About two weeks before President Obama took office, I received a call from a friend of mine who said in an ominous tone, “Well, 17 days to do what we have to do.”
“What would that be?” I asked.
“Bombing Iran, while we still can,” replied my friend, a pilot recently retired from government service. He assumed that an Obama administration would never do so.
“Regime change” in Iran has been a fixation in some quarters for years, notably among neo-conservatives who saw “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq as a stepping stone toward toppling the Iranian government and being greeted as liberators.
Their ranks include former Defense Department officials, such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perl and many others who filtered into top civilian jobs at the Pentagon during the tenure of former Defense Secretary Donald P. Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld, in turn, is the mentor of former Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who is of a like mind, and boisterous these days on criticizing Obama.
While still vice president, Cheney said:
The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences…We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
The New York Times reported Cheney’s remarks on Oct. 21, 2007 at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank that is home for a number of neo-conservatives. The story included a comment by Dennis Ross, a scholar at the Institute, a former aide to Wolfowitz, and now President Obama’s envoy to Iran and its environs:
Cheney’s “language on Iran is quite significant,” Ross said. It “does have implications.”
Two years later, how different is Bush-Cheney policy from that of President Obama? We don’t know yet, but there are hints.
Two prominent Middle East analysts, Flint Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, former staffers at the National Security Council, question Ross’ role in the Obama administration. In a New York Times opinion piece on May 24, 2009, they warn that President Obama may be going down the wrong road; public declarations to the contrary, they say Obama is neglecting important diplomatic opportunities to engage with Iran and truly work on better relations, including negotiations about nuclear issues.
The Leveretts criticize Obama’s choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and the designation of Ross to such a key role. They note that Clinton once said she would “‘totally obliterate’ Iran if it attacked Israel.” They describe a conversation they had with Ross, in which he, like Clinton, said he doubted talks with Iran would be fruitful.
…he told us, if Iran continued to expand its nuclear fuel program, at some point in the next couple of years President Bush’s successor would need to order military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets. Citing past ‘diplomacy’ would be necessary for that president to claim any military action was legitimate.
If we take this point of view at face value, my friend who had been worried about NOT bombing Iran may be feeling appeased.
– Peter Eisner