If the Bush administration launches an attack on Iran, the reason won't be that Iran was about to obtain a nuclear weapon. The real reason will be that United States, as the world's only superpower, wants to establish clearly that it -- not Iran -- is the dominant power in the Middle East. That would make us all less secure, but the insistence on asserting dominance in the Middle East is the essence of the Bush administration's policy.
That quest for dominance over all other states in the Middle East can be traced back to the 1992 Draft Defense Planning Guidance, drafted by Paul Wolfowitz's staff at the Pentagon -- Zalmay Khalilzad and Scooter Libby. It said, "[We] must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role".
For the neoconservatives and their allies, that has meant that Iran could not be allowed to emerge as a power center in the Middle East. Of course the Bush administration has had cover their designs in a fog of propaganda portraying Iran as the worst thing to come along since Hitler. But at least one insider in neoconservative circles has been honest enough to reveal the real problem the hawks in the administration have with Iran.
Tom Donnelly was the main author of the neoconservative September 2000 blueprint for military policy in the Bush administration, "Rebuilding America's Defenses" which involved four prominent figures on the neoconservative right who would take prominent positions in the administration: Libby, Wolfowitz, Stephen A. Cambone, and John Bolton.
In a chapter in the book "Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran", published in 2005, Donnelly admitted that, contrary to the official U.S. line depicting Iran as a radical state threatening to plunge the region into war, Iran was "more the status quo power" in the region in relation to the Bush administration's "project of regional transformation". The problem with Iran, he explained, is that it "stands directly athwart this project of regional transformation".
The Bush project for bringing the magic of advanced capitalist democracy to the benighted Arab states of the Middle East has proven to be a neoconservative pipe dream in Iraq, Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories. But forget the "spreading democracy" ploy and think of that "regional transformation" as simply another layer of justification for exerting military pressure and, if necessary, war on states that refuse to fall in line. Donnelly cut through the façade of official propaganda to write that the prospect of a "nuclear Iran" was unacceptable to the Bush administration mainly because of "the constraining effect it threatens to impose upon U.S. strategy for the greater Middle East".
In other words, Iran could not be allowed to have even the option of a nuclear weapon capability, because the United States had to be able to operate with a completely free hand militarily in the region. What Donnelly did not say, but which follows from that posture, is that even a non-nuclear Iran that has links to strong allies such as Hezbollah and Hamas, could not be allowed to be a regional power.
What Donnelly -- and presumably his friends in the Bush administration -- regarded as the "greatest danger" in regard to Iran was that the "realists" in the administration would "pursue a 'balance of power' approach with a nuclear Iran, undercutting the Bush 'liberation strategy'".
With this valuable key to the real thinking of the Bush administration's most influential figures -- most, but not all of which have now departed -- we can understand a series of policy decisions on Iran that otherwise make no sense.
First, there was the administration's dismissal of the proposal from the Iranian leadership in early May 2003, to negotiate with the United States on the very issues which the administration had claimed were the basis for its hostile posture toward Tehran: its nuclear program, its support for Hizbollah and other anti-Israeli armed groups and its hostility to a peace settlement with Israel.
Instead, the Pentagon was pushing for the adoption of an official policy of regime change in Iran. Although the administration never explicitly said that it has pursued that policy, it openly wielded the threat of regime change as part of its pressure on Iran. Rice, on a trip to the Middle East in May 2005, warned Iranian leaders that were not immune to the "major changes doing on in the region" -- a code phrase for the U.S. pursuit of the "regional transformation" to which Donnelly referred.
Finally, the Bush administration refused to tolerate any real negotiations by the Europeans with Iran over its uranium enrichment program in 2004-2005, even though those negotiations could have resulted in an agreement that would limited Iran to a level of uranium enrichment that would have only a small fraction of what is required for the production of a nuclear weapon. In March 2005, Iran proposed to its European negotiating partners to submit to a system of their devising to guarantee against enrichment that could support a nuclear weapons through an inspection system. But under U.S. pressure the Europeans refused even to discuss it.
The administration's argument against such an agreement was that there was a secret enrichment program paralleling the acknowledge program that would fall under international inspection. But as Sy Hersh reported last November , after years of trying, the CIA still had found "no conclusive evidence" a such a secret Iranian nuclear-weapons program running parallel to the one being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In fact the still classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program in mid-2005 concluded that no final Iranian decision had been made to pursue the manufacture of a nuclear weapon.
We know that the policy of attacking Iran is being pushed by a handful of men with extreme views, and that it has been opposed by many in the State Department, the intelligence community and the military leadership. But the "moderates" in the administration, as well as the leading Democratic candidates and virtually everyone in the Democratic Party leadership -- have been supporting the threat of war against Iran for years, in large part because they share the illusions of power that go with being the militarily dominant state in the world. The chief illusion is that one can and should use U.S. power to coerce an uncooperative state.
The entire spectrum of political leadership in this country now appears to accept that idea, which is an indication of just how far U.S. military dominance has tilted the policy debate in this country.
The implication of the general acceptance of the threat of war against Iran as instrument of policy is that neither the "moderates" inside the administration nor the Democrats will be in a position to offer effective resistance to actual war against Iran before it is too late. Unless someone begins to push back soon, the distorted logic of dominance may carry this nation into an irrational and criminal war whose consequences for us and for the world would be the gravest imaginable.