Professor of Economics,
California State University, Fresno
In my book, The United States and Iran: Sanctions,
Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment,
I cautioned that it is difficult to predict the future of the US policy of dual
containment of Iran and Iraq without looking at the history of this policy. The
warning still holds. However, given the limited space here, it is not possible
to go very far back in history. I will confine my historical backtracking to the
US presidential election in 2000.
Eight years ago there was much uncertainty concerning the future policies of the
Bush Administration toward the Middle East in general and Iran in particular.
The fact that the new administration was top heavy with former oil executives
added to this uncertainty. Yet, some Israeli analysts correctly predicted that
the policy would be made more by the neoconservative forces within the new
administration than anyone else, including those in the State Department. For
example, on December 8, 2000, The Jerusalem Post wrote a lengthy article
in which it was stated:
Both Perle and Wolfowitz have been especially outspoken critics of
Clinton's policy toward Iraq and the peace process. . . Both Perle and
Wolfowitz are the type of candidates the pro-Israel lobby is pushing.
And again, in January 19, 2001, in an article entitled "All the president's
Middle East men," The Jerusalem Post wrote about Paul Wolfowitz and then
The Jewish and pro-Israel communities are jumping for joy. . . He has been one
of the loudest proponents of a tough policy toward Iraq focused on finding a way
to bring down Saddam Hussein's regime.
The Jerusalem Post prophetically
stated: "What you will have are two institutions grappling for control of
policy." It then added: "It is no secret in Washington-or anywhere else for
that matter-that the policies will be determined less by Bush himself and more
by his inner circle of advisers."
Why was The
Jerusalem Post correct in predicting who would make foreign policy in the
US? One possible answer is that the Israeli analysts rightly realized that when
it comes to the Middle East the foreign policy of the US has become more and
more institutionalized. Moreover, the number of institutions making policy has
diminished to a few, like-minded organizations, such as the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy, American Enterprise Institute, Hudson Institute, Saban
Center for Middle East Policy, and the Jewish
for National Security Affairs. These institutions are hardly distinguishable
from one another and consist of individuals who freely move from one
organization to another. Among these, the Washington Institute has become one of
the most prominent institutions in making US foreign policy toward the Middle
explained in my book, the Washington Institute was established in 1985 with the
backing of a board member of the
American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and with $100,000 in
contributions, largely from the Jewish community. The first head of the
institute was Martin Indyk, an Australian native who had served as the media and
communication advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. After his
arrival in the US, Indyk became a staffer at AIPAC. But, apparently, he became
frustrated by the fact that his research was not taken seriously because AIPAC
was seen as an Israeli propaganda organ. So in 1982, when Indyk was asked by a
friend to set up a research department for AIPAC, he accepted the offer.
Subsequently, in mid-December 1992 Clinton's national security advisor Anthony
Lake offered the job of senior director for Middle East matters at the National
Security Council to Indyk, a move which The Jerusalem Post of January 29,
1993, said had made Israeli officials "delighted." From that point onward, as
the report mentioned, Indyk's ascent to power was meteoric. He went on to become
Special Assistant to the President and advised Clinton on Middle East matters,
including Iran. Subsequently, he was appointed as the US ambassador to Israel by
Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Indyk also became the most important
individual when it came to the policy of dual containment of Iran and Iraq, a
policy that he claimed to have devised at a Washington Institute meeting in
Another cofounder of the Washington
Institute was Dennis Ross.
He, too, played a major role in developing the Middle East policy of both the
Clinton Administration and, prior to that, the Administration of George H. W
Bush. Subsequently, after the end of the Clinton Administration, he became the
Director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Currently, he is
listed as "Consultant"
to the institute.
does not appear to have played as influential a role in the development of the
Clinton Administration's Iran policy as did Indyk. His primary focus in that era
was on the Palestinian issue.
Indyk and Ross represent one wing of the Washington Institute, a wing which
appeared to be close to the Israeli Labor Party. Another wing, closer to the
Israeli Likud Party, and particularly Benjamin Netanyahu, consists of
individuals such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, individuals who, as I
mentioned earlier, played a pivotal role in making the Bush Administration's
Middle East policy.
The difference between the Likud and the Labor wing of the Washington Institute
is mostly one of the means employed rather than the end sought.
This is particularly so since the emergence of the Kadima Party in Israel in
2005 that brought together the likes of Likud Party member Ariel Sharon and
Labor Party member Shimon Peres. Both wings of the Washington Institute, similar
to Kadima, seem to strive toward a
"Greater Israel" (Eretz Yisrael) that includes all or most of "Judea
They both see Iran as the biggest obstacle in achieving that goal.
such, the charge that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and posing an
"existential threat" to Israel has become a convenient tool for containing Iran.
What separates the two wings is that the Labor wing believes that sanctioning
and re-sanctioning Iran will eventually bring Iran to its knees, cause either a
popular uprising to overthrow the Iranian "regime" or make Iran ripe for an easy
US military invasion. The Likud wing, however, has very little patience for
sanctions. It wants an immediate result, a series of military attacks against
Iran, replacing the "regime" in Iran with a US-Israeli friendly government, as
was done in Iraq.
The question is: "Which
wing of the Washington Institute will come to power next?" Let us start with the
Republican presidential candidate.
A McCain Administration & Iran
John McCain represents the kind of president that The Jerusalem Post
described in its January 19, 2001, article, "All the president's Middle East
men," that is, a president whose policy will be determined more by his inner
circle of advisors. Despite boasting about his foreign policy expertise, McCain
seems to have very little knowledge of the Middle East in general and Iran in
particular. His strange comments and gaffes have become famous and appear
frequently in the news. For example, it was widely reported on July 21, 2008,
that in an interview with
Sawyer on "Good Morning America" McCain stated that
situation in Afghanistan is precarious and urgent. . . . I think it's serious. .
. . It's a serious situation, but there's a lot of things we need to do. We
have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid it's a very hard struggle, particularly
given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border.
Similarly, McCain's comments about Iran have been reported broadly. One example
is his response to a question about waging a military attack on Iran, when
McCain replied: "You know that old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran?" and then sang "Bomb
bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" (AFP, April 20, 2007). Apparently, that was meant to
be a joke. The serious part of his answer, which actually showed his depth of
knowledge, was not reported as widely. After his singing act McCain stated: "I
think Iran is a great threat. The Iranians are continuing their efforts to
acquire nuclear weapon[s]. . . .
is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. . . . That alone should concern us,
but now they are trying for nuclear capabilities. I totally support the
president when he says we will not allow
Iran to destroy Israel."
There has been, of course, no evidence that Iran is continuing its efforts to
acquire nuclear weapons or is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. The media
also reported on July 10, 2008, that when asked
by a reporter about the rising exports of cigarettes to Iran Mr. McCain stated:
"Maybe that's a way of killing them"; this was followed by the statement: "I
meant that as a joke" (The New York Times). Yet, the media failed to
point out that the joke was troublesome coming from a man who seems to take
sanctioning Iran quite seriously, and usually brags about being in the forefront
of imposing such sanctions. But perhaps one of McCain's most well-known gaffes
about Iran came when he was traveling in the Middle East trying to show off his
foreign policy credentials. The New York Times, on March 19, 2008,
reported the incident extensively:
John McCain's trip overseas was supposed to highlight his foreign policy acumen,
and his supporters hoped that it would showcase him in a series of statesmanlike
meetings with world leaders throughout the Middle East and Europe while the
Democratic candidates continued to squabble back home.
did not go according to plan on Tuesday in Amman, Jordan, when Mr.
McCain, fresh from a visit to Iraq, misidentified some
of the main players in the Iraq war.
McCain said several times in his visit to Jordan -- in
a news conference and in a radio interview -- that he was concerned that
Iran was training Al Qaeda in Iraq. The United States
believes that Iran, a Shiite country, has been training
and financing Shiite extremists in Iraq, but not Al Qaeda, which is a Sunni
McCain said at a news conference in Amman that he
continued to be concerned about Iranians ''taking Al Qaeda into
Iran, training them and sending them back.'' Asked
about that statement, Mr. McCain said: ''Well, it's
common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back
into Iran and receiving training and are coming back
into Iraq from Iran. That's well known. And it's
not until he got a quiet word of correction in his ear from Senator Joseph I.
Lieberman of Connecticut, who was traveling with Mr.
McCain as part of a Congressional delegation on a
nearly weeklong trip, that Mr. McCain corrected
sorry," Mr. McCain said, ''the Iranians are training
extremists, not Al Qaeda."
this was not McCain's only gaffe about Iran. In his
speech at the AIPAC Policy
Conference on June 2, 2008, McCain had a bigger gaffe that, to the best of my
knowledge, the media did not notice. He confused Khamenei, the current "supreme
leader" of Iran, with Khomeini, who died in 1989! He stated: "A
severe limit on Iranian imports of gasoline would create immediate pressure on
Khomeini and Ahmadinejad to change course and to cease in the pursuit of nuclear
Similar to George Bush, McCain's gaffes show that he is not expected to
formulate policy when it comes to Iran. Instead, in formulating policy he will
rely on his "inner circle of advisors," to use The Jerusalem Post's
phrase. But who are McCain's inner circle of advisors? One can say for sure
that one of McCain's most important advisors will be Joe Lieberman, the man who
came to his rescue when McCain had his gaffe about Iran training Al-Qaeda. For
years, Lieberman, a close ally of Israel in the US Senate, has been the brain
behind McCain's sanctions bills against Iran, starting with the
Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act of 1992-which was expanded and toughened in
1993 by McCain and Lieberman. Indeed, in his aforementioned AIPAC speech on June
2, 2008, McCain stated: "I am proud to have been a leader on these issues for
years, having coauthored the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act." He then
stated: "I was pleased-I was pleased to join Senators Lieberman and Kyle in
backing an Amendment calling for the designation of the Revolutionary Guard as a
terrorist organization responsible for killing American troops in Iraq."
In this short speech McCain mentioned Lieberman three times including at the
beginning of his speech when he stated "all of us are proud to be in the company
of my dear and beloved, distinguished Senator from the State of Connecticut, my
dear friend, Joe Lieberman. Joe, thank you; a man of humility, a man of
kindness, and a great and dear friend-not only of America-my family, State of
Israel and the world."
Prior to this speech, Lieberman had endorsed McCain for president (International
Herald Tribune, February 18, 2008). What role Lieberman would play in a
McCain administration and in making policy toward Iran remains to be seen. But
given his close relation with McCain, ties with Israel, and his past policies
toward Iran, it is natural to expect that Lieberman would exert much influence
on Iran policy. But who else is expected to influence Iran policy if McCain is
On April 10, 2008, The New York Times published an essay
entitled "2 Camps Trying to Influence McCain on Foreign Policy." The two camps
were divided into the "realists" or "pragmatists, some of whom have come to view
the Iraq war or its execution as a mistake" and the "neoconservatives, whose
thinking dominated President Bush's first term and played a pivotal role in
building the case for war." The "neoconservatives" mentioned were Robert Kagan,
Max Boot, and John Bolton.
