Two Wars Too Many

Neocons hunt for the right surrogate at the right time to take on Iran

 WASHINGTON, D.C.—The neocons who want a regime change in Iran may have dillydallied too long and now must depend on a Chalabi-type terrorist group that was sponsored by Saddam Hussein if they want to overthrow the mullahs and bring democracy to the big oil producer.

In a new book called Losing Iraq, David Phillips, a former senior adviser to the State Department, gives an inside picture of the fighting within the Bush administration between the "Arabists," or moderates, in the State Department and the neocon ideologues, a/k/a crazies, in the Pentagon. He strongly suggests that Bush long ago decided to attack Iran and today may only be deterred by military warnings that we can't fight two wars at once. Of course, the neocons might ignore the military warnings and get Bush to sanction an attack anyway. Iran, with its huge gung ho army, wouldn't be a pushover.

Before and during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to hunt for bin Laden, the Iranians made overtures to the U.S. "We did not want to be America's enemy," said Javad Zarif, Iran's former deputy foreign minister and permanent representative at the U.N. He pointed out that the country's leaders didn't trust the U.S. but nonetheless thought it in their interests to start talking. The two nations drew closer under the "six plus two" framework of the U.N., which brings together the U.S., U.K., Afghanistan, and its immediate neighbors in what's known as the "Geneva process."


U.S. diplomats began to meet regularly with their Iranian counterparts during the Afghan war, and Phillips writes that Iran "agreed to look the other way if U.S. warplanes or missiles entered Iranian airspace. Iran also promised not to interfere with search-and-rescue operations of U.S. pilots downed on Iranian soil. Through various U.N. agencies, the United States and Iran also developed a protocol for assisting refugees fleeing the conflict." Both countries were obsessed with Al Qaeda, and after the Taliban went down, Iran arrested 500 Al Qaeda operatives as they fled into Iran from Afghanistan.

But the neocons did everything they could to sabotage these openings. Obsessed with Iran, deeply distrustful of its intentions, and fearing the rise of Shiites in Iraq and the making of another Iran there, the Pentagon lashed out: "A vocal minority clamoring to transform Iraq in Iran's image will not be permitted to do so," Don Rumsfeld declared. "We will not allow the Iraqi people's democratic transition to be hijacked . . . by those who might wish to install another form of dictatorship."

The neocons hijacked the Geneva meetings, and Zarif said they let him know Iran should break off contact with the State Department and start a back channel through the Pentagon.

"The neocons estimated that it would take Iran three years to develop a nuclear weapon," writes Phillips. "Given the slim prospects for domestic political change in Iran, they argued that the United States should be thinking about preemptive action against selected nuclear sites."

The neocons also pumped up Iran's sworn enemy, the Mujahideen e-Khalq (MEK), better known as the People's Mujahideen. Beginning as backers of the Iranian revolution, the MEK were driven into Iraq, where they were under the auspices of the Baathist party. Saddam gave the MEK guns, money, and a military base. They ran some successful raids into Iran and were said to have helped Saddam massacre the Kurds at the end of the first Gulf war. (The MEK deny it.) The State Department has listed them as a terrorist group.

A couple of years ago, it might have been possible to take out Iran's nuclear facilities, Phillips said in an interview last week. But he now thinks that Iran's nuclear projects are now scattered around the country and are no longer viable targets.

Phillips said that Iran's announced determination to restart its nuclear program spells doom for the European Union's efforts to negotiate a solution and that Bush will work with European countries to bring the issue to the Security Council, where there will be harsh discussion on clamping down on Iran. However, this may not be possible in light of U.S. troops continuing to be tied down in Iraq, and the admission by General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that we can't fight two wars at once.

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