The Demagogue Neocons Love to Hate

"Let us state the obvious," wrote Reuel Marc Gerecht, the resident Gulf specialist at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute in the Weekly Standard‘s feature article Monday. "The new president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a godsend."

"Thank goodness for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," wrote Ilan Berman, the neoconservative author of a hawkish new book, Tehran Rising: Iran’s Challenge to the United States, in National Review online last week.

It’s a sentiment that has been echoed in dozens of recent forums, publications, and broadcast appearances out of Washington, and particularly in the two weeks since Tehran broke the seals put in place two years ago by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Tehran had originally promised to freeze further research on the nuclear-fuel cycle pending the outcome of negotiations with the Britain, France, and Germany, the so-called EU-3.

"Ahmadinejad’s inflamed rhetoric against America, Israel, and the Jews, which is in keeping with the style and substance of the president’s former comrades in the praetorian Revolutionary Guard Corps, combined with the clerical regime’s decision to restart uranium enrichment, has returned some sense of urgency to efforts to thwart Tehran," according to Gerecht.

Indeed, the Iranian president, with his public suggestions that Israel be "wiped off the face of the map" and that the Nazi Holocaust against European Jewry was a "myth," has prompted comparisons to Adolf Hitler himself, less than three years after Saddam Hussein was depicted as the Fuhrer’s latest incarnation.

Ahmadinejad "has cast himself as Adolf Hitler reincarnated," according to one of the Wall Street Journal‘s regular columnists, George Melloan, while others, including Sen. John McCain, have suggested that the current moment is equivalent to Europe in the 1930s.

Ahmadinejad’s declarations, which are seen by many experts here as related at least as much to his domestic political strategy as to his foreign policy worldview, have not only been manna from heaven for neoconservatives, who have long had Tehran in their gun sights.

They have also stirred very serious concerns among the generally more dovish U.S. Jewish community, whose influence in the Democratic Party has already spurred several leaders, including its presumptive 2008 presidential nominee, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, to attack President George W. Bush for being too complacent about the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

These Democrats argue that the administration must work urgently to get Iran referred by the IAEA to the UN Security Council and then put maximum pressure on Russia and China to go along with far-reaching economic and diplomatic sanctions, including a cutoff in supplies of refined gasoline to the country.

Their demands generally echo those of the most powerful Israeli lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In an unprecedented action in November, the group publicly criticized the Bush administration for failing to act more aggressively against Iran. The influential American Jewish Committee (AJC) also announced its own international campaign to impose a global a diplomatic and economic embargo against Iran until it halts its nuclear program.

That the administration, which promulgated and then implemented a doctrine of preventive war against presumed enemies allegedly bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, should come under attack from all these sources for excessive passivity is ironic. But it is also testimony to the degree that it has been forced by its Iraq adventure to adopt what can only be described – to the disgust of the neoconservatives, in particular – as both a new humility and a new realism with regard to Tehran.

Noting how Iraq has overstretched U.S. ground forces, officials who bragged in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq invasion in 2003 that "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad, [but] real men want to go to Tehran," now admit that that such an option is completely out of the question. The most Washington can do militarily, in their opinion, is use air power to take out as many nuclear-related sites as possible – reportedly more than 300, requiring three days of nonstop bombing – and hope for the best.

But the military option – exercised early and eagerly in Iraq – is seen as the absolute last resort by the administration. Contrary to its neoconservative and Democratic critics, the White House concedes that the potential costs of an attack – skyrocketing oil prices, a renewed Shia insurgency in southern Iraq, a wave of terrorist attacks by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and new schisms in a NATO alliance that Washington has tried hard to mend – could very well outweigh the benefits.

In contrast to their confidence about how U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators in Iraq with "flowers and sweets," they also concede that military strikes, and even indiscriminate economic sanctions, would rally otherwise disaffected Iranians to the defense of the regime.

They also recognize that unilateral steps by Washington, such as enforcement of a 1996 law authorizing the president to impose severe economic sanctions against any foreign company that invests more than $20 million a year in Iran’s energy sector, will risk the unity on Iran policy that currently prevails between the U.S. and the Europeans, as well as hopes that Russia and China will cooperate with a broader Western strategy.

"In all my conversations with senior administration officials, I have never heard them be so cautious about what they can know and tentative about what they can achieve," wrote New York Times‘ columnist David Brooks Sunday.

"Bush officials have been walking away from broad economic sanctions and preemptive strikes," he noted in a column entitled "Hating the Bomb," which predicted that Iran could well replace Iraq as the major foreign policy issue of the 2008 presidential campaign.

His conclusion, that "all the options are terrible," is widely shared, even by fellow neoconservatives who themselves appear somewhat at a loss about what to do, other than to depict Ahmadinejad as the new Hitler and his more outrageous declarations as the new Mein Kampf.

They can only continue to call for "regime change" through aid to the opposition, including possible minority secessionist movements; attack anyone, particularly anti-interventionist Democrats and European diplomats, who suggests that the West may have to live with an Iranian bomb; and keep the "military option" of air strikes against nuclear targets alive and kicking.

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.