The Bush administration has clearly set its sights on Iran as the next oil-rich nation in need of regime change. To that end, the Pentagon, under the leadership of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, is reportedly pushing for massive covert operations against the Iranian government, according to Jim Lobe, writing in the Asia Times.The State Department is concerned because Wolfowitz wants to forge an alliance with the Mujahedeen Khalq, a heavily armed Iranian opposition group that was backed by Saddam Hussein and is officially on the U.S. list of terrorist groups.In addition, he and other administration neocons are cultivating the support of Iranian monarchists who are calling for the return of Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed and now deceased Shah. The Forward, a Jewish newspaper, reports that Pahlavi is in touch with senior officials in Israel’s Likud government, for whom some of the Pentagon’s neocons once worked.The right-wing press has signed on to this neocon cause. As early as November 26, 2001, the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Ledeen wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Iran is ready to blow sky-high. The Iranian people need only a bright spark of courage from the United States to ignite the flames of democratic revolution.” And William Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor, wrote on May 5 that the United States was “already in a death struggle with Iran over the future of Iraq” and that “the next great battle—not, we hope, a military battle—will be for Iran.”The strategy was elaborated at the American Enterprise Institute’s May 6 conference, “The Future of Iran: Mullahcracy, Democracy, and the War on Terror.” Israeli-born Meyrav Wurmser (whose husband David is in the Bush administration) convened the conference. She said in part:Our fight against Iraq was only one battle in a long war. It would be ill-conceived to think that we can deal with Iraq alone. … We must move on, and faster. … It was a grave error to send [U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad] to secret meetings with representatives of the Iranian government in recent weeks. … Rather than coming as victors who should be feared and respected rather than loved, we are still engaged in old diplomacy, in the kind of politics that led to the attacks of September 11.On May 12, to the dismay of State Department officials, the White House broke off informal dialogue with representatives of Iranian President Mohamed Khatami over Iraq and Afghanistan. The administration’s neocons have charged that Iran has been harboring al-Qaeda terrorists, an allegation that neither the State Department nor the Central Intelligence Agency has endorsed.One week later, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) introduced the Iran Democracy Act, which sets as U.S. policy the goal of “an internationally monitored referendum to allow the Iranian people to peacefully change their system of government.” Said Brownback: “Now is not the time to coddle this terrorist regime. Now is the time to stand firm and support the people of Iran—who are the only ones that can win this important battle.”All this White House scaremongering, amplified by a kowtowing media, is apparently working. A Washington Post-ABC News poll has found that 56 percent of Americans support a military attack on Iran to stop that country from developing nuclear weapons. However, a large percentage of those surveyed are abysmally ignorant. The same poll found that about 25 percent believe Iraq had used chemical and biological weapons against American troops, and another 15 percent were not sure whether Iraq had or not. All of which should give George W. Bush hope for his 2004 re-election efforts.
Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.