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Are Key Obama Advisors in Tune with Neocon Hawks Who Want to Attack Iran?

Think an attack is unlikely now? Ask key Obama cabinet figures why they're still palling around with neocon hardliners on Iran.
 
 
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A familiar coalition of hawks, hardliners, and neoconservatives expects Barack Obama's proposed talks with Iran to fail -- and they're already proposing an escalating set of measures instead. Some are meant to occur alongside any future talks. These include steps to enhance coordination with Israel, tougher sanctions against Iran, and a region-wide military buildup of U.S. strike forces, including the prepositioning of military supplies within striking distance of that country.

Once the future negotiations break down, as they are convinced will happen, they propose that Washington quickly escalate to war-like measures, including a U.S. Navy-enforced embargo on Iranian fuel imports and a blockade of that country's oil exports. Finally, of course, comes the strategic military attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran that so many of them have wanted for so long.

It's tempting to dismiss the hawks now as twice-removed from power: first, figures like John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith were purged from top posts in the Bush administration after 2004; then the election of Barack Obama and the announcement Monday of his centrist, realist-minded team of establishment foreign policy gurus seemed to nail the doors to power shut for the neocons, who have bitterly criticized the president-elect's plans to talk with Iran, withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, and abandon the reckless Global War on Terrorism rhetoric of the Bush era.

"Kinetic Action" Against Iran

When it comes to Iran, however, it's far too early to dismiss the hawks. To be sure, they are now plying their trade from outside the corridors of power, but they have more friends inside the Obama camp than most people realize. Several top advisers to Obama -- including Tony Lake, UN Ambassador-designate Susan Rice, Tom Daschle, and Dennis Ross, along with leading Democratic hawks like Richard Holbrooke, close to Vice-President-elect Joe Biden or Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton -- have made common cause with war-minded think-tank hawks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and other hardline institutes.

Last spring, Tony Lake and Susan Rice, for example, took part in a WINEP "2008 Presidential Task Force" study which resulted in a report entitled, "Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge." The Institute, part of the Washington-based Israel lobby, was founded in coordination with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and has been vigorously supporting a confrontation with Iran. The task force report, issued in June, was overseen by four WINEP heavyweights: Robert Satloff, WINEP's executive director, Patrick Clawson, its chief Iran analyst, David Makovsky, a senior fellow, and Dennis Ross, an adviser to Obama who is also a WINEP fellow.

Endorsed by both Lake and Rice, the report opted for an alarmist view of Iran's nuclear program and proposed that the next president set up a formal U.S.-Israeli mechanism for coordinating policy toward Iran (including any future need for "preventive military action"). It drew attention to Israeli fears that "the United States may be reconciling itself to the idea of 'living with an Iranian nuclear bomb,'" and it raised the spurious fear that Iran plans to arm terrorist groups with nuclear weapons.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with consultations between the United States and Israel. But the WINEP report is clearly predisposed to the idea that the United States ought to give undue weight to Israel's inflated concerns about Iran. And it ignores or dismisses a number of facts: that Iran has no nuclear weapon, that Iran has not enriched uranium to weapons grade, that Iran may not have the know-how to actually construct a weapon even if, sometime in the future, it does manage to acquire bomb-grade material, and that Iran has no known mechanism for delivering such a weapon.