After doing such a bang up job with their advice and predictions about the outcome of the war on Iraq, would it surprise you to learn that America's neoconservatives are still in business? While at this time we are not yet seeing the same intense neocon invasion of our living rooms -- via cable television's news networks -- that we saw during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, nevertheless, a host of policy analysts at conservative think tanks -- most notably the American Enterprise Institute -- are being heeded on Iran by those who count - folks inside the Bush Administration.
Long before the Bush Administration began escalating its rhetoric and upping the ante about the supposed "threat" posed to the US by Iran, well-paid inside-the-beltway think tankers were agitating for some kind of action against that country. Some have argued for ratcheting up sanctions and freezing bank accounts, others have advocated increasing financial aid to opposition groups, and still others have argued that a military strike at Iran's nuclear facilities is absolutely essential. For all, the desired end result is regime change in Iran.
If President Bush plunges the U.S. into some kind of military conflict with Iran, you can thank the Washington, D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a key player in the current debate over Iran.
President Bush acknowledged as much when he recently appeared at the AEI for a much-publicized speech on his War on Terror, which focused on the front in Afghanistan.
Established in 1943, the AEI is no Johnny-come-lately to think tank politicking. Ronald Reagan gave the Institute its props by declaring that "[no think tank] has been more influential than the American Enterprise Institute." And during his recent speech at AEI, Bush said that he "admire[d] AEI a lot. After all, I have been consistently borrowing some of your best people. More than 20 AEI scholars have worked in my administration."
Bush also relayed greetings from vice president Dick Cheney who served as an AEI Senior Fellow from 1993-1995. Cheney's wife Lynne currently serves as a Senior Fellow studying education and children.
All eyes on Iran
A section of AEI's website entitled "The Iranian Threat" lists a treasure trove of several hundred published articles on Iran, including more than 50 last year alone. Since the beginning of this year, Michael Ledeen the Freedom Scholar at AEI -- who is credited with nearly 20 pieces on Iran last year -- published a story in the National Review Online headlined "The War of the Persian Succession: Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad Are Posturing to Succeed an Ailing Khamenei"; Anne Applebaum, an adjunct scholar at AEI, wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post titled "Wisdom in Exile"; and the prolific Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at AEI, wrote a story published by the New York Daily News titled "How to Make '07 Ahmadinejad's Last Year in Power."
Ledeen, writing about the power struggle taking place in the country, maintained that "The mullahs are living through difficult times. Their murderous activities in Iraq are now clear, save to those who are grimly determined to believe that the Bush administration cannot possibly tell the truth about terrorism. They have wrecked their national economy (like the Soviet Union, they do not need Western sanctions to ruin the country; they are quite capable of doing it all by themselves). The nuclear breakthrough is constantly promised but never delivered -- Ahmadinejad had promised a glorious announcement ... but then ... [decided to] postpone ... [it] for a couple of months, pending the action of the United Nations. They are scrambling to buy more time and fighting amongst themselves over how to deal with the West and the successor to the dying leader."
Ledeen concluded, as he has done numerous times over the years, that this "moment ... provides an opportunity for the West to encourage the best solution to the Iranian threat: support for democratic change. If we were to echo [85-year-old Ayatollah Hosseynali] Montazeri, denounce the mounting repression, support a peaceful transition to democracy, and demand an end to Iran's decisive support for the terror war, all the while clearly stating our desire for regime change in Tehran, the tens of millions of Iranians who hate this regime might seize the opportunity."
In discussing the role of the AEI, The Guardian pointed out that "Its influence on the White House appeared to be on the decline last year amid endless bad news from Iraq, for which it had been a cheerleader. But in the face of opposition from Congress, the Pentagon and state department, Bush opted last month for an AEI plan to send more troops to Iraq. Will he support calls from within the AEI for a strike on Iran?"
CNN reporter Suzanne Malveaux pointed out that the AEI is "One conservative policy group that has the president's ear and is influencing his thinking" on Iraq. (For more on the role of AEI-affiliated spokespersons during the run-up to the Iraq War, see here.)
Josh Muravchik, a Middle East specialist at the AEI, is a major supporter of some kind of action against Iran. He told The Guardian: "I do not think anyone in the US is talking about invasion. We have been chastened by the experience of Iraq, even a hawk like myself."
An air strike against Iran's burgeoning nuclear facilities is another matter all together, because not only might Iran "use [nuclear weapons program] out of the blue but [it could also be used] as a shield to do all sorts of mischief. I do not believe there will be any way to stop this happening other than physical force."
Muravchik pointed out rather colorfully that "The Bush administration ha[s] said they would not allow Iran nuclear weapons. That is either bullshit or they mean it as a clear code: we will do it if we have to. I would rather believe it is not hot air."
Not all neocons agree with the Muravchik prescription for Iran. According to The Guardian, some neocons who are "opposed to an air strike ... advocate a different form of military action, supporting Iranian armed groups, in particular the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), even though the state department has branded it a terrorist organization."
