and anti-Iran foreign policy views.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Had Washington made an effort after the last time President Trump promised to quit Syria to pursue diplomatic and military channels and prepare the ground for a U.S. departure, we have had something to celebrate.


Although a widespread movement has developed to fight climate change, no counterpart has emerged to take on the rising danger of nuclear disaster — yet.


U.S. supporters of Israel are in a bind: public opinion is changing; there are more actors publicly challenging Israel; and the crude, heavy-handed tactics they have successfully used in the past to silence criticism now only aggravate the situation.


As the civilian death toll from Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen grows and the backlash against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in Khashoggi’s murder escalates, former Sen. Norm Coleman’s control of Republican Party campaign purse strings positions him as a key influencer of Republican congressional action, or inaction, in curtailing the increasingly aggressive and reckless actions of Saudi Arabia.


Increasingly, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are positioned as rivals, each with pretensions to Middle Eastern influence or even hegemony. It’s not clear whether they can continue to coexist without one or the other—or both—backing down. This has made it more difficult for the United States to maintain its ties with both countries.


What does President Trump’s recent nomination of retired Army General John Abizaid to become the next U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia signify? Next to nothing — and arguably quite a lot.


The Donald Trump administration’s handling of nuclear negotiations with Saudi Arabia promises to lay bare some realities about security issues and nuclear programs in that part of the world that the administration has refused to acknowledge.


RightWeb
share