The report stated that Robert Kagan "helped write much of the foreign policy
speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26, in which he
described himself as 'a realistic idealist'". The "realists" mentioned by The
New York Times were "former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, former
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and Brent Scowcroft, the national
security adviser to the first President Bush." The report also stated that
McCain also speaks to such "realists" as former Secretary of State Henry A.
Kissinger and former Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
If these are the two choices when it comes to making US foreign
policy toward Iran, there is not much hope for peace. True, the "realists" do
not sound as scary as the "neoconservatives." But the difference between the two
groups is similar to the difference between the two wings of the Washington
Institute, one is for sanctioning Iran to death and then inducing "shock and
awe" and the other is for inducing "shock and awe" from the very start. What is
worse is that according to The New York Times report, McCain campaign's
chief foreign policy aide is Randy Scheunemann. Scheunemann, along with such
luminaries as William Kristol and Robert Kagan, was one of the directors of the
infamous Project for the New American Century (PNAC). He was also the head of
Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a group that was instrumental in pushing
the US to invade Iraq and whose members included not only many neoconservatives
but also McCain and Lieberman (The New York Times, November 15, 2002).
It is, therefore, safe to say that
Randy Scheunemann has
strong credentials as a "neoconservative." But how much of this is translated
into policy making?
The New York Times
report on April 10, 2008, also mentioned that Scheunemann "serves as the
coordinator who sends advance copies of Mr. McCain's speeches to the foreign
policy advisers and receives information from them to send to the candidate."
Looking at McCain's AIPAC speech, it is safe to assume that the speech was
cleared, if not written completely, by either Scheunemann or his neoconservative
friends. McCain, who seems to know very little about the geography of the Middle
East, hit all the right notes to please the AIPAC crowd. In a speech that was
less than six and half pages McCain mentioned Iran and Tehran 35 times, all in
words that were music to the ears of the crowd. Typical statements, in order of
The Iranian President has called for Israel to be wiped off the
map. . . A sponsor of both Hamas and Hezbollah, the leadership of Iran has
repeatedly used violence to undermine Israel in the Middle East peace process. .
. Tehran's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons poses an unacceptable risk, a
danger we cannot allow. . . Iranian nuclear bomb would pose an existential
threat to the people of Israel. . . The Iranians have spent years working
toward a nuclear program. . . Ahmadinejad ['s]. . . . anti-Semitic rants. . .
Central Bank of Iran . . . aids in Iran's terrorism and weapons proliferation.
These usual neoconservative lines were then followed by the typical
recommendations as to what to do to Iran:
UN Security Council which should impose progressively tougher
political and economic sanctions. Should the Security Council continue to delay
in this responsibility, the United States must lead like-minded countries in
imposing multi-lateral sanctions outside the UN framework. . .
Over a year ago I proposed applying sanctions to restrict Iran's
ability to import refined petroleum products on which it is highly dependent and
the time has come for an international campaign to do just that. A severe limit
on Iranian imports of gasoline would create immediate pressure on Khomeini [Khamenei]
and Ahmadinejad to change course and to cease in the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
They [the Europeans] can help by imposing targeted sanctions that
will impose a heavy cost on the regime's leaders, including the denial of visas
and freezing of assets; as a further measure to contain and deter Iran, the
United States should impose financial sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran
which aids in Iran's terrorism and weapons proliferation. We must-we must apply
the full force of law to prevent business dealings with Iran's Revolutionary
Guard Corps. . .
We should privatize the sanctions against Iran by launching a
worldwide divestment campaign. As more people-businesses, pension funds, and
financial institutions across the world divest from companies doing business
with Iran the radical elite who run that country will become even more unpopular
than they are already.
This was McCain in June 2008. His speech, even though bellicose, was
constrained by the fact that as the Republican presidential nominee he had to be
careful not to appear too hawkish. He seemed less constrained in 2007, when he
was just a Republican candidate among many and had to compete for the trust of
the Jewish state and its US supporters. As such, he gave a speech at the 2007
a conference which, as I explained in my book, represented the Who's Who
of US-Israeli government officials, US presidential hopefuls, neoconservatives
of various sorts, and some academics. The major theme of almost all speeches was
the alleged Iranian threat. The headline of The Jerusalem Post of January
25, 2007 summed it up best: "Herzliya Conference: In a Word: Iran."
In his speech on January 23, 2007,
McCain stated the following about Iran:
strength will be put to the test. The world's chief state sponsor of
international terrorism, Iran defines itself by hostility to Israel and the
United States. It is simply tragic that millennia of proud Persian history have
culminated in a government today that cannot be counted among those of the
world's civilized nations. When the president of Iran calls for Israel to be
wiped off the map, or asks for a world without Zionism, or suggests that
Israel's Jewish population return to Europe, or calls the Holocaust a myth, it
is clear that we are dealing with an evil man and a very dangerous regime.
continued pursuit of nuclear weapons clearly poses an unacceptable risk.
Protected by a nuclear arsenal, Iran would feel unconstrained to sponsor
terrorist attacks against any perceived enemy. Its flouting of the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty would render that regime obsolete, and could induce
Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others to reassess their defense posture.
Moderate Gulf states would have to accommodate the new reality, and the world
would live, indefinitely, with the possibility that Tehran might pass nuclear
materials or weapons to one of its allied terrorist networks. Coupled with its
ballistic missile arsenal, an Iranian nuclear capability would pose an immediate
and existential threat to the State of Israel.
Council action is required to impose progressively tougher political and
economic sanctions. Should the Security Council continue to drag its feet, the
U.S. must lead a group of like-minded countries in imposing multilateral
sanctions outside the UN framework. Iran's need to import refined gasoline, to
cite one example, suggests an important vulnerability. And countries such as
China and Malaysia, which have signed deals to develop Iranian gas fields, and
Russia, which provides weapons systems to Tehran, should know that Iran will be
a critical element in American's bilateral relations with each nation. In the
meantime, the U.S. should immediately investigate whether any of these deals
violate the terms of last year's Iran Freedom Support Act.
should also privatize the sanctions effort by launching a disinvestment
campaign, as has been suggested at this conference. By persuading individuals,
pension funds, and financial institutions to divest from companies doing
business with Iran, we can isolate and delegitimize a hostile government. We
will also, as we did with the South Africa disinvestment campaign, increase the
debate inside the country about whether the present course serves the interests
of the Iranian people or merely those of a misguided elite. Americans and all
proponents of freedom need to reassure the millions of Iranians who aspire to
self-determination that we support their longing for freedom and democracy.
There is much more we can and should do to translate such support into concrete
option must remain on the table. Military action isn't our preference. It
remains, as it always must, the last option. We have some way to go
diplomatically before we need to contemplate other measures. But it is a simple
observation of reality that there is only one thing worse than a military
solution, and that, my friends, is a nuclear armed Iran. The regime must
understand that it cannot win a showdown with the world.
Several points in the McCain's speech need explaining.
Freedom Support Act was sponsored
by some of the usual friends of AIPAC in the Congress, particularly
Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Tom Lantos. The bill proposed, among
other things, to tighten the Iran Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) of 1996 and make
such sanctions under ILSA permanent. Also, the bill authorized the president to
provide financial and political assistance to foreign and domestic individuals,
organizations, and entities that "support democracy and the promotion of
democracy in Iran."
Iran Freedom Support Act was passed in the
House on April 27, 2006, by a vote of 397 to 21. A similar version of the bill,
S. 333, was introduced in the Senate by Senators Rick Santorum and Evan Bayh. As
usual, AIPAC was the nderwriter of the bill and, after the House's approval,
AIPAC members were asked to write the customary thank you note: "Please thank
your Representative for voting for the bill and urge your Senators to co-sponsor
S.333." The final version of the bill passed on September 28, 2006, and was
signed into law two days later by President Bush, as he thanked
Lantos, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Gary Ackerman in the House and the bill's chief
sponsors in the Senate.
statement concerning "disinvestment campaign, as has been suggested at this
conference" refers to the campaign spearheaded in Israel by
Benjamin Netanyahu and in
the US by various Israeli lobby groups, such as AIPAC, Center for Security
Policy-which is led by Frank Gaffney-and the
option must remain on the table" is, of course, the now famous US and Israeli
slogan for waging a military action against Iran. So is the comment: "one thing
worse than a military solution, and that . . . is a nuclear armed Iran."
McCain's speech at the 2007 Herzliya Conference-which,
given his level of knowledge about the Middle East, must have been written by
his neoconservative advisors-is more reflective of what the future has in store
for Iran if he is elected as president. It is safe to assume that the same set
of neoconservative advisors will continue to be influential in a McCain
administration. If that is the case, and if Iran does not capitulate to the
whims and wishes of US and Israel, we should expect from a McCain administration
sanctions, more sanctions and a rapid movement toward military attacks on Iran.
An Obama Administration & Iran
Barak Obama's knowledge of the Middle East, and particularly Iran, is harder to
assess than that of McCain. Obama has not been around long enough to leave a
paper trail behind on foreign policy matters. He must therefore be judged mostly
by the type of advisors that he has chosen. Of course, as we will see, his
recent speeches show that when left alone, his knowledge of Iran is not much
better than that of President Bush.
On July 18, 2008, The New York Times published an article entitled "A
Cast of 300 Advises Obama on Foreign Policy." This was one of the latest reports
on Obama's list of advisors. Setting aside Obama's top
foreign policy aide, who was said to be Denis McDonough, most of the "core
members" of Obama's team served in government during President Bill Clinton's
administration. Among these, the article mentioned two former secretaries of
state, Madeleine K. Albright and Warren Christopher, who "are positioned to put
their own stamp on the party's foreign policy." The article further stated that
"Obama's core team is led by Susan E. Rice, an assistant secretary of state for
African affairs in the Clinton administration" and "Anthony Lake, Mr. Clinton's
first national security adviser."
The report went on to say that "Dennis Ross, the Middle East envoy for Mr.
Clinton and the first President Bush and a member of the Obama campaign's Middle
East team, is frequently asked by Ms. Rice, Mr. Lake or Mr. McDonough for help
on framing Mr. Obama's comments on Iran's nuclear program and its potential
threat to Israel." The report quoted Dennis Ross to say: "They've asked for
substantive help: 'Can I take a look at language on Iran?'. . . Or sometimes
I've been asked questions to explain the administration's approach on Iran."
