WASHINGTON - "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products
in August," explained then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card in September
2002, in answer to queries about why the administration of George W Bush had
not launched its campaign to rally public opinion behind invading Iraq earlier
in the summer.
And while it's only July - and less than a month after the United Nations, the
European Union and the US Congress approved new economic sanctions against Iran
- a familiar clutch of Iraq war hawks appear to be preparing the ground for a
major new campaign to rally public opinion behind military action against the
Barring an unexpected breakthrough on the diplomatic front, that
campaign, like the one eight years ago, is likely to move into high gear this
autumn, beginning shortly after the Labor Day holiday on September 6, that
marks the end of the summer vacation.
By the following week, the November mid-term election campaign will be in full
swing, and Republican candidates are expected to make the charge that Democrats
and President Barack Obama are "soft on Iran" their top foreign policy issue.
In any event, veterans of the Bush administration's pre-Iraq invasion
propaganda offensive are clearly mobilizing their arguments for a similar
effort on Iran, even suggesting that the timetable between campaign launch and
possible military action - a mere six months in Iraq's case - could be
"By the first quarter of 2011, we will know whether sanctions are proving
effective," wrote Bush's former national security adviser Stephen Hadley and
Israeli Brigadier General Michael Herzog in a paper published this month by the
Washington Institute for Near Policy (WINEP), a think-tank closely tied to the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
"The administration should begin to plan now for a course of action should
sanctions be deemed ineffective by the first or second quarter of next year.
The military option must be kept on the table both as a means of strengthening
diplomacy and as a worst-case scenario," they asserted.
While Hadley and Herzog argued that the administration should begin planning
military options now - presumably to be ready for possible action as early as
next spring - others are calling for more urgent and demonstrative
''We cannot afford to wait indefinitely to determine the effectiveness of
diplomacy and sanctions," wrote Charles Robb, a former Democratic senator, and
Air Force General Charles Wald (retired) in a column published in Friday's
Washington Post, in which they warned that Tehran "could achieve nuclear
weapons capability before the end of this year, posing a strategically
untenable threat to the United States".
"If diplomatic and economic pressures do not compel Iran to terminate its
nuclear program, the US military has the capability and is prepared to launch
an effective, targeted strike on Tehran's nuclear and military facilities,"
Their column was based on the latest of three reports promoting the use of
military pressure on Iran released by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) since
2008 and overseen by the BPC's neo-conservative foreign policy director Michael
Makovsky, whose brother is a senior official at WINEP, served as a consultant
to the controversial Pentagon office set up in the run-up to the Iraq War to
find evidence of operational ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein as a
justification for the invasion.
The BPC report, "Meeting the Challenge: When Time Runs Out", urged the Obama
administration, among other immediate steps, to "augment the Fifth Fleet
presence in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, including the deployment of an
additional [aircraft] carrier battle group and minesweepers to the waters off
Iran; conduct broad exercises with its allies in the Persian Gulf; ... initiate
a 'strategic partnership' with Azerbaijan to enhance regional access ..." as a
way of demonstrating Washington's readiness to go to war.
"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," it went on, noting that such a step would "effectively be
an act of war and the US and its allies would have to prepare for its
Some Iraq hawks, most aggressively Bush's former UN ambassador John Bolton,
have insisted that neither diplomacy nor sanctions, no matter how tough, would
be sufficient to dissuade Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons and that
military action - preferably by the US, but, if not, by Israel - would be
necessary, and sooner rather than later.
Since the June 12, 2009, disputed elections and the emergence of the opposition
Green movement in Iran, a few neo-conservatives, notably Michael Rubin of the
American Enterprise Institute and Michael Ledeen of the Foundation for Defense
of Democracies, have argued that a military attack could prove
counter-productive by rallying an otherwise discontented - and possibly
rebellious - population behind the regime.
But with the Green movement seemingly unable to challenge the government in the
streets that argument has been losing ground among the hawks who, in any event,
blame the opposition's alleged weakness on Obama's failure to provide it with
"Unfortunately, President Obama waffled while innocent Iranians were killed by
their own government," wrote William Kristol and Jamie Fly, in Kristol's Weekly
Standard last month.
"It's now increasingly clear that the credible threat of a military strike
against Iran's nuclear program is the only action that could convince the
regime to curtail its ambition," wrote the two men, who direct the Foreign
Policy Initiative, the successor organization of the neo-conservative-led
Project for the New American Century that played a key role in preparing the
ground for the Iraq invasion.
Neo-conservative and other hawks have also pounced on reported remarks made by
United Arab Emirates ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba at a retreat sponsored by The
Atlantic magazine in Colorado last week to nullify another obstacle to military
action - the widespread belief that Washington's Arab allies oppose a military
attack on Iran by the US or Israel as too risky for their own security and
"We cannot live with a nuclear Iran," Otaiba was quoted as saying in a
Washington Times article by Eli Lake, a prominent neo-conservative journalist.
"Mr Otaiba's ... comments leave no doubt what he and most Arab officials think
about the prospect of a nuclear revolutionary Shi'ite state," the Wall Street
Journal's editorial board, a major media champion of the Iraq War, opined.
"They desperately want someone, and that means the US or Israel, to stop it,
using force if need be."
Otaiba was interviewed at the conference by The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, an
influential US-Israeli writer who, in a widely noted essay published by The New
Yorker magazine in 2002, claimed that Saddam was supporting an al-Qaeda group
in Kurdistan and that the Iraqi leader would soon possess nuclear weapons.
Goldberg, who asserted in his blog this week that "the idea of a group of
Persian Shi'ites having possession of a nuclear bomb ... certainly scares [Arab
leaders] more than the reality of the Jewish bomb," is reportedly working on an
essay on the necessity of attacking Iran's nuclear facilities for publication
by The Atlantic in September.
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.