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

Surge Expansion?

On the same day that Gen. David Petraeus delivered to Congress his much anticipated progress report on the U.S. military's...

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On the same day that Gen. David Petraeus delivered to Congress his much anticipated progress report on the U.S. military’s "surge strategy" in Iraq, neoconservative ideologues associated with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) took aim at another one of the reputed foes of "freedom"—the Islamic Republic of Iran.

During a panel discussion Monday aimed at promoting his new book, The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction, Michael Ledeen, a resident scholar at AEI, criticized the "evil" nature of Iran’s clerical regime, its support for international terrorism, and the need to back Iranian dissidents and activists in a soft-revolution to dislodge the mullahs from power.

Along with the broad—and at times mocking—generalizations about Iran’s attempts to foment "Islamic totalitarianism" throughout the world, Ledeen, accompanied by James Woolsey, the former Central Intelligence Agency director, and Clifford May, president of the hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, appeared dead-set against any diplomatic engagement with Iran.

"The [Iranian] leadership constantly tells its people ‘the Iranian people must prepare to rule the world,’" said Ledeen.

"Everybody has convinced themselves that they can make a deal with Iran. We have been negotiating for 27 years, as if there have been no negotiations. … There is no escape," he said. "The only question is how best to defeat them."

Citing a memorable scene in the James Bond film Goldfinger, in which the eponymous villain straps the fictional British secret agent to a gurney and aims a laser toward his genitals, Ledeen quoted German-born actor Gert Frobe’s famous line: "I expect you to die."

"And that’s Iran. They want us to die. They want to destroy us," said Ledeen. He went on to describe the Islamist sentiment in Iran as a "political death wish, a political necrophilia."

With strong links to Vice President Dick Cheney‘s office and the White House, the Washington-based AEI has, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, enjoyed unparalleled influence in shaping U.S. interventionist policy in the Middle East. The think tank helped lead the drive to war in Iraq, and more recently has assumed a prominent role in rallying for regime change in Iran.

While no longer under the illusion of the type of large-scale "democratic" intervention that precipitated the current Iraq War, neoconservatives still appear to be pumping up a confrontational attitude between the United States and Iran, painting the regime as an existential enemy with whom one cannot negotiate, a fanatical yet militarily weak reactionary government that desires the destruction of the world.

Speaking wistfully about the Cold War, Woolsey compared the Islamist political resurgence in the Middle East with the then-Communist government in Moscow, describing the latter as the "ideal enemy."

"I have a certain bizarre nostalgia for the Soviet Union," said Woolsey. "It is our misfortune that today we have to live with Sunni and Shi’ite totalitarianism."

However, the panel’s unanimous and confrontational sentiment did not translate into a coherent foreign policy toward the Iranian regime, and ultimately led to what the panelists described as two equally disturbing options: Iran with a bomb or bomb Iran.

"If our survival is at stake and they [Iranians] are readying themselves to attack us, we will bomb them," said Woolsey.

Iran’s uranium enrichment program is operating well below capacity and is far from producing nuclear fuel in significant amounts, according to a confidential International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report obtained by Reuters.

For Ledeen, it seems the problem is not a nuclear-armed Iran as much as it is an Islamist government in Tehran, and his ultimate goal is the removal of the clerical establishment from power.

The panelists did not advocate military action, instead choosing to promote an aggressive but non-violent soft revolution that would ostensibly be led by Iran’s "moderate" political actors: intellectuals, students, women, former "reformists," and members of Iran’s once burgeoning civil society.

Yet they omit the idea that, for all the resentment harbored against the regime, frustrated dissidents may not want U.S. help to change the political landscape in Iran. At worst, aggressive U.S. support—most notably $75 million for "pro-democracy" activities—has engendered the belief among regime insiders that Washington intends to foment a revolution.

In a 2006 visit to the United States, Iranian dissident journalist Akbar Ganji declined an invitation to meet with White House officials, citing his belief that Washington’s current policies were hurting, not helping promote democracy in Iran. Ganji, who was imprisoned in 2000 after writing a series of articles accusing Intelligence Ministry agents of killing dissidents, said he was tortured repeatedly during six years in prison.

"Any intervention by any foreign power would bring charges of conspiracy against us," he told the Associated Press.

And they already have. Most recently, the regime put Haleh Esfandiari, a U.S.-Iranian and Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, and Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planner who has worked with Soros Foundation and the Iranian government, in jail for inciting a revolution.

Esfandiari was released from Evin prison earlier this month, but Tajbakhsh continues to be held without charge.

It appears Iran will remain a target for AEI ideologues and their associates in the months to come. The question remains as to whether this aggressive pseudo-policy will yield productive results, or if it will end, as many in the international community fear, in military confrontation.

The panelists at Monday’s discussion left little room for compromise, and their generalizations about Iran as an irrational actor support a very clear and consistent neoconservative message: there can be no negotiation with Iran.

In the final analysis, military confrontation with Iran becomes a forgone conclusion.

Khody Akhavi is a contributor to the Inter Press Service.


Khody Akhavi, "Surge Expansion?" Right Web Analysis (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, September 12, 2007).

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