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Take CFR president Richard Haass’s shift to support ever-escalating measures against Iran (chronicled here at the time by Eli). Haass made a February call in Newsweek for regime change as the only way to stop Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, a program which hasn’t yet been proven to exist. That piece was followed closely by an appearance on CNN where he said that the U.S. should not “hide behind Israel’s skirts” — i.e., the U.S. should take the lead in bombing Iran, an argument based on U.S. “capacities” that echoed neocon Bret Stephens from several months earlier.
One might think the Council would have learned its lessons after the Iraq invasion, where liberals and moderates swung toward supporting war, enabling then-President George W. Bush to carry out an invasion — based on shoddy and manipulated intelligence — that neocons in his administration had been publicly calling for since the 1990s. But if hiring Elliot Abrams didn’t dispel the notion of CFR’s ability to learn from mistakes, the group’s commentary on Iran seems to be setting it in stone.
Harvard international relations professor Stephen Walt made this connection explicit when he went after Takeyh and James Lindsay for a pair of articles they wrote in March for the Council’s journal, Foreign Affairs, and a shorter op-ed for — sound familiar? — the Washington Post. Walt wrote, at the time, that:
In the run-up to the war in Iraq, a critical moment came when moderates and liberals joined forces with the neoconservatives who had been pushing for war since the late 1990s. The poster child for this process was Kenneth Pollack, whose pro-war book The Threatening Storm (written under the auspices of the Council on Foreign Relations) gave reluctant hawks a respectable fig-leaf for backing the invasion.
Is a similar process occurring today with respect to Iran?
Walt went on to write a lengthy post criticizing not necessarily the facts and arguments made by Takeyh and Lindsay, but rather the certainty with which they stated hypothetical scenarios (Iran’s, again, as-yet-proven nuclear weapons program, etc.) and the alarmist language they used (the FA article is headlined: “After Iran Gets the Bomb”). Indeed, on the first score, Takeyh and Lindsay over-played their hand from the get-go in the WaPo op-ed (again, poor editing?). The article opens with this line: “As Iran relentlessly moves toward acquiring a nuclear weapons capability [...].” That link is embedded in the original online version of the piece. But when you click it, it takes you to a WaPo news article from February 19 headlined: “Iran might be seeking to develop nuclear weapons capability, inspectors say.” “Might be seeking”? That’s the same as “relentlessly mov[ing] toward”? The lede of the news story continues with conditional and restrained language: “U.N. nuclear inspectors, citing evidence of an apparently ongoing effort by Iran to obtain new technologies, publicly suggested for the first time Thursday that the country is actively seeking to develop a weapons capability.”
In their latest piece, Takeyh and Simon dispensed with stating hypothetical as certainty and instead posited a fantasy world, asking readers in their lede to:
Imagine a moment when President Obama has only two alternatives: prepare to live with a nuclear-armed Iran or embark on the perilous path of military action to stop it.
Imagine that diplomacy has run its course, after prolonged and inconclusive negotiations; that surging international oil prices have undercut the power of economic sanctions against Tehran; and that reliable intelligence says the Islamic republic’s weapons program is very close to reaching its goal.