According to the report, "Mr. Ross participated in a conference call last week
with Mr. Obama and other advisers to prepare for the senator's foreign trip, and
he will travel with Mr. Obama in Israel and the West Bank city of Ramallah and
at other stops. Mr. Ross described Mr. Obama in the conference call as focused
on 'drilling down' into the issues on the trip."
A few names among Obama's list of advisors are worth noting. Anthony
Lake, as I argued earlier, was the one who in
December 1992 offered the job of senior director for Middle East matters at the
National Security Council to Indyk, a move which according to The Jerusalem
Post of January 29, 1993, had made Israeli officials "delighted." Even
though Indyk and the Washington Institute were the brain behind Clinton's policy
of containment of Iran and Iraq, Lake took some credit of his own for the
policy. For example, in the March/April 1994 issue of Foreign Affairs,
Lake wrote an article on dual containment entitled "Confronting
In the summary of the paper he stated "Iran and Iraq are particularly
troublesome since they not only defy nonproliferation exports but border the
vital Persian Gulf. Past attempts to build up Iran to counter Iraq and vice
versa have been disastrous. The policy of 'dual containment' creates a favorable
balance of power in the region by relying on America's strengths and those of
its allies, and it is already showing signs of success." Iran, along with
Cuba, North Korea, Iraq and Libya, were said to be
"backlash" states that, for now, "lack the
resources of a superpower, which would enable them to seriously threaten the
democratic order being created around them." "Nevertheless," Lake went on to
say, "their behavior is often aggressive and defiant." He then stated:
As the sole superpower, the United States has a special responsibility for
developing a strategy to neutralize, contain and, through selective pressure,
perhaps eventually transform these backlash states into constructive members of
the international community. Each backlash state is unique in its history,
culture and circumstances, and U.S. strategy has been tailored accordingly. But
there are common denominators. In each case, we maintain alliances and deploy
military capabilities sufficient to deter or respond to any aggressive act. We
seek to contain the influence of these states, sometimes by isolation, sometimes
through pressure, sometimes by diplomatic and economic measures. We encourage
the rest of the international community to join us in a concerted effort. In the
cases of Iraq and Libya, for example, we have already achieved a strong
international consensus backed by U.N. resolutions.
Anthony Lake's views in 1994 were not that different from those of the
neoconservative proponents of the Project for the New American Century. The
same concept of the US being the sole superpower, the need to neutralize
backlash states, the necessity to deploy military capabilities of the US, etc.,
that regularly appear in the writings of the neoconservatives, appeared in the
above speech, albeit with less emphasis on unilateral actions. The same can be
said of Lake's current views. In an interview with the
on July 2, 2008, Lake stated: "I genuinely believe that the most dangerous
crisis we are going to face potentially in the next three to 10 years is if the
Iranians get on the edge of developing a nuclear weapon. . . . If I were the
Europeans I would much rather put on the table more sanctions, together with
bigger carrots, and have that negotiation than I would face that crisis down the
road." Given such views,
it is clear what kind of Middle East advisors will encircle Obama as president.
The other two major leftovers of the Clinton Administrations who are
said to be advising Obama are the two former Secretaries of State, Warren
Christopher and Madeleine Albright. I have
dealt extensively with
Christopher's and Albright's policies toward Iran in
my book and will not do so here. It is sufficient to say that Warren
Christopher had a particular animosity toward
Iran since his hostage negotiation days and showed this animosity throughout his
years as Clinton's Secretary of State. He worked hand in hand with Martin Indyk
in demonizing Iran and pursuing sanctions against her. "Rogue state," "outlaw
nation," "dangerous country," and "terrorist state," were part of his usual
vocabulary in describing Iran. In addition, it was Christopher who picked Indyk
as US Ambassador to Israel because he "wanted someone the Israelis were
comfortable with" (The Washington Post of February 2, 1995).
Madeleine Albright is, of course, well known for her
pursuit of sanctions against Iraq. She is also well known for her
interview with 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl on May 12, 1996, when, in
response to a question concerning the death of perhaps half a million Iraqi
children as a result of these sanctions, she stated "I think this is a very hard
choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it." But in my book her name
appears mostly as one who, under pressure from the corporate lobby, tried to
moderate the excessive sanctions policy of the Clinton Administration, a policy
which was underwritten mostly by the Israeli lobby groups. The result, as I have
argued, was an incoherent and inconsistent U.S. sanctions policy toward Iran
that emerged in the late 1990s and ultimately gave way to the neoconservative
policies of the Bush Administration.
One name that surprisingly was missing from the list of Obama's
C. Holbrooke, an individual who served in various posts in
President Clinton's Administration, including as UN Ambassador.
was listed among Hillary Clinton's top national security advisors by the
Washington Post on October 2, 2007. According to The New York Times
article on July 18, 2008,
Holbrooke "was mentioned as a
potential secretary of state if Mrs. Clinton had won the presidency." Yet, the
article went on to say, Holbrooke was not included in a 13-member "senior
working group" that the Obama campaign announced in June 2008. According to this
article, "Holbrooke has long had a rivalry with Mr. Lake, who was widely
criticized in Washington for his performance as national security adviser in the
Clinton White House." The New York Times went on to say that the Obama
campaign has since said that Mr. Holbrooke "is on the team," but Holbrooke has
declined to comment and "has found himself in the position of a general from a
defeated army who must now seek peace."
The most important advisor to Obama-the one who according to the
aforementioned The New York Times article, was asked to frame "Obama's
comments on Iran's nuclear program and its potential threat to Israel"-is Dennis
Ross, the former Director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and
its current "Consultant."
Ross, as I said earlier, represents that wing of the Washington
Institute which advocates sanctioning Iran to death before finishing her off
with a series of military attacks. He believes that the US must join France,
Britain and Germany in negotiating with Iran, but with a price: If Iran does not
accept capitulation, that is, to stop its enrichment of uranium-then Europeans
must impose severe economic sanctions against Iran. He has expressed this view a
number of times and in different places. In an essay in U.S. News and World
Report on May 25, 2005-when Iran was still halting its uranium enrichment
under the "Paris Agreement"-Ross wrote:
The Iranians are manipulating the Europeans brilliantly, raising the pressure,
then easing the pressure, counting on the British, French, and Germans to be
grateful when they pull back from their threats. Ultimately, the basic Iranian
strategy appears to be to tell the Europeans that Iran must have the capability
to complete the nuclear fuel cycle on its own-meaning that it can enrich uranium
and reprocess plutonium on its own. In such circumstances, Iran will be able to
produce nuclear fuel for electricity and fissile material for nuclear warheads.
Of course, it will guarantee the Europeans that it won't create nuclear
weapons-only nuclear power.
But Ross contended that
such guarantees are not good enough because for "nearly 20 years, Iran hid
significant parts of its enrichment activities, in violation of its obligations
under the Nonproliferation Treaty."
assessment of Iran's agreement with EU3 and his allegations concerning Iran's
violation of NPT were false, as my analysis of the Paris Agreement and the
history of Iran's enrichment activities show.
But what is interesting here is the conclusion that Ross was trying to reach. In
order for Iran to "build confidence," Ross argued, Iran must accept "a
go-anywhere-anytime inspection regime" and must "stop trying to subvert
Israeli-Palestinian calm while, of course, denying that they are making any such
effort." Ross's first requirement means giving the US and Israel a free hand in
gathering intelligence on Iran's military capabilities in an atmosphere where
the US complains about lack of such intelligence, and both the US and Israel are
continuously threatening Iran with military attacks. Actually, Iran did sign the
"Additional Protocol," which gave the IAEA the power to "go-anywhere-anytime,"
but the Iranian Majlis saw this as capitulation and, moreover, since Iran
received nothing in return for this agreement, Iran later withdrew from the
agreement. At first glance, Ross's second demand appears to be a non sequitur.
What does the issue of Iran's nuclear program has to do with Iran "subverting
Israeli-Palestinian calm"? Yet, actually, the demand shows what much of the
fight is all about: Iran is a major obstacle toward the goal of achieving
Yisrael." Thus a good deal of the clamor about Iran's alleged development
of nuclear weapons has to do with the issue of the "Greater Israel."
In the above
essay, Ross suggested that the Bush Administration change its approach and join
the EU negotiation with Iran. The purpose of this "change of approach" was to
get the "Europeans [to] agree that sanctions would be adopted if the
negotiations fail." Exactly what kind of sanctions would be adopted was not
spelled out. But Ross's later articles and interviews made his proposed
sanctions more clear. On May 1, 2006, before the first
UN sanctions were imposed on Iran, Ross wrote an essay in The Washington Post
in which he argued for "collective sanctions that the Iranians would see
as biting," that is, "an extensive set of meaningful-not marginal-economic and
political sanctions," or a kind of real economic sanctions that would "bite Iran
and its ability to generate revenue." Ross was somewhat vague, but since he
mentioned that such sanctions "would undoubtedly drive up the price of oil," he
apparently had in mind an oil embargo against Iran.
in The Washington Post article-as well as his other essays-is quite
interesting. He does not actually claim that Iran is developing nuclear
weapons. Instead, he contends at the beginning of the essay that "Iran continues
its march toward development of nuclear power," as if developing nuclear power
is against NPT. Later he argues that on the current path Iran would have
"weapons capability." But, again, having "weapons capability" is not the same
thing as developing nuclear weapons and does not constitute any violation of NPT.
Subsequently, he repeats the Israeli line that if "Iran succeeds [in having
nuclear weapons capability], in all likelihood we will face a nuclear Middle
East." But it is not all clear why a nuclear armed Israel, which has fought many
of its neighbors and is perceived by many countries in the region to be the most
formidable foe, has not made the world face a nuclear Middle East. Ross also
contends that the old "nuclear deterrent rules" are not applicable to the case
of Iran, since the Iranian president believes in religious "mythology," such as
"the coming of the 12th Imam" and "Armageddon." This is an old
argument by the Israelis. According to this argument, the Iranian leaders are
religious and irrational and can't be trusted with nuclear material. But this is
a peculiar argument for people who justify the existence of Israel on religious
basis to begin with. It is also a peculiar argument for people who either
believe in Armageddon themselves or have as their best friends
"Christian-Zionists" who have such beliefs. Ross's logic in The Washington
Post against military attacks on Iran is also interesting. He does not
argue that such attacks are both illegal and inhumane. Instead, he argues that
"there are no simple or clean military options," or that the "more casualties we
inflict, the more we inflame the Islamic world," or that Iran has the "ability
On June 26,
2007, after two sets of sanctions were imposed against Iran by the UN, Ross gave
an interview that appeared on "Time.com." Not satisfied with the exiting
economic sanctions, Ross asked for more by stating:
Iran's vulnerabilities are economic. The sanctions that have been adopted at the
U.N. are part of what I call a slow-motion approach to diplomacy, and here again
you have a mismatch between objectives and means. We have slow-motion diplomacy
matched against their fast-paced nuclear development. So, we have to ratchet up
the economic pressures on the Iranians. And the Europeans, who are desperate for
us to talk directly to Iran, hold the key. I would offer to join the Europeans
in direct talks with Iran, but only if the Europeans are prepared to cut off
their economic lifeline to Iran. If Iran thinks it is actually going to be cut
off economically, which has not been the case in the sanctions so far, then you
have a chance to change their behavior.
weeks later, on July 5, 2007, Ross gave another interview that appeared under
"Dennis Ross: 18 Months to Avoid War with Iran" on The Huffington Post. In this
interview he raised the specter of Israel attacking Iran:
Israel, the "redline" is not so much when Iran has enough enrichment capacity
for weapons-grade material. Their deadline is 18 months from now when Iran's air
defense system, which is being upgraded by the Russians, will be completed. That
will make it much more difficult to successfully strike Iran's nuclear capacity
from the air. The closer we get to that window without resolution of the Iranian
nuclear problem, the more Israel will feel compelled to strike.
