Richard Perle has once again entered the fray over US policy toward Iran. His June 25, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)” makes for interesting reading for several reasons.
Perle’s essay confirms that Right Zionists (so-called Neocons) consider themselves increasingly marginal within the Bush administration, at least in terms of foreign policy in the Gulf. Perle insists that the “diplomatic establishment” over at the State Department is once again driving the ship of state.
[O]n May 31, the administration offered to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program.
How is it that Bush, who vowed that on his watch “the worst weapons will not fall into the worst hands,” has chosen to beat such an ignominious retreat?…
[In 2003] Bush blinked and authorized the E.U.-3 to approach Tehran with proposals to reward the mullahs if they promised to end their nuclear weapons program.
During these three years, the Iranians have advanced steadily toward acquiring nuclear weapons, defiantly announcing milestones along the way. At the end of May, with Ahmadinejad stridently reiterating Iran’s “right” to enrich the uranium necessary for nuclear weapons, the administration blinked again.
Perle also suggests that one can trace the balance of power within the Administration by watching Condoleezza Rice. As a disciple of Brent Scowcroft–Perle’s ideological nemesis–Rice was always an unlikely ally for Right Zionists. During her time in the White House, however, the Right Zionists were delighted to discover in Rice a fellow traveler.
Now, Rice seems lost to Right Zionists like Perle. She has been recaptured by the foreign policy establishment.
Proximity is critical in politics and policy. And the geography of this administration has changed. Condoleezza Rice has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere mile or so away. What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice’s influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of — and increasingly represents — a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries.
None of this is really news–and there are some signs that on Iraq, for example, Rice started to retreat by September 2003 when she brought in Robert Blackwill to run a White House Iraq Stabilization Group, well before she moved to the State Department. Nevertheless, it confirms the basic outlines of administration factionalism.
If Perle thinks he has allies in the administration, he isn’t naming names. Obviously, Cheney and Rumsfeld loom large here. The New York Times account of the Iran policy reversal suggests that Cheney blinked, too.
There was strong opposition from the White House, particularly from Vice President Dick Cheney, according to several former officials.
“Cheney was dead set against it,” said one former official who sat in many of those meetings. “At its heart, this was an argument about whether you could isolate the Iranians enough to force some kind of regime change.” But three officials who were involved in the most recent iteration of that debate said Mr. Cheney and others stepped aside…
Any other interpretation has Rice handing the Vice President a defeat. I find that unlikely, if only because Cheney would have little reason to remain silent about his opposition to a policy if the Bush sided with Rice against Cheney. Perle says if you want to know why the President blinked, “Ask Condi.” Better still, “Ask Cheney.”
Perle is upset that the Bush administration has taken a step toward a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear impasse. However, it is important to note that Perle does not advocate a military solution. In fact, after criticizing the Bush administration for blinking on the nuclear issue, he–like many other Right Zionists–drops the bomb (as an issue…) and takes up regime change. Right Zionists like Perle don’t want to talk about Nukes. The real issue, for Right Zionists, is regime change.
Here is the section of the Op-Ed where Perle changes the subject:
The new policy, undoubtedly pitched to the president as a means of enticing the E.U.-3 to support ending Iran’s program, is likely to diminish pressure on Iran and allow the mullahs more time to develop the weapons they have paid dearly to pursue.
No U.S. administration since 1979 has had a serious political strategy regarding Iran…
After this line, it is all regime change. Here is a sample:
The failure of successive U.S. administrations, including this one, to give moral and political support to the regime’s opponents is a tragedy. Iran is a country of young people, most of whom wish to live in freedom and admire the liberal democracies that Ahmadinejad loathes and fears.
On this score too, however, Perle complains that the State Department has the upper hand:
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) tried two weeks ago to pass the Iran Freedom Support Act, which would have increased the administration’s too-little-too-late support for democracy and human rights in Iran. But the State Department opposed it, arguing that it “runs counter to our efforts . . . it would limit our diplomatic flexibility.”
From this perspective, it certainly looks as though the Right Zionists have been defeated by the “diplomatic establishment” in Washington. (Is there room for a little bit of irony in the fact that thanks to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the power of the “Israel Lobby” is proclaimed and publicized amidst serious policy defeats for Right Zionists in Washington?)
Has prior Right Zionist influence within the Bush administration (say, 9/11 to September 2003) changed the balance of power in the Gulf? If so, then Right Zionists may be victors in absentia.
Just to be clear: in at least one Right Zionist playbook–David Wurmser’s Tyranny’s Ally (profiled HERE)–the basis for regime change in Iran is not overt US policy but the anti-regime influence of Iraqi Shiites–specifically, Sistani and the Najaf clerical establishment.
Plenty of Right Zionists have been jettisoned from the Bush administration. To my knowledge, however, David Wurmser still sits at the right hand of the Vice President. And Sistani now runs Iraq–re-Baathification and insurgent amnesty, notwithstanding. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.
Note well: I claim no knowledge about the alleged anti-regime sentiments of Sistani or the Najaf clerical establishment. I only know that Right Zionists have made claims about such sentiments and I have yet to hear a discussion by critics who would challenge this view. On the contrary, I note–as I have in a previous post–that at least one prominent scholar who frequently clashes with Right Zionists, Juan Cole, has (perhaps unwittingly) bolstered this Right Zionist analysis.
In his Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005 Professor Cole listed number five as follows:
5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s majority Shiite community, is an almost lifetime expatriate. He came to Iraq late in 1951, and is far more Iraqi than Arnold Schwarzenegger is Californian. Sistani was a disciple of Grand Ayatollah Burujirdi in Iran, who argued against clerical involvement in day to day politics. Sistani rejects Khomeinism, and would be in jail if he were living in Iran, as a result. He has been implicitly critical of Iran’s poor human rights record, and has himself spoken eloquently in favor of democracy and pluralism. Ma’d Fayyad reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat in August of 2004 that when Sistani had heart problems, an Iranian representative in Najaf visited him. He offered Sistani the best health care Tehran hospitals could provide, and asked if he could do anything for the grand ayatollah. Sistani is said to have responded that what Iran could do for Iraq was to avoid intervening in its internal affairs. And then Sistani flew off to London for his operation, an obvious slap in the face to Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.
Where is the discussion of this crucial issue?