They’re at it again.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, a collection of neoconservatives, hawks, and neoliberal interventionists is calling once again for war preparations against Iran, in its June 23 report, “Meeting the Challenge: When Time Runs Out."
Its most alarmist conclusions are summarized in an op-ed in the Washington Post by former Senator Chuck Robb and retired General Charles Wald, two BPC officials, who say (without any evidence whatsoever) that “current trends suggest that Iran could achieve nuclear weapons capability before the end of this year.” That’s utter nonsense: Iran has a modest stockpile of low-enriched uranium, a faltering program of centrifuges, and no known capability for weaponizing or delivering a bomb, and it is at least several years away from a military nuclear capability. To meet this not exactly urgent challenge, the BPC authors propose an immediate military buildup for war, and they call for “open preparation for the military option,” with a view toward “an effective, targeted strike on Tehran's nuclear and supporting military facilities.”
We’ll see, in a bit, what the BPC wants, in particular. But it’s important to note that the report prominently cites Dennis Ross, currently “Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region, National Security Council,” as one of the “original task force members” of the BPC’s bomb-Iran planning group. Ross, who’s been keeping a low profile, is the inside man for the neoconservatives in the Obama administration. Robb, a Democrat, is also an important player, whose most notorious role was as part of the Iraq Study Group in 2006, the much-publicized task force led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, which famously called for a drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq before President Bush ordered the “surge.” As part of the ISG, Robb argued forcefully for including a “surge” option in the ISG’s final report, against the better judgment of Baker, Hamilton, and their colleagues, and by threatening to quit the ISG in protest or write a dissident, minority report, Robb won. The surge was ordered just weeks after the release of the ISG report.
It’s not the first time that the BPC has issued a war-mongering report on Iran. Its first was issued in September, 2008, and that report was signed by Dennis Ross. A second report, similar to the first, was released in September, 2009. This, the third in the BPC’s series, isn’t much different from the first two, though it ups the ante in the sheer hysteria of how it portrays how close Iran might be to building a bomb. But the meat of the current is its call for outright war preparations, beginning with an immediate naval blockade of Iran:
“Specifically, we recommend the United States: augment the Fifth Fleet presence in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, including the deployment of an additional carrier battle group and minesweepers to the waters off Iran; conduct broad exercises with its allies in the Persian Gulf; intensify our enhancement of the defensive and offensive military capabilities of our Persian Gulf allies; initiate a “strategic partnership” with Azerbaijan to gain enhanced regional access; and work with the Saudis and Iraqis to improve their capacity to ship oil out of the region without using the Strait of Hormuz. If such pressure fails to persuade Iran’s leadership, the United States and its allies would have no choice but to consider blockading refined petroleum imports into Iran, to send a strong signal and to ensure the effectiveness of proposed sanctions on gasoline imports. A blockade would effectively be an act of war and the U.S. and its allies would have to prepare for its consequences.”
“Time,” they warn, “is rapidly running out.”
The release of the BPC report in late June, and the Post op-ed today, coincide roughly with a revealing and important diatribe from the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al-Otaiba, who said this week that the UAE wouldn’t be unhappy at all if the United States bombed Iran’s nuclear program. “I think it’s a cost-benefit analysis,” said Otaiba, the representative of a notorious kleptocracy in Abu Dhabi. Otaiba’s comments, aptly analyzed by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett in their blog, The Race for Iran, reflect the Mr. Hyde side the uber-wealthy Gulf kleptocracies. While the Dr. Jekyll side of the Janus-faced Gulf kingdoms prefer a stable, peaceful Gulf in which they can continue to export oil and pocket billions unmolested, the Mr. Hyde side of their personality is fearful, even panicked, that Iran’s regional ambitions will mean the end of their Golden Goose-like reign. In their worst moments, they wish, hope, and pray for an American attack on Iran, just as they fear that a U.S.-Iran entente might come at their expense.
As reported on Tuesday, July 6 by Eli Lake, a neoconservative hatchetman who scribbles for the Moonie Washington Times, Otaiba delivered his “unusually blunt remarks” in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, another neoconservative scribbler, at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Otaiba suggested that the UAE kleptocrats might be willing to sacrifice some of their billions if that’s the price that it takes for a successful U.S. military attack on Iran:
"I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion … there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country; that is going to happen no matter what.
"If you are asking me, 'Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?’' my answer is still the same: 'We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.’' I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the UAE.”
Like the BPC report, which ridicules the idea of containing a nuclear Iran, in his interview with Goldberg, Otaiba says that “containment and deterrence” won’t work:
“Countries in the region view the Iran threat very differently, I can only speak for the UAE, but talk of containment and deterrence really concerns me and makes me very nervous. Why should I be led to believe that deterrence or containment will work? Iran doesn't have a nuclear power now, but we're unable to contain them and their behavior in the region. What makes me think that once they have a nuclear program, we're going to be able to be more successful in containing them?”
The UAE, of course, quickly distanced itself from Otaiba’s war-mongering.
All this doesn’t mean that the Obama administration is about to go to war against Iran. Even the Bush administration, in its last years, adopted a policy of sanctions, containment, and deterrence, overriding Vice President Dick Cheney, who was singing “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb Iran.” The entire U.S. military, from Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, on down is firmly opposed to the idea of attacking Iran, especially while U.S. forces are engaged in two wars that make them vulnerable to Iranian counterattack. And so far, at least, President Obama hasn’t veered toward a military confrontation with Iran, though he’s refused, annoyingly, to take that option “off the table.”
But the BPC report, Otaiba’s intemperate comments, and commentary from various neoconservative chatterers makes it clear that not all of the deranged are happily contained in the asylum just yet.