Clearly, at the moment, we are headed down the path of use of force. The
slow-motion diplomacy of the West simply does not match the rapid development of
Iran's nuclear capacity and the closing window when Iran's upgraded air defenses
will be in place.
18-month deadline for Israel attacking Iran, of course, would coincide with
George Bush leaving office. This seemed to signal the need for more drastic
measures by the current administration, a signal that was coming from Israel
repeatedly. What Ross advocated was, once again, to get the "Europeans to more
seriously sanction Iran on the economic front." This could be achieved, Ross
argued, by the Saudis putting economic pressure on Europe, the Israelis going to
"the Europeans and say, 'If you think you are on a path that will avoid war, you
are mistaken'", and the "the US joining the European at the table to giving
ultimatum to Iran." With regard to the last suggestion, Ross argued:
Already, many Europeans want the U.S. to suspend the condition that Iran stop
enrichment before it enters talks. I am not in favor of dropping that condition
unless there is another one. I would say to the Europeans that the U.S. will
favor suspending the enrichment condition if they cut the economic lifeline to
full well that Iran's "redline" was suspending its enrichment of uranium -which
would be contrary to Article IV of NPT-Ross was, in effect, advocating that the
Europeans "cut the economic lifeline to Iran."
In sum, Ross's policy prescription on Iran was not much different
from that of the neoconservative wing of the Washington Institute. While the
Likud wing advocated a head-on assault on Iran, Ross advocated preparing the
ground before the assault. We will return to Ross's more recent policy advocacy
shortly. But first let us examine the influence of Obama's Middle East advisors
on his speeches.
Speeches at AIPAC
March 2, 2007, Obama gave a speech at the AIPAC policy forum.
In an approximately seven page speech there were 30 references to Iran,
including this comment: "Neither Israel nor the United States has the luxury of dismissing
these outrages as mere rhetoric, particularly when that nation has expressed
an interest in developing nuclear weapons" (emphasis added). The comment
shows what happens when Obama does not stick to a written script. Iran or "that
nation," as he called it, has never expressed an interest in developing nuclear
weapons. Indeed, the Iranian leaders have often argued against the development,
possession and use of nuclear weapons. President Bush has often been admonished
by the media for his ignorance when he has made similar comments.
Yet, no member of the media reported Obama's ignorance. Obama added this
comment on his own, since an official copy of the speech does not contain this
The rest of the speech, however, was right out of a script written by the
Washington Institute. All the right
notes were hit. Iran was declared to be the "greatest threat to the United
States, to Israel, and world peace." Iran's President
Ahmadinejad was said to be "a threat to all of us." "His words," read
Obama, "contain a chilling echo of some of the world's most despicable and
tragic history." In a veiled reference to Hitler, Obama stated, "history has a
terrible way of repeating itself. President Ahmadinejad has denied the
Holocaust. He held a conference in his country claiming it was a myth." "In
the 21st century," Obama went on to say, "it is unacceptable that a
member state of the United Nations would openly call for the elimination
of another member state." "The world," Obama's speech read, "must work to stop
Iran's uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear
weapons," because it "is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hand
of a radical theocracy." Not only that, but "Iranian nuclear weapons would
destabilize the region and could set off a new arms race." In addition,
"[t]errorist groups with Iran's backing would feel emboldened to act even more
brazenly under an Iranian nuclear umbrella."
What is to be done? Obama's answer came right out of the manual of the Labor
Party wing of the Washington Institute: "[W]hile we should take no option,
including military action, off the table, sustained and aggressive diplomacy
combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means to prevent Iran from
building nuclear weapons." How aggressive is
"aggressive diplomacy"? Obama's answer consisted of the following:
Pursuing a "determined U.S. diplomacy at the United Nations"
Pushing for a "cooperative strategy with Gulf States who supply
Iran with much of the energy resources it needs"
Unifying "those states to recognize the threat of Iran and increase pressure on
Iran to suspend uranium enrichment"
Pushing for "full implementation of U.S. sanction laws"
Persuading "other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, to recognize
common interests with Israel in dealing with Iran"
Stressing to "the Egyptians that they help the Iranians and do
themselves no favors by failing to adequately prevent the smuggling of weapons
and cash by Iran into Gaza"
These recommendations were rounded off with this:
The United States' leverage is strengthened when we have many
nations with us. It puts us in a place where sanctions could actually have a
profound impact on Iran's economy. Iran is highly dependent on imports and
foreign investment, credit and technology. And an environment where allies see
that these types of investments in Iran are not in the world's best interests
could help bring Iran to the table.
diplomacy," which would ultimately result in cutting off Iranian imports, was
the kind of "diplomacy" that the US had pursued with Iraq prior to the US's
second invasion of that country.
This was Obama's speech at
in 2007. His next major speech at AIPAC was on June 4, 2008, a few days before
he became his party's nominee for president. In his approximately 7-page long
speech Obama made 29 references to Iran. He started his comments with a remark
that went totally unnoticed by the news media. He stated: "Because of the war in
Iraq, Iran-which always posed a greater threat to Israel than Iraq-is
emboldened, and poses the greatest strategic challenge to the United States and
Israel in the Middle East in a generation." The argument that Iran always posed
a greater danger to Israel than Iraq, as I have argued in my book, was made by
the Israeli officials prior to the US invasion of Iraq. However, for reasons
that I have discussed in my book, the neoconservatives had decided to go after
Iraq before Iran. Obama was repeating the original Israeli argument. After this
initial remark, Obama went on to please the AIPAC crowd by listing the
Israeli-Washington Institute charges against Iran: the "Iranian regime" supports
"violent extremists," its President denies "Holocaust" and wants to "wipe Israel
off the map," the "danger from Iran [to Israel] is grave," etc. When it came to
the nuclear issue, however, Obama did not say that Iran has "expressed
an interest in developing nuclear weapons," as he had stated in his 2007 AIPAC
speech. Instead, he stated that Iran is pursuing "a nuclear capability,"
the same ambiguous phrase used by Dennis Ross and associates. Nevertheless,
Obama stated that Iran pursuing "a nuclear capability could spark a dangerous
arms race, and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to
The rest of the speech on Iran was devoted mostly to Obama trying to
differentiate his Iraq-Iran policy from that of McCain's and, implicitly, from
the policy of the Bush Administration. But, even in this case the main issue was
that we invaded the wrong country:
We knew, in 2002, that
Iran supported terrorism. We knew Iran had an illicit nuclear program. We knew
Iran posed a grave threat to Israel. But instead of pursuing a strategy to
address this threat, we ignored it and instead invaded and occupied Iraq.
Once again, Obama argued that he would pursue an "aggressive, principled
diplomacy" toward Iran. What kind of diplomacy? Obama's diplomacy would offer
Iran a "choice": "If you abandon your dangerous nuclear program, support for
terror, and threats to Israel, there will be meaningful incentives-including the
lifting of sanctions, and political and economic integration with the
international community. If you refuse, we will ratchet up the pressure." What
kind of pressure? Obama's answer was even harsher than the one offered in the
If Iran fails to change
course when presented with this choice . . . [t]hat will strengthen our hand
with Russia and China as we insist on stronger sanctions in the Security
Council. And we should work with Europe, Japan and the Gulf states to find every
avenue outside the UN to isolate the Iranian regime-from cutting off loan
guarantees and expanding financial sanctions, to banning the export of refined
petroleum to Iran, to boycotting firms associated with the Iranian Revolutionary
Guard, which has rightly been labeled a terrorist organization.
This was followed by Obama endorsing divestment from Iran and bragging that he
"introduced legislation over a year ago" about such divestment. Obama also
proposed to "pursue other unilateral sanctions that target Iranian banks and
assets." In addition, Obama stated:
Finally, let there be no
doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend
our security and our ally Israel. Sometimes there are no alternatives to
confrontation. But that only makes diplomacy more important. If we must use
military force, we are more likely to succeed, and will have far greater support
at home and abroad, if we have exhausted our diplomatic efforts.
Given Iran's two "choices," it is not too difficult to see where Obama's
"aggressive, principled diplomacy" would go. Iran's "redline" has been giving up
its right to enrich uranium, and it is hard to expect any change in this
position. It is also hard to expect Iran stopping its support for the
Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups. Therefore, Obama's policy inevitably
would lead to the final option, that is, using military force against Iran. This
is precisely the kind of "diplomacy" that the Labor wing of the Washington
Institute advocates. Instead of waging a military campaign against Iran
immediately, which the Likud wing proposes, Ross and associates propose to go
through a series of motions prior to starting the war.
Before leaving this section, let us sum the bizarre and incestuous
relationship between the presidential candidates and the Israeli lobby groups.
The future president of the United States, be it Obama or McCain, delivers an
obligatory speech at AIPAC. The speech has all the markings of being
underwritten by a member or members of the Washington Institute or similar
organization affiliated with the Israeli lobby groups. The speech tells AIPAC
members, who appear to be obsessed with an alleged existential threat to Israel,
every tired line that they would like to hear. This is akin to the US president
delivering a speech, underwritten by oil executives, at the meeting of the
members of the oil lobby, telling the crowd everything that is music to their
ears. It is hard to imagine the existence of such a close relation between the
US president and the oil lobby without an expression of outrage from many
Americans. Yet, when it comes to the Israeli lobby, such a relation seems to be
Washington Institute's "Presidential Study Group"
2008 the Washington Institute published the first of three "Presidential
Study Group Reports."
The report was titled "Strengthening the Partnership: How to
Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge."
The two "co-convenors" of the report
were Dennis Ross and Robert Satloff. The other two Washington Institute
participants were the neoconservatives Patrick Clawson, "deputy director of
research," and David Makovsky, "senior fellow and director, Project on the
Middle East Peace Process."
