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...

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

Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks, and one of the prime vacillators among Republicans between objecting to and supporting Donald Trump.


Ron Dermer is the Israeli ambassador to the United States and has deep connections to the Republican Party and the neoconservative movement.


The Washington-based American Enterprise Institute is a rightist think tank with a broad mandate covering a range of foreign and domestic policy issues that is known for its strong connections to neoconservatism and overseas debacles like the Iraq War.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Since taking office Donald Trump has revealed an erratic and extremely hawkish approach to U.S. foreign affairs, which has been marked by controversial actions like dropping out of the Iran nuclear agreement that have raised tensions across much of the world and threatened relations with key allies.


Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and an evangelical pastor, is a far-right pundit known for his hawkish policies and opposition to an Israeli peace deal with the Palestinians.


Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is known for her lock-step support for Israel and considered by some to be a future presidential candidate.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.


A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.


Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.


The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.


Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.


To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.


The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.


RightWeb
share