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What the Future has in Store for Iran


By Sasan Fayazmanesh

Professor of Economics, California State University, Fresno



Sasan Fayazmanesh is the author of The United States and Iran: Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment - Routledge Studies in Middle Eastern Politics, 2008 (buy from amazon)

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 added:


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.


Subsequently, 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 Institute 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 East.


            As I 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 1993.

            Another cofounder of the Washington Institute was Dennis Ross.[1] 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.[2] Ross 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.[3] 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.[4] 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 and Samaria." They both see Iran as the biggest obstacle in achieving that goal.  As 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.[5] 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 Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" McCain stated that


the 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.[6]


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]. . . . Iran 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."[7] 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:


Senator 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.

But all 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.

Mr. 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 insurgent group.

Mr. 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 unfortunate.''

It was 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 himself.

"I'm sorry," Mr. McCain said, ''the Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda."

But 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 weapons."[8]

            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." [9] 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."[10] 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 elected president?

            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.[11] 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.[12]

            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 the 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).[13] 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 appearance, were:

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 Herzliya Conference, 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:[14]

Israel's 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.

Tehran's 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.

UN Security 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.

The U.S. 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 action.

And every 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.

The Iran 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."[15] 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 Tom Lantos, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Gary Ackerman in the House and the bill's chief sponsors in the Senate.[16]

McCain's 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 Israel Project.


McCain's "[e]very 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. [17]


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."[18] 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."[19]


            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 Backlash States."[20] 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 Financial Times 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 advisors was Richard C. Holbrooke, an individual who served in various posts in President Clinton's Administration, including as UN Ambassador. Holbrooke 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."

            Ross's 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.[21] 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 "Eretz 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.


            Ross's logic 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 to retaliate."


            On June 26, 2007, after two sets of sanctions were imposed against Iran by the UN, Ross gave an interview that appeared on "" 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.


A few 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:

For 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.

The 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 Iran now.


Knowing 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.


Obama's Speeches at AIPAC

On March 2, 2007, Obama gave a speech at the AIPAC policy forum.[22] 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.[23] 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 line.[24] 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.


Obama's "aggressive 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 AIPAC policy forum 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 terrorists."


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 previous year:

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 completely acceptable.

The Washington Institute's "Presidential Study Group"

In June 2008 the Washington Institute published the first of three "Presidential Study Group Reports."[25] 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."[26] 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 Woolsey."[27] The same list of "Signatories" appeared at the end of the report. As Haartez pointed out on June 15, 2008, while Lake and Rice represented the Obama camp, Vin Weber, and James Woolsey represented the McCain camp.[28] 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 Manji's "Project Ijtihad," Israel Project and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).[29] 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 Policy Recommendations."[30] "Based on the above," the authors wrote, "we urge the following": 


            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 nuclear program." 

            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 minister."

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 two.


            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. [31] 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 "Greater Israel."


            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 groups.


            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 story.


            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.


Even a 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. Indonesia abstained during the vote.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34]


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. This is, indeed, an outstanding achievement for the Washington Institute and it patron, AIPAC.



Back on the campaign trail: the last stretch

In July 2008 Obama visited Israel.  A headline in "" on July 16, 2008, said it all: "Dennis Ross By Obama's Side."[35] 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).[36] 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."[37]


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 Iraq.


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.[38] 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 nuclear weapons.


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 President, stated


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 illegal behavior.


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."[39] 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.[40] And this has been exploited by various Israeli affiliated groups and individuals, as well as Iranian opposition groups.[41] 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).[42] 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 William J. Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs at the State Department to engage Iran.[43] 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. Immediately after the visit, 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." 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.[44] 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 vice-presidential debate.[45] The moderator Gwen Ifill 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.


            Subsequently, 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.[46] 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:

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.

Bolton's 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.[47] The list also included Fouad Ajami, Leslie H. Gelb, Richard C. Holbrooke, Karen Hughes, and Henry Sokolski.[48] 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 be 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 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 message 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 leadership of "United Against Nuclear Iran" commenting on the issue.[49] This included neoconservatives Henry Sokolski, R. James Woolsey, Fouad Ajami and Mark Wallace, 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, Ayatollahs 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 Iraq, 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.[50]  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.[51] 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 Richard 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 "Presidential Study Group Report," published in June 2008 by the Washington Institute, 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, Richard C. Holbrooke, R. James Woolsey and Mark 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.


[1] See Swisher, Clayton E., 2004, The truth about Camp David: the untold story about the collapse of the Middle East peace process, New York: Nation Books, p.35. An electronic copy of the book is available.

[3] The name of these individuals appears on the "Board of Advisors." See "About the Institute," available at:

[4] Ross, for example, supported the invasion of Iraq, even though he was critical of some of the post-invasion policies of the Bush Administration (see "Obama's Conservative Mideast Pick," Time, Jul. 16, 2008).

[5] The differences between the two groups does not preclude being the best of friends or supporting one another. On February 3, 2006, The New York Times reported that a defense fund committee has been set up for I. Lewis Libby Jr., the well-known neoconservative advisor to Dick Cheney. The report stated that Dennis Ross is a member of that committee. "He's been a friend of mine for 25 years," Ross was quoted to say, "and I believe in him as a person and that he has a right to defend himself. It's a measure of friendship that you're there when people need you, not just when it's convenient." 

[6] A copy of the interview appeared on YouTube. Among his many "gaffes," Mcain confused Somalia and Sudan (CBS News, July 222, 2008).

[7] CNN Video and AFP, April 20, 2007.

