Neocons, Thirsty for Blood, Look to Quash Iran Negotiations
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WASHINGTON, Dec 8 -- Anticipating the ascendance of President-elect Barack Obama to the Oval Office, groups of hawks, among them neoconservatives, have begun to offer public advice on just exactly what the new administration should do to deal with Iran.
Accusing Iran of a covert plan to pursue nuclear weapons under the guise of peaceful ambitions, most Washington voices advocate a policy of preventing the Islamic Republic from getting the bomb. But the substance of those policies varies widely.
While Obama has spoken of meaningful engagement without taking any options off the table, Iran hawks, often skeptical of diplomatic efforts, advocate tough sanctions and, in some instances, military strikes to dissuade Iran's leaders from their ambitions.
"There seems to be a general consensus that if you don't want war, you got sanctions," said Gary Milhollin, who founded the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a Washington-based, non-profit research group operated under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin.
"Meaningful, onerous, strong sanctions are the only threat to the regime," he said at a Heritage Foundation forum -- one of Milhollin's two appearances at major right-wing think tanks here last week.
The government- and private foundation-funded Project houses Iranwatch.org, a self-proclaimed "comprehensive repository of open source information about Iran's suspected mass destruction weapon programs."
Iranwatch.org, according to Milhollin at his other appearance at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), estimates that Iran will have the fissile material to fuel a nuclear bomb within a few months. He said it was a "safe assumption" that Iran is ready for weaponization.
But not everyone on the AEI panel was certain that sanctions could stop Iran from acquiring the bomb.
"The only thing that stands between Iran and nuclear weapon is the potential use of military force," said John Bolton, an AEI senior fellow and George W. Bush's former U.N. ambassador.
Bolton, however, thinks a U.S. strike is unlikely given the current political transition, leaving Israel as the only country to potentially attack the Iranian nuclear program -- a scenario Bolton refused to "handicap" due to Israel's own political uncertainty with elections slated for February.
"Absent the possibility of Israeli use of force," he said, Iran would soon have a nuclear weapon. "We are going to have to deal with a nuclear Iran because everything else has failed."
"I've been working on this sucker for eight years," he said. "We've lost this race."
But not everyone on the two panels was as resigned to an Iranian bomb as Bolton.
Jim Phillips, a Heritage senior research fellow on the Middle East, reiterated Milhollin's calls for more "sticks" -- punitive sanctions -- against Iran, stating that Iran's "Achilles' heel" is its "erratic economy".
The case for strong sanctions was consistently made with urgency because of progress in Iran's nuclear program.
The campaign to sway the administration away from negotiations with Iran is predicated on two interrelated factors: Iran's progress toward a "nuclear breakout", and the futility of talks with Tehran.
The former talking point was hammered home by Milhollin and echoed by a press release form the neoconservative Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), a group of mostly hardliner hawks co-chaired by former Pres. Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, George Shultz, and the former CIA chief Jim Woolsey.
The CPD release on Thursday brings attention to a report from the anti-proliferation Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) announcing that, based on the latest figures, Iran could "generate enough low enriched uranium for one bomb in roughly four months."