On its website, under "Bookstore," the Washington Institute stated that its
"'policy statement' was endorsed by more than a dozen respected policy
practitioners." Included in the list were Anthony Lake and Susan Rice,
individuals who, as stated earlier, are top advisors to Senator Obama.
Interestingly enough, the list also included "former congressman Vin Weber; and
former Clinton administration director of central intelligence R. James
The same list of "Signatories" appeared at the end of the report. As Haartez
pointed out on June 15, 2008, while
and Rice represented the Obama camp, Vin Weber, and James Woolsey represented
the McCain camp.
The significance of this bipartisan acceptance of the report will be discussed
later. But what was in the report?
In the "Preface" Ross and Satloff stated that the "Task Force on the Future
of U.S.-Israel Relations met on a number of occasions in 2007 and 2008 in the
Institute's offices and over a two-day retreat with ten Israeli counterparts at
the Lansdowne Conference Center in Virginia." The "U.S. and Israeli governments"
were then thanked "for their assistance and cooperation with briefings and
background information that helped inform the work of the Task Force." In
addition, it was stated that "the work of the Task Force and the visit of
Israelis to our Lansdowne retreat were made possible by a generous endowment
established by the Soref Foundation to support this quadrennial exercise."
A cursory check on the finances of the Samuel and Helene Soref Foundation
reveals that in 2007, beside granting $230,000 to the Washington Institute, the
foundation contributed to such neoconservative projects as Daniel Pipes' Middle
East Forum, Irshad Manjis "Project
Ijtihad," Israel Project and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).
Given this information, one can conclude that that "Presidential
Study Group Report" on Iran was drafted by an AIPAC affiliate, in
consultation with their "Israeli counterparts" or Israeli government officials,
with funds made available by a foundation that supports numerous neoconservative
projects. It is hard to imagine that such a report would be much different from
one actually drafted by the Israeli government itself. Nevertheless, since
advisors to both presidential candidates endorsed the report, it is useful to
examine the report and its proposed policy.
In the approximately 6-page "Statement of the Presidential Task
Force on the Future of U.S.-Israel Relations" the term "nuclear weapons"
appeared 16 times, most often in combination with "capability." This made
"Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability," to use a phrase in the
report, sound more like Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. This practice, as
I mentioned earlier, can be found in other writings of Dennis Ross and his
associates as well. But while in some places the practice might be
unintentional, here it was definitely intentional. The report stated that Iran's
"mastering the centrifuge enrichment process" and "improving its ballistic
missile capability" are "two of the three core elements of an independent,
self-sufficient nuclear weapons program."
The report's attempt to identify Iran's enrichment activity with
developing nuclear weapons was a scare tactic. Indeed, before such
identification, an ominous warning appeared: "This is an urgent matter." Many
such scare tactics appeared throughout the report. For example, the term
"threat"-as "Iran nuclear threat" to Israel-appeared repeatedly in the report.
This "threat" was made even more ominous when coupled with the Holocaust:
With Iran's president denying the Holocaust, declaring Israel should be wiped
off the map, proclaiming that the countdown to Israel's destruction is close at
hand, and providing substantial funds, training, and material support to
terrorist groups dedicated to that goal, it is no wonder that Israelis across
the political spectrum see nuclear weapons in the hands of the leaders of the
Islamic Republic of Iran as constituting a threat to the state of Israel of
unprecedented scope and seriousness.
Actually, the above argument concerning the irrationality of the Iranian
government, which was discussed earlier, appeared explicitly in the report. But
this time the argument was attributed to the Israelis:
Israelis are not convinced that traditional deterrence-whether by the prospect
of successful conventional defense or massive nuclear response-will work against
a regime that has within it a significant messianic, even apocalyptic, element.
They fear that the sort of costs whose prospect deterred the Soviet Union during
the Cold War-and might well deter more rational, more calculating rulers in the
future-may not be sufficient in the case of Iran's current leadership.
There were also other scare tactics in the report, including some used by Ross
in his other writings and discussed earlier in this essay, such as Iran's
development of "nuclear weapons capability" that could "destroy the
international nonproliferation regime and spark a Middle East arms race of
unprecedented scope and peril." Also, the report mentioned, among its "most
worrisome fears," the "potential proliferation of nuclear weapons to terrorist
groups." In addition, the report stated that "the prospect of Iran's
acquisition" would destroy "the opportunities for advancing Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations under the umbrella of the Annapolis peace process as well as the
potential for further rounds of war and bloodshed-either between Hizballah and
Israel, between Hamas and Israel, or even on the two fronts, Lebanon and Gaza,
at the same time." Furthermore, warned the report, if the US does not act,
Israel might consider a "unilateral military action to forestall Iran's
development of a nuclear capability."
After a litany of dire predictions concerning "Iran's acquisition of
a nuclear weapons capability" and the dismissal of those critics who "argue that
Israel has manipulated the U.S. government to act counter to the American
national interest," the report went to the heart of the matter: "Task Force
"Based on the above," the authors wrote, "we urge the
1) "THAT THE PRESIDENT
INITIATE, with the prime minister of Israel, a high-level dialogue on
the most urgent security matters on our strategic agenda . . . the Iranian
2) "THAT THE PRESIDENT PROPOSE a new forum for such a dialogue . . .
we urge each leader to identify one or two aides to represent them. These
aides should be among the most trusted advisors to the president and prime
3) "THAT THE FIRST ITEM on the agenda for this forum should be a discussion of
each side's view about current and potential efforts to compel a change in
Iranian behavior on the nuclear issue. This forum has special responsibility to
undertake a thorough assessment of costs and benefits of each alternative,
including their potential implications for other U.S., Israeli, and allied
interests inside and outside the Middle East. This should cover the entire range
of policy options, including:
diplomatic engagement (including coordinating the agenda and timetable of a
potential U.S.-Iran dialogue),
political and economic pressure (including bringing Israel in as a full partner
in planning discussions regarding initiatives involving the UN Security Council
and U.S.-EU, U.S.-Arab, and other relevant forums),
coercive options (such as an embargo on Iran's sale of oil or import of refined
petroleum products), and
preventive military action.
4) THAT THIS FORUM also be empowered to explore, for the two leaders,
understandings that would guide diplomacy on matters related to the pursuit of
Arab-Israeli peace. This should include, for example:
5) THAT THE PRESIDENT BEGIN a national conversation with the American people on
the challenges, risks, and dilemmas posed to U.S. interests by the potential
Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability, and on ways to prevent it.
While this Task Force statement emphasizes the need for strengthening
U.S.-Israel dialogue on the issue, it is even more important for the president
to use one of the most important tools at his disposal, the bully pulpit, to
raise popular awareness of the fact that Iran's nuclear ambitions are likely
to trigger a surge of nuclear proliferation and raise the potential of
terrorists gaining nuclear weapons. The central argument is that preventing
Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability is not special pleading for
America's ally Israel-it is vital to America's own security. Given the urgency
of the challenges our two countries face together, these proposals-drafted with
the inauguration of a new president in mind-are no less appropriate for the
incumbent; they deserve immediate consideration.
Each of the above recommendations is worth examining. The first recommendation,
the need for the US president and the prime minister of Israel to set up a
"high-level dialogue" on the Iranian nuclear program, is somewhat humorous,
given that Americans and Israeli officials regularly meet one another or meet
with the members of US-Israeli "think tanks." Given that the two parties are
joined at the hip, it is hard to imagine more meeting and "dialogue" between the
The second recommendation is both amusing and self-serving; it is a
polite way of saying that the US president is ignorant when it comes to Iran and
the policy making should be left to the "trusted advisors." To put it
differently, a future President Obama would put Dennis Ross or Robert Satloff of
the Washington Institute, an AIPAC affiliate, in charge of drawing up Iran
policy along with their Israeli counterparts. Such an incestuous relation has,
of course, been the norm since at least the Clinton era and it is hard to expect
anything but its continuation in the next administration.
The third recommendation could also be amusing if it was not for the
fact that it opens the way for military attacks on Iran. It is recommended that
a forum, made up of Israeli lobby representatives and Israeli government
officials, undertake a cost/benefit analysis of 1) "engagement" with Iran; 2)
"political and economic pressure" against Iran; 3) "coercive options," such as
"embargo on Iran's sale of oil"; and 4) "preventive military action." Given
that no engagement with Iran is advocated by the Israelis, and the kind of
engagement proposed by Ross and associates merely involves giving an ultimatum
to Iran, the only cost/benefit analysis needed is that related to taking hostile
actions against Iran. But such a cost/benefit analysis has already been done by
the Washington Institute. In the same month of June, the neoconservative Patrick
Clawson-whose name appears as a participant on the "Presidential Task Force"-and
Michael Eisenstadt posted a "study" on the website of the Washington Institute.
Under the menacing title "Agenda: Iran-The Last Resort: Consequences of
Preventive Military Action against Iran," the authors did an "analysis" of what
amounted to the cost to the US of repeated military attacks against Iran and the
resulting benefit to Israel. As it is expected from such "studies," the benefit
far outweighed the cost. Iran, to put it succinctly, would be helpless if the US
carpet bombed it over and over again, according to the report. Typical
"analysis" and recommendations were as follows:
Because the ultimate goal of prevention is to influence Tehran to
change course, effective
strikes against Iran's nuclear infrastructure may play an important role in
affecting Iran's decision calculus. Strikes that flatten its nuclear
infrastructure could have a demoralizing effect, and could influence Tehran's
assessment of the cost of rebuilding. But the most effective strikes may not
necessarily be against nuclear facilities. Iran is extraordinarily vulnerable to
attacks on its oil export infrastructure. Oil revenue provides at least
three-fourths of government income and at least 80 percent of export revenues.
Interestingly enough, in this cost/benefit "analysis" the main reason for the US
"strike" and "post-strike" against Iran was inadvertently mentioned:
Not surprisingly, Israel is probably more favorably disposed toward preventive
action than is the United States. A nuclear-armed Iran could dangerously alter
the strategic balance in the region, handcuffing Israel's room to maneuver on
the Palestinian and Lebanese fronts, dealing a sharp blow to moderate Arab
regimes ready to live in peace with Israel, and emboldening anti-Israeli Islamic
extremists around the world.