[8] This gaffe appeared on the website of AIPAC under "Senator John McCain AIPAC Policy Conference 2008 June 2, 2008." The mistake was removed and corrected when it appeared on the official website of McCain.

[9] The speech is available at

[10] As stated above, the version of the McCain's speech appearing on his official website is different than the one actually delivered at AIPAC and appearing on AIPAC's website.

[11] Robert Kagan is a well-known neoconservative with impressive credential, including being one of the cofounders of the Project for the New American Century. Max Boot, too, is a well-known character within the neoconservative movement. For a short biography of these individuals see the Right Web. John Bolton is, of course, too well-known to need an introduction. As I have shown in my book, he has played a leading role in doing to Iran what was done to Iraq.

[12] 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:

[13] Much of this information is available on the web. See, for example, the profile of Randy Scheunemann on the Right Web:

[14] The speech is available at:

[16] See The Washington Post, September 28, 2006, and the "President Applauds Congress for Passage of Iran Freedom Support Act," The White House Web Site, September 30, 2006: Various versions of the bill can be found at: .

[18] The article further mentioned that the core group also included "Gregory B. Craig, a former top official in the Clinton State Department who served as the president's lawyer during his impeachment trial; Richard J. Danzig, a Navy secretary in the Clinton administration; Mark W. Lippert, Mr. Obama's former Senate foreign policy adviser, who just returned from a Navy tour of duty in Iraq; and Mr. McDonough."

[19] Afterward, the report mentioned some other names:

Another person who has contributed outside advice is former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, whom Mr. Obama has been wooing. . . . Michael A. McFaul, a Russia scholar at Stanford University who leads the Russia and Eurasia team for the Obama campaign. . . . Ivo H. Daalder, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who has organized his 40-member nuclear nonproliferation team into eight working groups, and Philip H. Gordon, another scholar at the institution, who is in charge of Mr. Obama's Europe team.


[20] A copy of the article is available at:

[21] See Fayazmanesh, The United States and Iran: Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment, 2008, Routledge.

[22] See Transcript of remarks by Senator Barack Obama, AIPAC Policy Forum (Chicago, Illinois), available at:

[23] For example, in an interview with C-SPAN, Bush stated: "Iranian people are good, honest, decent people and they've got a government that is belligerent, loud, noisy, threatening-a government which is in defiance of the rest of the world and says, 'We want a nuclear weapon'" (AFP, February 12, 2007, emphasis added). As I argued in my book, many commentators pointed out afterwards that the Iranian government had never said such a thing (see Fayazmanesh, 2008, p. 218).


[24] A copy of the speech prior to its delivery was posted on March 5, 2007, on CounterPunch website and is available at:  CounterPunch reported  that "Obama's speech was largely written by Mark Lippert, Obama's Senate foreign policy adviser, and Dan Shapiro, a Middle East specialist, now a lobbyist, who is an Obama campaign foreign policy adviser." Several other outlets, including, SourceWatch and Haaretz, July 3, 2007, also refer to the appointment of Dan Shapiro and his role in the AIPAC speech.  See: In addition, see JTA on July 20, 2007 (',595,700).

[25] The report's title was: "2008 Presidential task Forces: Task Force on the Future of U.S.-Israel Relations: Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen the US-Israel Cooperation on The Iranian Nuclear Challenge." It is available at:


[26] For the role of Patrick Clawson in "containing" Iran see Fayazmanesh 2008. See also his profile on Right Web: The Right Web mentions David Makovsky as a "former executive editor of pro-Likud Jerusalem Post" under Douglas Feith's profile:


[27] 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 Walter Slocombe."

[28] Vin Weber-whose profile appears on the Right Web as a supporter of the Project for the New American Century ( "policy chairman for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign." But after McCain became the Republican candidate for the presidency, there were speculation that Weber would join McCain's campaign (NPR, February 7, 2008:

[29]See the "list of IRS Form 990 Tax Returns for Exempt Organizations relating to SAMUEL AND HELENE SOREF FOUNDATION" for the years 1998 to 2007 at Economic Research Institute.

[30]  By those who "argue that Israel has manipulated the U.S. government to act counter to the American national interest" the authors clearly had John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in mind. In a short piece entitled "The Mind-set Matters," in Foreign Policy (July/August 2006), Dennis Ross had earlier criticized Mearsheimer's and Walt's account of the power of the Israel lobby ( A full copy of the article is available at: .

[33] 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, 905-30.

[35] The article is available at:

[36] 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 support.

[37] The text of the interview is available at:

[38] The transcript of the debate was posted by various media outlets, including the International Herald Tribune on Saturday, September 27, 2008:

[39] A copy of the transcript is available at:

[40] Even though much of the old web pages of AIC have vanished, some still show Biden's appearance at AIC events. See, for example, AIC CONFERENCE: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, March 13, 2002, available at:

[41] See, for example, Kenneth R. Timmerman's "Biden's Ties to Pro-Iran Groups Questioned," August 28, 2008, at:  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.

[42] The interview is available on YouTube.

[43]  His statement is available at:

[44] For the text of the interview see

[45] The text of the debate is available at:

[46] 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."

[48] The list grew over the next few weeks to include Jack David, Walter Russell Mead and Gary Samore. See:


[50]  See "Palin disinvited from Iran rally," Politico, September 19, 2008.


[51] See "Iran's Ahmadinejad will face 'Walls of Shame' at the UN: Montreal connections to two New York demonstrations," The Suburban.Com, September 19, 2008: .


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