The “Iran Question” makes my head hurt.
The reason has been pretty clear since the ’06 Lebanon War. You can see early signs of turbulence in my ZNet essay “The Devil Wears Persian.”
“Dual rollback” is a two act play:
Act One: Target Iraqi regional power, with the acquiescence of Iran.
Act Two is just beginning….
Act Two centers on “rollback” in Iran. Arab officials are cast in a supporting role, with Israel in the lead. The second Act opens in Lebanon, although the finale is almost certainly supposed to be set in Iran…
Right Zionists will find that they have powerful allies… in Washington (Right Arabists) — the very folks who worked most diligently against them during Act One.
[T]he emergence of a new Right Zionist/Right Arabist axis against Iran will almost certainly mean that dissent — facilitated by Right Arabists during Act One — will prove far more difficult during Act Two.
Dissent may prove more difficult. So, too, analysis.
Any “Right Zionist/Right Arabist axis” against Iran (“Act II”) would muddy all the factional lines from Act I that have served as guideposts for understanding the contours of the Bush administration.
A case in point of potentially muddied factional lines: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s most recent trip to the Middle East.
There has been considerable media speculation that Rice went to the region in an effort to build support for a united front against Iran.
Take, for example, Jon Leyne’s BBC news analysis, “Iran Behind Rice’s Mid-East Tour.”
Why did Condoleezza Rice come to Israel and the West Bank earlier this week?
Many Arab and Israeli commentators have found the same answer: Iran.
[S]tate department counsellor Philip Zelikow seemed to give the game away in an address to a Washington think tank on 15 September.
“For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to co-operate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about.”
No mention of Iran, but the implication is clear.
See similar speculation by Ehsan Ahrari here.
Or, Act I?
My head starts hurting right about here. The cognitive dissonance I am feeling probably has its source in a comparable dissonance I detect in Right Zionist circles.
Take, for example, Michael Ledeen’s recent essay, “Cognitive Dissonance: The Bush Administration on Iran.” It is an elaborate critique of Condoleezza Rice and her most recent statements on Iran from an interview with Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal.
[Condoleezza Rice] hopes sanctions will have an effect on Iranian officials who “do not want to endure the kind of isolation that they’re headed toward.” Stephens, shocked that Rice apparently thinks there are legitimate interlocutors in power in Tehran, presses her, and she responds, “I do not believe we’re going to find Iranian moderates… The question is, are we going to find Iranian reasonables?”
As Stephens dryly remarks, there are lots of Iranian “reasonables.” They comprise upwards of 80 percent of the population. But we are not supporting them; instead we are dithering around in negotiations designed by Europeans whose greatest fear is not Iranian terrorism, but American action in the Middle East. And when Secretary Rice starts talking about diplomacy, there is a change in focus. She’s no longer talking about the war, she’s talking about the nuclear program.
In short, she has no serious intention of challenging the Tehran regime…
It is impossible not to be struck by the cognitive dissonance between this interview and the many speeches by the president in which he has all but called for regime change in Iran.
If this be “Act II,” then Ledeen does not appear to be on board.
One reason Ledeen is not on board is that Rice is “talking about the nuclear program” while he wants to talk about regime change.
Iranian nukes and Iranian regime change are potentially very different questions. They are mostly unrelated (Right Zionists who favor regime change wouldn’t much mind a nuclear Iran once it is pro-Western).
The nuke and regime change issues may also be at odds with one another if all the talk about Iranian nukes helps the Iranian regime consolidate its popularity among Iranian nationalists.
Like Ledeen, Michael Rubin also seems unimpressed by the direction of US policy. He has had nothing good to say about Rice’s visit to the Middle East. Writing on the NRO blog, Rubin complained that Rice sold out Egyptian dissidents and the whole “Bush Doctrine.”
Rubin doesn’t seem to think that Rice’s attempts to curry favor with Arab regimes is part of some Right Zionist game plan for a united front against Iran.
Indeed, at this point, one is hard pressed to find Right Zionists discussing recent Bush administration Middle East policy in the same enthusiastic tone that marked the Lebanon War.
At the time of the Lebanon War in July 2006, Right Zionists like Dore Gold wrote about an “Opening Round” in a battle between Iran and the West.
But that “Gold” opportunity–to the extent that it ever existed–was slammed shut by the failure of the Israeli campaign in Lebanon.
Where does that leave Act II?
If the Rice trip to the Middle East was a “second round” in Act II, somebody forgot to tell the Right Zionists.
Where is the evidence of Neocon enthusiasm?
This is not a rhetorical question. I am asking: has anyone seen any signs?
If the Right Zionists are disgruntled, are the “Unipolarists” more hopeful?
Or is it just Dem Zionists?
As Michael Rubin says,
It’s almost as if Kerry won and named Nicholas Burns is Undersecretary of State.
“Dem Zionists” and Right Arabists.
[LATER: If “Act II” requires Right Zionists to court “Arab moderates” in search of a united front against Iran, would this actually extend so far as to tolerate an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq?
Or is all the talk of a coup in Iraq simply an older story: the denouement of “Act I,” the eclipse of Right Zionist influence, and the triumph of the old Right Arabist establishment.]