To put the statement differently, Israel is opposed to Iran having nuclear
technology knowhow because such knowledge might interfere with the plan for the
The fourth recommendation of the "Presidential
Study Group"-i.e., how the "forum" must be empowered to explore
ways to pursue "Arab-Israeli peace"-is, once again, related to the issue of the
"Greater Israel." An example given by the authors is finding "a common effort to
confront Iranian support for anti-peace elements among Palestinians and in
Lebanon." Once more, it seems that much of the uproar about
Iran's alleged development of nuclear weapons has to
do with the issue of Iran's support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance
The last recommendation is for the next president to use the "bully
pulpit" to warn the Americans about "Iran's nuclear ambitions" and its dangers,
that is, the "surge of nuclear proliferation and raise the potential of
terrorists gaining nuclear weapons." The incoming president is also supposed to
tell the nation that "preventing Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapons
capability"-i.e., Iran's enrichment of uranium-is vital not just for the
Israel's "security" but for the US. It is not hard to see where the authors are
going with this, given the events that preceded the invasion of Iraq: the US
president should go on television and in an ominous speech warn the Americans
about a smoking gun becoming a mushroom cloud. We all know the rest of the
Washington Institute's "Presidential Study Group Report" on
"How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge" was a
report devoid of any factual content. In a few places, when it tried to appear
factual, it failed. For example, it stated that:
Iran persists in these activities [mastering the centrifuge enrichment process
and improving ballistic missile capability] despite unanimous UN Security
Council resolutions calling on it to suspend its enrichment program, and despite
a generous package of diplomatic and economic incentives, including a guaranteed
supply of enriched uranium for civilian uses, to convince it to change its
nuclear-related policies. According to the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)
issued in late 2007, Iran may have enough highly enriched uranium to build a
nuclear weapon in less than two years.
cursory look at the news would have shown the authors that their first statement
is false. The third
UN Security Council
resolution, Resolution1803, did not pass unanimously.
abstained during the vote.
Furthermore, as most news sources pointed out, "Libya,
South Africa and
Vietnam joined Indonesia in expressing reservations [about the
resolution]" (AFP, March 3, 2008). Indeed, as I have explained in my book every
resolution passed against Iran, either in the IAEA or the Security Council, has
passed by means of US pressure, threats, arm twisting, and bribing.
The second part of the first statement is also false. It is, of course, not
clear which "package of diplomatic and economic incentives" the authors are
referring to and when, but so far all the packages that have been offered to
Iran have been anything but "generous." Actually, as many analysts, including
this author, have noted, all the packages offered to Iran have been basically
the same and have included vague and undeliverable promises. The second line is
also less than true. Here is what the NIE stated:
• We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would
be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon is late 2009, but
that this is very unlikely.
• We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable
of producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame. (INR
[Bureau of Intelligence and Research] judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this
capability before 2013 because of foreseeable technical and programmatic
problems.) All agencies recognize the possibility that this capability may not
be attained until after 2015.
These statements can hardly be read in the way that the authors read them, that
is, according to 2007 NIE "Iran may have enough highly enriched uranium to build
a nuclear weapon in less than two years."
This was the report that the advisors of Obama and McCain signed off on. The
report was void of any factual content and merely a propaganda tool intended to
serve the whims and wishes of Israel. Yet, the advisors to both presidential
candidates were not bothered at all by any of this. Had it not been for the
power of the Israeli lobby groups to shape US foreign policy, this would have
been astonishing. Not only did the two sides not question the accuracy of the
report or its intention, they accepted the same policy with regard to Iran. It
is hard to imagine such unanimity on any other policy.
is, indeed, an outstanding achievement for the Washington Institute and it
Back on the campaign trail: the last
In July 2008 Obama visited Israel. A headline in "time-blog.com" on July 16,
2008, said it all: "Dennis
Ross By Obama's Side."
With the Washington Institute ex-director on his side, Obama hit all the right
notes on Iran to an Israeli audience: "A nuclear Iran
would pose a grave threat and the world must prevent
Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. . . . I will take
no options off the table in dealing with this potential Iranian
threat. . . . A nuclear Iran
would be a game-changing situation, not just in the Middle East but around the
world" (AFP, July 23, 2008).
Once he was back from his pilgrimage, Obama delivered the usual messages from
Israel-Washington Institute intended to scare the US to act sooner rather than
later on Iran. According to the AFP of July 30, 2008, Obama "told fellow
Democratic lawmakers that Israel will launch a
military strike on Iran
if nuclear sanctions fail." Obama was quoted as saying "Nobody said this to me
directly but I get the feeling from my talks that if the sanctions don't work,
Israel is going to strike Iran." He was quoted further as saying that a nuclear
Iran would be a "game changer" for the entire region because of likely Israeli
action. As the article mentioned, in a later meeting with President Sarkozy
Obama also stated: "Iran should accept the proposals that President (Nicolas)
Sarkozy and the EU. . . are presenting now. Don't wait for the next president."
Throughout the remainder of his presidential campaign Obama repeated
the Washington Institute lines concerning a nuclear Iran being a "game changer"
for the region, a "threat" to Israel and that Israel might go it alone in
attacking Iran if the US does not engage in "aggressive diplomacy" and intensify
sanctions. For example, on August 25, 2008, Reuters reported that in response to
a question at a campaign event in Iowa Obama stated: "My
job as president would be to try to make sure that we are tightening the screws
diplomatically on Iran, that we've mobilized the world community to go after
Iran's program in a serious way, to get sanctions in place so that Iran starts
making a difficult calculation. . . We've got to do that before Israel feels
like its back is to the wall." Afterward, when asked whether Israel felt it had
a "green light" to take military action against Iran if the US and allies did
not act, Obama stated "I don't want to speculate on whether or not Israel feels
like it has a green light or not because that would be speculation. . . . What
is not speculation is that we have to act much more forcefully and effectively
on the world stage to contain Iran's nuclear capabilities."
On September 21, 2008, in an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes, Obama was
asked by Steve Kroft: "Is a nuclear-armed Iran a direct threat to the
United States?" Obama answered: "Yes. I think that a nuclear armed Iran is not
just a threat to us, it's a threat to Israel. And it is a game changer in the
region. It's unacceptable. And that's why I've said that I won't take any
options off the table, including military, to prevent them from obtaining a
nuclear weapon. But I do think that it is important for us to use all the arrows
in our quiver. And we have not applied the kind of tough diplomacy over the last
eight years that I think could have made a difference."
Given that during the Bush Administration the US had done nothing but to
threaten Iran with military actions and impose sanctions against her, what could
Obama possibly mean by applying "tough diplomacy" but what Dennis Ross and his
ilk were advocating? "Tough" or "aggressive diplomacy," as I argued earlier, was
the blueprint offered by the Washington Institute: In a face to face meeting
give Iran an ultimatum, either surrender or we will do to you what was done to
While Obama was talking about pursuing "aggressive diplomacy" on the last
stretch of his campaign, McCain was attacking Obama for not being aggressive
enough on Iran. On the day that Obama was set to be formally anointed at the
Democratic National Convention, McCain stated that
"Obama says Iran is a 'tiny' country, doesn't pose a serious threat."
This was said by McCain "as evocative pictures of
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Israeli flag flash[ed]
across the screen," according to AFP on August 27, 2008. AFP further quoted
McCain as saying: "Terrorism, destroying Israel,
those aren't 'serious threats'? Obama [is] dangerously unprepared to be
president." According to the same AFP, Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan responded by
saying: "While Barack Obama recognizes that Iran has been the biggest
beneficiary of the war in Iraq and that the Bush-McCain fear of tough diplomacy
has allowed Iran to spin 3800 centrifuges, threaten Israel, and fund terrorism,
John McCain promises more of the same. . . . If John McCain was serious about
dealing with the threat from Iran, he would join Barack Obama's bipartisan
effort in the Senate to step up sanctions on Iran instead of adopting the same
tired, old Bush-Rove playbook." In the same 60 Minutes program of
September 21, 2008, McCain was asked by Scott Pelley the following question:
"Would it be your policy in your administration to engage in preemptive war
against a country that might pose a threat to the United States a country that
hasn't attacked us?" McCain's answer showed how obsessed he was with Iran:
If it's a provable direct threat. Suppose that the Iranians had nuclear weapons.
And you had a whole lot of other information about Iranian intentions and you
could make the case to the American people and to the world, I think it's
obvious that we would have to prevent what we're absolutely certain is a direct
threat to the lives of the American people.
Subsequently, in their first presidential debate, McCain and Obama
discussed Iran and tried to outdo one another as to who is more for Israel.
Obama stated that presidents need "to be prudent in what they say" and it is not
very prudent of McCain to sing a song "about bombing Iran." McCain answered "let
me tell you, you know, this business about bombing Iran and all that, let me
tell you my record." The record, of course, said nothing about singing "bomb
bomb Iran." This was all before the moderator, Jim Lehrer, asked his "lead
question," which was the "threat to Iran [sic] right now to the security of the
United States." McCain answered:
My reading of the threat from Iran is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it
is an existential threat to the State of Israel and to other countries in the
region because the other countries in the region will feel compelling
requirement to acquire nuclear weapons as well.
Now we cannot [have] a second Holocaust. Let's just make that very clear. What I
have proposed for a long time, and I've had conversation with foreign leaders
about forming a league of democracies, let's be clear and let's have some
straight talk. The Russians are preventing significant action in the United
Nations Security Council.
I have proposed a league
of democracies, a group of people - a group of countries that share common
interests, common values, common ideals, they also control a lot of the world's
economic power. We could impose significant meaningful, painful sanctions on the
Iranians that I think could have a beneficial effect.
The Iranians have a lousy
government, so therefore their economy is lousy, even though they have
significant oil revenues. So I am convinced that together, we can, with the
French, with the British, with the Germans and other countries, democracies
around the world, we can affect Iranian behavior.
But have no doubt, but
have no doubt that the Iranians continue on the path to the acquisition of a
nuclear weapon as we speak tonight. And it is a threat not only in this region
but around the world.
What I'd also like to
point out the Iranians are putting the most lethal IEDs into Iraq which are
killing young Americans, there are special groups in Iran coming into Iraq and
are being trained in Iran. There is the Republican Guard in Iran, which Senator
Kyl had an amendment in order to declare them a sponsor of terror. Senator Obama
said that would be provocative.
So this is a serious
threat. This is a serious threat to security in the world, and I believe we can
act and we can act with our friends and allies and reduce that threat as quickly
as possible, but have no doubt about the ultimate result of them acquiring
There was no follow up questions on how Iran was an "existential threat to the
US and Israel," why and how Iran was going to bring about a "second Holocaust,"
what are the "painful sanctions" that need to be imposed on Iran, how McCain
knows that Iran is on the "path to the acquisition of a nuclear weapon," and
what evidence there is on Iran sending "lethal IEDs into Iraq."
The moderator then asked
Obama about the same issue and Obama answered:
Well, let me just correct
something very quickly. I believe the Republican Guard of Iran is a terrorist
organization. I've consistently said so. What Senator McCain refers to is a
measure in the Senate that would try to broaden the mandate inside of Iraq. To
deal with Iran.
