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Neocons in Waiting: Iran, Obama, and the Next Asian Land War

An Israeli Attack on Iran would reduce Barack Obama to a One-Term President

What should a poor warmongering Neoconservative do? This political grouping includes WASPS such as former CIA director James Woolsey and former UN ambassor John Bolton, but at its core is politically active and extremely wealthy Jewish former Democrats who broke with their party in the 1980s to become war hawks in Republican administrations, and most of whom are rooted in Rightwing Zionism as exemplified in the thought of prominent fascist theorist Vladimir Jabotinsky. (They are almost mirror images of the general American Jewish community, 79 percent of which voted for Barack Obama, which is skittish about foreign wars and liberal on social issues). The Neoconservative faction is in the political wilderness in the United States. Eager to play the role in Iran that the enormous floods have played in Pakistan, of paralyzing and destroying much of a thriving country, eager to reduce the shining city of Isfahan to rubble and displace its population into massive tent cities, they find their path blocked at every turn.

Always much happier when the militant and aggressive Likud Party is in power in Israel, they are nevertheless impatient with what they see as the timidity of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, compared to the reckless warmongering of the previous Kadima Party and its Labor ally (who managed to set back the Lebanese economy a decade in 2006 and to reduce the large penal camp of Gaza to further misery and rubble).

Despite being willing to stop in at an occasional cocktail party, President Obama could not care less what the Neoconservatives say, want or do. Few have been appointed from their ranks to high and influential positions in the Obama administration, in contrast to W.'s, where they held the 8 key positions that allowed them to help push the US into a decade of rampaging wars. The American public, having been tricked by their fallacious arguments and cynical propaganda into the Iraq War, does not want to hear from them. They no longer get much television time. Their main project of today, an aggressive war on Iran, is a non-starter with the current White House, its generals, intelligence officials, and most importantly with a public already unemployed, beggared and indebted to the tune of $13 trillion, in part because of the Neocons earlier mad adventures- a public that has also lost over 4000 dead and tens of thousands wounded and permanently disabled warriors over a pack of Neocon lies.

But being a Neocon means never having to say you are sorry, or that you were wrong, and it means never giving up on the dressing up of illegal and aggressive wars as Necessary and Right and Bright Shining Cities on a Hill that will Make the World Safe for "Democracy" and more importantly for Apartheid Israel.

Thus, in 1998 at the height of their impotence, the Neocons got up a hawkish letter with the support of the Republicans in Congress, insisting that President Clinton go to war against Iraq. It was absurd and monstrous. Iraq had been reduced to a poor weak fourth-rate power, its economy devastated, its children dying in droves, by US and UN sanctions pushed by the Neocons and their allies. Only five years later, under a different administration, they got their wish.

The Neocons' life experience, then, is that aggressive warfare is never really off the table. Even a liberal internationalist like Obama can be pressured, and if he will not yield, be weakened and wounded and the way paved for a leader more pliable to their plans. A war that they pine for the way a teenager pines for a first love, a mass grave they dream of the way a retiree dreams of a Hawaiian resort, an orgy of destruction visited on ancient wonders that they dream of the way a world-class architect dreams of constructing a new city- all these things are really at most just 5 years away if the right political moves are made.

They have more assets than is visible on the surface. They have perhaps half of America's 400 billionaires on their side. They have the enormous military-industrial complex on their side. They have the Yahoo complex of besieged lower middle class White America on their side. They have the Israel lobbies on their side. They have important segments of the Oil and Gas lobbies on their side. They have the whole American tradition of permanent war on their side. They should not be underestimated.

It is not so hard to get up a war. You position the war as inevitable. As Right. As Necessary. You reimagine the poor weak ramshackle enemy as a science fictional superpower, months away from possession of a Neutron Bomb that could Destroy the Universe. It has to be done. We are in danger.

Although not exactly himself a Neocon (he says he is for a two-state solution and says he is on the fence about an Iran war), Cpl. Jeffrey Goldberg of the Israeli army, where he was a prison camp guard during the first Intifada or Palestinian uprising, and who masquerades as a journalist over at the Atlantic, has fired a shot in the building campaign for destroying Iran. This war propagandist deliberately spread the bald-faced lie that Saddam had close ties to al-Qaeda, and goes on insisting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction capabilities in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary. He is either dishonest or so blindered by ideology that it comes to the same thing. Goldberg says he is "ambivalent" about an "American" attack on Iran in "2010." But these are weasel words. What would be different in 2011? In fact, this way of speaking puts a time limit on "ambivalence," after which conviction presumably kicks in. His ambivalence, he says, extends to whether Israel should attack Iran unilaterally, though he is convinced by his ‘interviewing' that it likely will. It reminds me of all the caveats and ambivalences in Ken Pollack's book ‘Gathering Storm,' which was used by warmongers nevertheless to help get up the Iraq War.

Goldberg knows that Obama is not actually going to war against Iran. Despite what he says, Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is for all his bluster far too personally indecisive to take such a major step (and certainly not without an American green light; Bibi thinks Clinton had him undermined and moved out of office for obstructing the Oslo accords, and does not want to risk the same fate for causing trouble for Obama in Iraq and Afghanistan). How Goldberg could miss this truism in Israeli politics is beyond me.

Goldberg is trying to make an Iran war seem highly likely if not inevitable, if not now then in the near future (say, within 5 years?).

But contrary to Goldberg's conclusions, Gareth Porter finds that high Israeli intelligence and military figures entertain the severest doubts about a war on Iran. Could Goldberg really not find these voices that Porter dug up so effortlessly?

The Iran war hawks also almost certainly underestimate Iran's conventional weapons capability of foiling any Israeli air strike.

There is no room for ‘ambivalence' here, especially of the Pollack sort that actually leads straight to war. The stupidity of an air raid on Iran is easy for the clear-eyed to see. There is no evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program as opposed to a civilian nuclear energy program. The centrifuge technology being used can be dispersed and an air strike is likely to be only a minor setback in the program. And, Iran is a major country of 70 million with extensive petroleum and gas resources. It has means of replying to any attack that can be subtle and effective. Mahan Abedin showed here recently how there can be no ‘limited war' against Iran.

Obama's plans for a decisive and timely withdrawal from Iraq would be completely ruined by an attack on Iran, which would reactivate the Shiite militias at a time when the US military is weak and open to attack. Obama would not have that achievement to run on in 2012. The Iranians can behind the scenes be major spoilers for the Afghanistan War, which already is not going well for Obama.

A Netanyahu attack on Iran would reduce Barack Obama to a one-term president, which may be what Goldberg and his fellow conspirators are really aiming for. That success would after all allow them to keep to the 5-year timetable for another Asian land war.

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Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

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