In November 2001, Gen. Wesley Clark, who had recently retired from his post as head of the U.S. Southern Command, learned from a general he knew in the Pentagon that a memo had just come down from the office of the secretary of defense outlining the objective of the "take down" of seven Middle Eastern regimes over five years.
The plan would start with the invasion of Iraq, and then go after Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Sudan, according to an account in Clark's 2003 book, "Winning Modern Wars." The memo indicated the plan was to "come back and get Iran in five years."
The neo-cons were very serious about going after Syria. In the weeks following the initial U.S. blow at Hussein, Paul Wolfowitz, the chief neo-conservative architect of the Iraq invasion, argued unsuccessfully for taking advantage of the presumed military triumph there to overthrow the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, according to the right-leaning Insight magazine.
But contrary to the popular notion that the neo-cons believed that "real men go to Tehran," no one was yet proposing that Iran should be next military target.
In September 2003, Cheney brought in David Wurmser, a close friend and protege of Richard Perle and one of the architects of the neo-conservative plan for regime change in Iraq, as his adviser on the Middle East. Wurmser had previously articulated very specific ideas about how taking down Hussein by force would help destabilise the Iranian regime.
In a 1999 book, Wurmser had laid out a plan for using the Iraqi Shiite majority and their conservative clerics as U.S. allies in the "regional rollback of Shiite fundamentalism" -- meaning the Islamic regime in Iran.
But Wurmser also believed that the Baathist regime in Syria was an obstacle to regime change in Iran. Beginning with the "Clean Break" memo to incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which he had co-authored with Perle and Douglas Feith in 1996, he had argued that once Hussein was removed, the next step was to take down the Assad regime in Syria.
In a September 2007 interview with The Telegraph, after he had left Cheney's office, Wurmser confirmed his belief that regime change in Syria -- by force, if necessary -- would directly affect the stability of the Tehran regime. If Iran were seen to be unable to do anything to prevent the overthrow of the regime in Syria, he suggested, it would seriously undermine the Islamic regime's prestige at home.
From 2003 to 2005, Wurmser and the neo-cons were in denial about the increasingly obvious reality that the U.S. occupation of Iraq was actually boosting Iranian influence there rather than shaking the regime's power at home, according to former NSC specialist Mann. She was well acquainted with the neo-conservatives' thinking from her associations with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in the 1990s, and she told IPS in a recent interview that she was "astounded" to hear neo-cons in the administration suggest as late as 2005 that the situation in Iraq was on track to help destabilise the Iranian regime.
The neo-cons had long viewed the Iranian reformists, led by President Mohammed Khatami, as the primary obstacle to the popular revolution against the mullahs for which they were working. As French Iran specialist Frederic Tellier noted in an early 2006 essay, they believed the electoral defeats of the reformists in 2003 and 2004 would also help open the way to a revolutionary political upheaval in Tehran.
In an appearance on the Don Imus show on Jan. 21, 2005, Cheney said the Israelis might attack Iran's nuclear sites if they became convinced the Iranians had a "significant nuclear capability." That remark underlined the fact that he was not thinking seriously about a U.S. strike against Iran.
By the end of 2005, however, the neo-cons had finally accepted the reality of the failure of the Bush administration's military intervention in Iraq, according to Mann. She also notes that the electoral victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, representing a new breed of nationalist conservative with a mass base of popular support, in the June 2005 presidential election, spelled the "death knell" to the neocon optimism about regime change in Iran.
Mann observes that the neo-cons had never foresworn the use of force against Iran, but they had argued that less force would be needed in Iran than had been used in Iraq. By early 2006, however, that assumption was being discarded by prominent neo-conservatives.
Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute had been more aggressive than anyone else in arguing that Iraq's Shiites, liberated by U.S. military power, would help subvert the Iranian regime. But in April 2006, he called in a Weekly Standard article for continued bombing of Iran's nuclear sites until the Iranians stopped rebuilding them.
Within the administration, meanwhile, Wurmser was looking for the opportunity to propose a military option against Iran. In his September 2007 interview with The Telegraph shortly after leaving Cheney's office, he insisted that the United States must be willing to "escalate as far as we need to go to topple the [Iranian] regime if necessary."
That opportunity seemed to present itself in the aftermath of Israel's failed attempt to deal a major blow to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006.
Neo-conservatives aligned with Cheney argued that Iran was now threatening U.S. dominant power in the region, through its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territory and its nuclear program. They insisted the administration had to push back by targeting Iran's Quds Force personnel in Iraq, increasing naval presence in the Gulf, and accusing Iran of supporting the killing of U.S. troops.
Although the ostensible rationale was to pressure Iran to back down on the nuclear issue, in light of the previous views, it appears that they were hoping to use military power against Iran to accomplish their original goal of regime change.
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Albion Monitor November
1, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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