And ironically, the single
thing that has strengthened Iran over the last several years has been the war in
Iraq. Iraq was Iran's mortal enemy. That was cleared away. And what we've seen
over the last several years is Iran's influence grow. They have funded
Hezbollah, they have funded Hamas, they have gone from zero centrifuges to 4,000
centrifuges to develop a nuclear weapon.
So obviously, our policy
over the last eight years has not worked. Senator McCain is absolutely right, we
cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. It would be a game changer. Not only would it
threaten Israel, a country that is our stalwart ally, but it would also create
an environment in which you could set off an arms race in this Middle East.
Now here's what we need to
do. We do need tougher sanctions. I do not agree with Senator McCain that we're
going to be able to execute the kind of sanctions we need without some
cooperation with some countries like Russia and China that are, I think Senator
McCain would agree, not democracies, but have extensive trade with Iran but
potentially have an interest in making sure Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapon.
But we are also going to
have to, I believe, engage in tough direct diplomacy with Iran and this is a
major difference I have with Senator McCain, this notion by not talking to
people we are punishing them has not worked. It has not worked in Iran, it has
not worked in North Korea. In each instance, our efforts of isolation have
actually accelerated their efforts to get nuclear weapons. That will change when
I'm president of the United States.
Again, no question was asked about how Obama knows that Iran is building nuclear
weapons, how that would be a "game changer" or "threaten Israel," why it would
start "an arms race," and how tough is "tough" sanctions and diplomacy.
Afterward, the moderator asked McCain about the issue of talking to
Iran. McCain, who had a great difficulty pronouncing the name of the Iranian
Here is Ahmadinenene (ph),
Ahmadinejad, who is, Ahmadinejad, who is now in New York, talking about the
extermination of the State of Israel, of wiping Israel off the map, and we're
going to sit down, without precondition, across the table, to legitimize and
give a propaganda platform to a person that is espousing the extermination of
the state of Israel, and therefore then giving them more credence in the world
arena and therefore saying, they've probably been doing the right thing, because
you will sit down across the table from them and that will legitimize their
Once again, no one questioned McCain about when and where Ahmadinejad had talked
about "extermination of the State of Israel" or "wiping Israel off the map." By
now, similar to the repeated lies about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass
destruction, lies about Ahmadinejad had been repeated so often that any
statements attributed to him, however wild, would be accepted as truth.
The issue of Iran was
raised in the second presidential debate. In response to a question about
whether the US would wait for the UN Security Council resolution to attack Iran
in case Iran attacks Israel, McCain answered that "we
obviously would not wait."
He then stated: "What would you do if you were the Israelis and the president of
a country says that they are-they are determined to wipe you off the map, calls
your country a stinking corpse?" This was followed by what McCain may initially
do to Iran: "we put enough pressure on the Iranians by joining with our allies,
imposing significant, tough sanctions to modify their behavior." Finally, McCain
repeated the usual line: We "can never allow a second Holocaust to take place."
Obama began with his routine answer about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons being a
"game changer." Then he stated that "we will never take military options off the
table." This was followed by how to "tighten" sanctions on Iran: "If we can
prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need and the refined
petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis." Finally,
Obama's meaning of "tough diplomacy" became clear when he stated: we should have
direct talk "with our enemies-to deliver a tough, direct message to Iran that,
if you don't change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences."
To sum up, in the last
stretch of the 2008 presidential campaign Iran's fate appeared to be similar to
Iraq's just before the 2003 US invasion. Both candidates appeared to be
demonizing Iran similar to the way Iraq had been demonized. Both candidates were
talking about Iran's nuclear weapons in the same way that Iraq was said to have
weapons of mass destruction. Both candidates were talking about "painful" or
"tough" sanctions to be imposed against Iran similar to the way sanctions were
imposed on Iraq. Both candidates appeared to be on a collision course with
Iran. The difference between the two appeared to be that one wished to sanction
Iran to death before waging military attacks and the other appeared to be
impatient, wanting military operations sooner than later.
Biden and Palin
Before living Obama and McCain behind, a few words about their running mates,
Senator Joe Biden, and Governor Sarah Palin, is in order. Joe Biden, similar to
John McCain, has been around for a long time and has left behind a large paper
trail. The paper trail shows an inconsistent record when it come to Iran or the
Middle East in general. Unlike McCain, Biden's record does not show an
aggressive sanction policy toward Iran. Indeed, his association with the America
Iranian Council (AIC)-which, as I have argued in my book, is mostly an
anti-sanction corporate lobby group-is well known.
And this has been exploited by various Israeli affiliated groups and
individuals, as well as Iranian opposition groups.
Yet, as soon as he became nominated as Obama's running mate, various media
outlets mentioned his 2007 interview with Shalom TV, in which he declared
himself to be a Zionist and called Israel "the single
greatest strength America has in the Middle East" (ynet news. com,
August, 8, 23, 2008).
He also dissociated Israel from the war in Iraq, and went to say: "Imagine
our circumstance in the world were there no Israel. How many battleships would
there be? How many troops would be stationed?" (ibid.). The
inconsistency in Biden's positions regarding Iran in particular and the Middle
East in general has made Israelis nervous. Haaretz, for example, wrote
the following on August 24, 2008:
Biden is a firm supporter of Israel,
but the way he sees the U.S.'s role in the Middle East doesn't necessarily
reflect Jerusalem's ideal of the ideal "American partner."
When it comes to the Iranian threat,
it is not clear that the Obama-Biden combo will raise smiles in Jerusalem.
Biden's past remarks have sparked criticism and have been described as
"inconsistent." Biden has said more than once that he does not think that
isolating Iran is the most efficient way to combat the Islamic republic's
nuclear ambitions, and he has even urged sensitivity to Iran's needs. He met
with a senior Iranian official in Davos, which led his detractors to say that he
was willing to negotiate with an extremist regime that supports terrorism. On
the other hand, Biden has proclaimed that a nuclear Iran was "unacceptable."
Yet, Biden's views on Iran are not that far from those of Dennis Ross. In a
congressional hearing on July 9, 2008, entitled "Meeting
the Iranian Challenge," Biden advised
J. Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs at the State Department to
Much of his argument was similar to that of Ross. He assumed that Iran is
acquiring a nuclear weapon and that "would dramatically destabilize an already
unstable region." He then argued that we either "engage, maintain the status
quo, or use some sort of military force." The engagement would be "first in the
context of the 'P-5 plus one', and ultimately country-to-country, just as we did
with North Korea." As far as the European Union, Russia, and China are
concerned, he argued, in exchange for US engagement we ask them "to impose
serious sanctions if Iran continues to defy the U.N. Security Council by not
suspending uranium enrichment and work related to plutonium reprocessing."
Setting aside the fact that Iran has not been engaged in "plutonium
reprocessing," what Biden was proposing was very similar to Ross's proposal.
Given Iran's redline of not giving up its right to process uranium, Biden's
proposed policy would lead to "serious sanctions" followed by military
confrontation with Iran.
What about Sarah Palin? While Joe Biden is an old hand and his
views, however inconsistent, are public, Palin appears to be a tabula rasa. A
LexisNexis search of news for the combined words "Iran" and "Sarah Palin"
produces no result prior to McCain picking her as his running mate. It is no
wonder that right after being picked by McCain, and shortly before the 2008
Republican National Convention, AIPAC, alongside Joseph Lieberman, paid a visit
to Palin in her
hotel suite in St. Paul, Minnesota.
after the visit, IsraelNN.com reported on September 3, 2008, that Palin told the
AIPAC group that "she had intended to visit Israel in November 2007 but had to
postpone the visit when she discovered she was pregnant." She also told them,
according to the same source, of "her love for Israel and support for it."
IsraelNN.com also reported a day earlier that "Palin
displays an Israel flag in her office window despite the tiny Jewish population
in her state." JTA reported on September 2, 2008, that
McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb stated
afterward: "She was extremely well received" by the AIPAC group. JTA added that
Josh Block the spokesman for AIPAC stated: "We had a good, productive discussion
on the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and we were pleased that Gov.
Palin expressed her deep, personal and lifelong commitment to the safety and
well-being of Israel. . . . She expressed her support for the special
friendship between the two democracies and said she would work to expand and
deepen the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Israel." According to JTA,
Block also praised the Democratic ticket and said: "Now that both the Democrats
and the Republicans have determined their respective tickets, AIPAC is pleased
that both parties have selected four pro-Israel candidates."
Soon after the AIPAC visit a handler was assigned to Palin to help
her with the issue of Iran's alleged threat to Israel. MSNBC reported on
September 18, 2008, the following:
Mark Wallace, a Palin advisor who is reportedly prepping her for her debates
later this month, is serving as executive director of United Against Nuclear
Iran, a fledgling coalition of primarily American Jewish groups. Both the
organization and the rally were the brainchild of Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime
vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations, several American Jewish leaders. Wallace, who is married to
McCain campaign communications director Nicole Wallace, was brought on board by
Hoenlein, and Jewish leaders say Hoenlein extended the invitation to Palin to
speak at the rally.
More will be said shortly about Mark Wallace, "United Against Nuclear Iran," and
its rally. But it is clear that Palin's handlers did a quick work on a blank
slate. In an interview with Charlie Gibson of ABC News on September 11, 2008,
Palin was asked: "What if Israel
decided it felt threatened and needed to take out the Iranian nuclear
facilities?" Palin answered: "Well, first, we are friends with Israel and I
don't think that we should second guess the measures that Israel has to take to
defend themselves and for their security." She repeated the issue of not second
guessing Israel if Israel attacked Iran two more times.
Subsequently, in an
interview with CBB News'
Katie Couric on September 25, 2008, Palin was asked: "You recently said three
times that you would never, quote, 'second guess' Israel if that country decided
to attack Iran. Why not?" Palin answered: "We shouldn't second guess Israel's
security efforts because we cannot ever afford to send a message that we would
allow a second Holocaust, for one." After some confused answers, Palin was asked
the question again and she stated:
We don't have to
second-guess what their efforts would be if they believe ... that it is in their
country and their allies, including us, all of our best interests to fight
against a regime, especially Iran, who would seek to wipe them off the face of
the earth. It is obvious to me who the good guys are in this one and who the bad
guys are. The bad guys are the ones who say Israel is a stinking corpse and
should be wiped off the face of the earth. That's not a good guy who is saying
that. Now, one who would seek to protect the good guys in this, the leaders of
Israel and her friends, her allies, including the United States, in my world,
those are the good guys.
Sarah Palin's world seems to be divided into "good guys" and "bad guys," and
she is on the side of the "good guys." If the neoconservatives had a field day
with George W. Bush, imagine what they could do with Sarah Palin should she
become the vice president or even the president of the United States.
