The White House
From the Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Iraq

The same neocon ideologues behind the Iraq war have been using the same
tactics-alliances with shady exiles, dubious intelligence on W.M.D.-to push
for the bombing of Iran. As President Bush ups the pressure on Tehran, is he
planning to double his Middle East bet?

by Craig Unger March 2007

In the weeks leading up to George W. Bush's January 10 speech on the war in
Iraq, there was a brief but heady moment when it seemed that the president
might finally accept the failure of his Middle East policy and try something
new. Rising anti-war sentiment had swept congressional Republicans out of
power. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had been tossed overboard. And
the Iraq Study Group (I.S.G.), chaired by former secretary of state James
Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton, had put together a bipartisan
report that offered a face-saving strategy to exit Iraq. Who better than
Baker, the Bush family's longtime friend and consigliere, to talk some sense
into the president?

By the time the president finished his speech from the White House library,
however, all those hopes had vanished. It wasn't just that Bush was doubling
down on an extravagantly costly bet by sending 21,500 more American troops
to Iraq; there were also indications that he was upping the ante by an order
of magnitude. The most conspicuous clue was a four-letter word that Bush
uttered six times in the course of his speech: Iran.

In a clear reference to the Islamic Republic and its sometime ally Syria,
Bush vowed to "seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry
and training to our enemies." At about the same time his speech was taking
place, U.S. troops stormed an Iranian liaison office in Erbil, a
Kurdish-controlled city in northern Iraq, and arrested and detained five
Iranians working there.

Already, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on the war in Iraq.
Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people have been killed. Countless
more are wounded or living as refugees. Launched with the intention of
shoring up Israeli security and replacing rogue regimes in the Middle East
with friendly, pro-Western allies, the war in Iraq has instead turned that
country into a terrorist training ground. By eliminating Saddam Hussein, the
U.S.-led coalition has sparked a Sunni-Shiite civil war, which threatens to
spread throughout the entire Middle East. And, far from creating a secular
democracy, the war has empowered Shiite fundamentalists aligned with Iran.
The most powerful of these, Muqtada al-Sadr, commands both an anti-American
sectarian militia and the largest voting bloc in the Iraqi parliament.

"Everything the advocates of war said would happen hasn't happened," says
the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, an influential
who backed the Iraq invasion. "And all the things the critics
said would happen have happened. [The president's neoconservative advisers]
are effectively saying, 'Invade Iran. Then everyone will see how smart we
are.' But after you've lost x number of times at the roulette wheel, do you

By now, the story of how neoconservatives hijacked American foreign policy
is a familiar one. With Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld leading the
way, neocons working out of the office of the vice president and the
Department of Defense orchestrated a spectacular disinformation operation,
asserting that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction posed a grave
and immediate threat to the U.S. Veteran analysts who disagreed were
circumvented. Dubious information from known fabricators was hyped. Forged
documents showing phony yellowcake-uranium sales to Iraq were promoted.

What's less understood is that the same tactics have been in play with Iran.
Once again, neocon ideologues have been flogging questionable intelligence
about W.M.D. Once again, dubious Middle East exile groups are making the
rounds in Washington-this time urging regime change in Syria and Iran. Once
again, heroic new exile leaders are promising freedom.

Meanwhile, a series of recent moves by the military have lent credence to
widespread reports that the U.S. is secretly preparing for a massive air
attack against Iran. (No one is suggesting a ground invasion.) First came
the deployment order of U.S. Navy ships to the Persian Gulf. Then came
high-level personnel shifts signaling a new focus on naval and air
operations rather than the ground combat that predominates in Iraq. In his
January 10 speech, Bush announced that he was sending Patriot missiles to
the Middle East to defend U.S. allies-presumably from Iran. And he pointedly
asserted that Iran was "providing material support for attacks on American
troops," a charge that could easily evolve into a casus belli.

"It is absolutely parallel," says Philip Giraldi, a former C.I.A.
counterterrorism specialist. "They're using the same dance steps-demonize
the bad guys, the pretext of diplomacy, keep out of negotiations, use
proxies. It is Iraq redux."

The neoconservatives have had Iran in their sights for more than a decade.
On July 8, 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's newly elected prime minister
and the leader of its right-wing Likud Party, paid a visit to the
neoconservative luminary Richard Perle in Washington, D.C. The subject of
their meeting was a policy paper that Perle and other analysts had written
for an Israeli-American think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic
Political Studies. Titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the
Realm," the paper contained the kernel of a breathtakingly radical vision
for a new Middle East. By waging wars against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, the
paper asserted, Israel and the U.S. could stabilize the region. Later, the
neoconservatives argued that this policy could democratize the Middle East.

"It was the beginning of thought," says Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-American
policy expert, who co-signed the paper with her husband, David Wurmser, now
a top Middle East adviser to Dick Cheney. Other signers included Perle and
Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy during George W.
Bush's first term. "It was the seeds of a new vision."

Netanyahu certainly seemed to think so. Two days after meeting with Perle,
the prime minister addressed a joint session of Congress with a speech that
borrowed from "A Clean Break." He called for the "democratization" of
terrorist states in the Middle East and warned that peaceful means might not
be sufficient. War might be unavoidable.

Netanyahu also made one significant addition to "A Clean Break." The paper's
authors were concerned primarily with Syria and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but
Netanyahu saw a greater threat elsewhere. "The most dangerous of these
regimes is Iran," he said.

Ten years later, "A Clean Break" looks like nothing less than a playbook for
U.S.-Israeli foreign policy during the Bush-Cheney era. Many of the
initiatives outlined in the paper have been implemented-removing Saddam from
power, setting aside the "land for peace" formula to resolve the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon-all with
disastrous results.

Nevertheless, neoconservatives still advocate continuing on the path
Netanyahu staked out in his speech and taking the fight to Iran. As they see
it, the Iraqi debacle is not the product of their failed policies. Rather,
it is the result of America's failure to think big. "It's a mess, isn't it?"
says Meyrav Wurmser, who now serves as director of the Center for Middle
East Policy at the Hudson Institute. "My argument has always been that this
war is senseless if you don't give it a regional context."