Raymond Tanter, founder of the Iran Policy Committee, which includes former officials from the White House, state department and intelligence services, "is a leading advocate of support for the MEK. If it comes to an air strike, he favors bunker-busting bombs. 'I believe the only way to get at the deeply buried sites at Natanz and Arak is probably to use bunker-buster bombs, some of which are nuclear tipped. I do not believe the US would do that but it has sold them to Israel.'"
Meyrav Wurmser, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute, "also favors supporting Iranian opposition groups," The Guardian pointed out. Wurmser "is disappointed with the response of the Bush administration so far to Iran and said that if the aim of US policy after 9/11 was to make the Middle East safer for the US, it was not working because the administration had stopped at Iraq. 'There is not enough political will for a strike. There seems to be various notions of what the policy should be.'"
AEI doesn't pay its so-called scholars with proceeds garnered from rummage or bake sales: A good chunk of its money comes directly from a coterie of right wing foundations. From 1985 through 2005, AEI received more than 330 grants totaling over $43 million. Generous donors include the John M. Olin Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, the Carthage Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
In 2004, the Bradley Foundation, under the leadership of Michael Grebe, gave more than $700,000 to AEI's Foreign and Defense Policy Studies program, and the New Atlantic Initiative.
Manufacturing the Iran threat?
In recent weeks, as things have continued to deteriorate in Iraq, the Bush Administration has been laying the foundation for a possible military face-off with Iran. In addition to expressing its dismay over Iran's burgeoning nuclear program, and intensifying its military presence in the Persian Gulf, administration officials have taken to charging Iran with training insurgents and supplying weapons to forces responsible for killing American soldiers in Iraq.
At his February 14 news conference, President Bush "officially anointed a new enemy of the United States ...: the 'Quds Force,'" Newsweek recently reported. "After a week in which his administration contradicted itself repeatedly over the threat from Iran, Bush settled on what he said were the known facts. The sophisticated weapons being used against U.S. troops in Iraq 'were provided by the Quds [means 'Jerusalem' in Arabic] Force,' a paramilitary arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)," the president said."
Appearing to be using former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's "knowns and unknowns" linguistic formulation, the president added: "We know that. And we also know that the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. That's a known. What we don't know is whether or not head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did."
"The truth about the Iranian threat is that the Bush Administration is not telling the real truth," wrote Larry Johnson in a mid-February column at the TPMCafe. "Like any effective propagandist President Bush is using a kernel of truth and, with the help of many in the media, laying the foundation for another war."
"The kernel of truth is that Iranian intelligence agents are active in Iraq and are working with a variety of Shia militia and groups," Johnson who worked with the Central Intelligence Agency from 1985 to 1989, and was the the Department of State's Office of the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism from 1989 to 1993, and is currently a Managing Partner and founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., which specializes in counter terrorism and money laundering investigations, pointed out.
"What Bush cleverly omits in his litany is the fact that Iran has been present in Iraq since the early days of the U.S. invasion in March of 2003. Bush and his generals also are ignoring the fact that Sunni insurgents, not Iranian backed Shia militia, have been those responsible for the vast majority of U.S. casualties in Iraq." (See here for more on this.)
Robert Gates, the new Secretary of Defense, recently insisted that he, the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have all said that they have "no intention of attacking Iran." However, Vincent Cannistraro, a Washington-based intelligence analyst who worked for the CIA and the National Security Council, told The Guardian that "Planning is going on, in spite of public disavowals by Gates."
Cannistraro added that the planning is "quite advanced" and "targets have been selected [f]or a bombing campaign against nuclear sites. ...The military assets to carry this out are being put in place."
The Guardian also reported that "Colonel Sam Gardiner, a former air force officer who has carried out war games with Iran as the target, supported the view that planning for an air strike was under way: 'Gates said there is no planning for war. We know this is not true. He possibly meant there is no plan for an immediate strike. It was sloppy wording.'"
Gardiner told The Guardian that "All the moves being made over the last few weeks are consistent with what you would do if you were going to do an air strike. We have to throw away the notion the US could not do it because it is too tied up in Iraq. It is an air operation."
In August of last year, Think Progress reported that Reuel Marc Gerecht, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who was "a member of a small group of analysts" that met with President Bush to "discuss their views on the Middle East" told ABC's "This Week" that "the mid- to long-term fallout from Israel-Hezbollah conflict could be a good thing because it may prompt Bush to take military action against Iran."
Gerecht said that the role the Iranians and Syrians played in the conflict had angered Bush. The program's host George Stephanopoulos asked: "How much harder line could he take? Are you talking about military action?"
Gerecht responded: "Well yeah it is conceivable you go down the road 12 or 18 months that the president will say nuclear weapons in the hands of the mullahs is simply unacceptable -- as he said many times. And if in fact Lebanon contributes to the hardening of the American position, then I would say that Hezbollah actions in Lebanon were a great mistake."
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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