On October 2, 2008, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden had their only
asked Biden which is a "greater threat, a nuclear Iran or an
unstable Afghanistan [meaning Pakistan]?" Biden stated that "they're both
extremely dangerous" and that
Iran getting a nuclear
weapon would be very, very destabilizing. They are more than-they are not close
to getting a nuclear weapon that's able to be deployed. So they're both very
dangerous. They both would be game changers.
Palin answered the same question by saying: "Both are extremely dangerous, of
course". And after some digression about Iraq Palin stated:
An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous to consider.
They cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons period. Israel is in jeopardy
of course when we're dealing with Ahmadinejad as a leader of Iran. Iran claiming
that Israel as he termed it, a stinking corpse, a country that should be wiped
off the face of the earth. Now a leader like Ahmadinejad who is not sane or
stable when he says things like that is not one whom we can allow to acquire
nuclear energy, nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad has been
accused of many things by the American and Israeli leaders but not of being
insane. By making him a madman as well, Palin completed the picture of
Ahmadinejad as a new Hitler.
the moderator asked both Palin and Biden about the US support for Israel. The
candidates tried to compete with one another as to who loves Israel more. Palin
stated that "Israel is our strongest and best ally in the Middle East. We have
got to assure them that we will never allow a second Holocaust, despite, again,
warnings from Iran." Biden stated that "no one in the United States Senate has
been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden."
United Against Iran
On September 11, 2008, The Jewish Daily Forward reported that
in "an effort to raise public awareness about Iran's
nuclear ambitions, a new organization is being launched, with its own paid
staff, to focus solely on the issue." The group, called "United Against Nuclear
Iran," was "being set up as a registered 501c3 charity that presents itself as
"a non-partisan, broad-based coalition," the Forward wrote.
According to the Forward, the "executive director of the new organization
is Mark Wallace, a Republican lawyer who worked for the American mission to the
United Nations until recently." This was, of course, the same Mark Wallace who,
as pointed above, was the advisor to Sarah Palin. The Forward added the
following about the background of Mark Wallace:
began his political carreer [sic] working as an assistant to then Florida
governor Jeb Bush and then served on the Republican legal team during the 2000
Florida presidential vote recount. After working in the Department of Homeland
Security under President Bush, he was recruited in early 2006 to the United
States Mission to the United Nations by its then ambassador, John Bolton, to be
in charge of management and reform. During his tenure, Wallace, who was given
the rank of ambassador, ruffled the feathers of U.N. officials by aggressively
pushing corruption investigations into U.N. programs. He left his position in
April, amid reports that he had fallen out of favor with the new and more
conciliatory ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad.
wife, Nicolle, was the communications director at the White House from 2005
until mid-2006, and then joined the McCain presidential campaign team May 1 as a
senior adviser. Both Wallaces are briefing Republican vice presidential
candidate Sarah Palin for interviews and debates.
Wallace's "United Against Nuclear Iran" brought together, once again, Obama's
and McCain's advisors. Under "LEADERSHIP," the "Advisory Board" of United
Against Nuclear Iran included, in addition to Mark Wallace himself, Dennis Ross
and R. James Woolsey.
The list also included
Fouad Ajami, Leslie H. Gelb, Richard C. Holbrooke, Karen Hughes,
Clearly, "United Against Nuclear Iran" was a neoconservative setup which
had been joined by Obama's top advisor, Dennis Ross, as well as
Richard Holbrooke who, as
The New York Times
pointed out on July 18, 2008,
after being the top advisor to Hillary Clinton was said by the Obama people to
on their team.
"United Against Nuclear Iran," in collaboration with other
Israeli lobby groups, waged a massive campaign in late September 2008 against
Iran, and particularly Iran's President Ahmadinejad's appearance at the United
Nations. For a few days, just before Ahmadinejad's arrival in the US as well as
throughout his visit, every news service on Yahoo.com that one attempted to
access had a slick video advertisement running on the side. The video began
with the following message: "Stop, Terrorism, Stop Human Rights Abuses, Stop
Nuclear Iran." Small prints at the bottom of the message read "Paid for by the
American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc." Following the introduction, six
hands, black and white, joining in a circle around the map of Iran, appeared.
The viewer was asked to "join the cause" by clicking on the video. If followed,
a note would appear that read: "Send a
to the nation that Iran's nuclear program is unacceptable. Join United Against
Nuclear Iran today and receive news updates and event reminders." Then the
viewer was asked for name and email address. This was followed by an ominous
video about Iran's alleged development of nuclear weapons, with 6 members of the
"United Against Nuclear
Iran" commenting on the issue.
This included neoconservatives
R. James Woolsey,
Fouad Ajami and
as well Dennis Ross, and
Richard C. Holbrooke. Mark Wallace's name appeared as the "President,
United Against Nuclear
Iran," and the titles of Ross,
Holbrooke and Woolsey appeared as "Co-Chair,
United Against Nuclear Iran." Using mostly false and fabricated
news, the participants made frightening predications about a nuclear Iran and
the need to do something about it soon.
In between, and mixed with a suspenseful music, scary pictures of Ahmadinejad,
Khomeini, Islamic Revolution of 1979, American hostages, Iranian
mob demonstrating and burning US flag, Iranian missiles and military forces,
Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israeli flag burning, massive car bombs and mayhem in
Mujahedin-e-Khalq-e-Iran demonstrating against the
Iranian government, etc., were mixed with pictures of Iran's atomic facilities.
Dennis Ross, the top Middle East advisor to Obama repeated his Washington
Institute lines and Richard Halbrooke stated, among other things, that the
Iranians "threaten Israel's existence. Their president is the most notorious
anti-Semite since 1945." The background for these comments appeared to be a
picture of the Holocaust and a Star of David. All the propaganda about Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction, and a smoking gun becoming a mushroom, would pale
compared to this frightening video about the dangers coming from Iran.
"United Against Nuclear Iran" and other Israeli lobby groups did
not succeed in bringing about their immediate goal, which was to have a massive,
bipartisan demonstration against Ahmadinejad. Once Hillary Clinton found out
that Sarah Palin is also attending the event, she decided not to come (Reuters,
September 17, 2008). Subsequently, Palin was disinvited, apparently because
Malcolm Hoenlein came "under heavy
pressure from Jewish Democrats" not to give Palin a platform.
The demonstration turned out to be much smaller than
anticipated, even though some demonstrators were bussed by the organizers of the
event from as far away as Canada.
Yet, "United Against Nuclear Iran" showed, once again, how united the two
factions within the Israeli lobby groups, advising both presidential candidates,
were against Iran.
As stated at the beginning of this essay in 2001 The Jerusalem Post
predicted that in the Bush Administration there will be "two institutions
grappling for control of policy" in the Middle East, one headed by the
neoconservatives and the other by old hands in the State Department. It appears
that in 2008, regardless of which party wins the US presidential election, there
might be only one institution left that would determine the Middle East, and
particularly Iran, policy. This would be a united front of two factions within
the Israeli lobby groups: one representing the Labor Party of Israel and the
other, the Likud Party. Since Sharon's Kadima Party joined different elements of
the two Israeli parties into one, it is safe to say that the united front which
would be making US policy toward Iran mirrors that of the Israeli Kadima. If
Obama comes to power, it appears that his top advisor, Dennis Ross-the former
director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and its current
"consultant"-will play a major role in determining the policy toward Iran. In
such an administration
C. Holbrooke might also play a major role. If McCain comes to power, his top
advisor, the neoconservative
Randy Scheunemann, one of
the directors of the infamous Project for the New American Century, will play a
leading role in determining who makes the Iran policy. Other neoconservatives,
such as R. James Woolsey, Mark Wallace, William Kristol and Robert Kagan, will
be influential as well. Yet, the difference between the two groups is minimal.
As mentioned earlier, Dennis Ross' and Robert Satloff's
Study Group Report," published in June 2008 by the
was signed by both Obama's and
McCain's representatives. Similarly, "United Against Nuclear Iran" brought
together individuals closely associated with the two presidential campaigns,
such as Dennis Ross,
R. James Woolsey and
Wallace. If these individuals continue to play a major role after the election,
and if Iran does not capitulate to the whims and wishes of the US and Israel,
then one should expect another war in the Middle East regardless of who gets
elected as the US president. In the case of McCain, the war might come sooner
than later. In Obama's case, one might see a period of "tough" or "aggressive
diplomacy" before hostilities begin.
A more detailed list of McCain advisors appeared in the "Foreign
Policy Brain Trusts: McCain Advisers," written by
Robert McMahon on the website of Council on
Foreign Relation. To the above list of advisors this one added "former
top defense and national security official Peter W. Rodman, and former
CIA Director R. James Woolsey" among others. See:
See Transcript of remarks by Senator Barack Obama, AIPAC Policy Forum
(Chicago, Illinois), available at:
Other names on the list of supporters were: "former Bush
administration deputy national security advisor Robert Blackwill; former
National Security Council official Richard Clarke; former Clinton
administration assistant secretary of state for public affairs Thomas
Donilon; former Bush administration assistant secretary of state for
political-military affairs John Hillen; former ambassador and
arms-control negotiator Max Kampelman; former senator Robert Kerrey; . .
. former ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis; former ambassador to Turkey
and senior director of the National Security Council Mark Parris; . . .
former Bush administration secretary of the Air Force James Roche;
former Clinton administration State Department counselor Wendy Sherman;
[and] former Clinton administration undersecretary of defense for policy
Kuziemko and Werker provide a detailed, scholarly analysis of how the US
bribes members of the UN Security council to get the votes it needs in
passing resolutions. See Kuziemko, I. and Werker, E. (2006) "How Much
Is a Seat on the Security Council Worth? Foreign Aid and Bribery at the
United Nations," Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 114, No. 5,
Forward reported on July 17, 2008, that while Obama's level of support
in France and Germany, were respectively 65%
and 67% of the population, in Israel it was only 27%. Apparently, one
reason for Obama's trip to Israel was to change this low level of
Even though much of the old web pages of AIC have vanished, some still
show Biden's appearance at AIC events. See, for example,
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, March
13, 2002, available at:
See, for example, Kenneth R. Timmerman's "Biden's Ties to Pro-Iran
Groups Questioned," August 28, 2008, at:
www.newsmax.com. Timmerman is a member of the Board of Advisors of
the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and is
closely associated with the Israeli circles and Iranian monarchists. For
more discussion of his activities see Fayazmanesh 2008.
In addition, the Forward stated that
various "Jewish groups," such as the Conference of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organizations and Israel Project, are coordinating the
campaign against Iran with Wallace, even though they "have been eager
not to appear as the only ones driving a hawkish agenda against Tehran."
... Payvand News - 10/24/08 ... --