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The Real News Network’s Paul Jay talks to Gareth Porter about the possibility of US attacking Iran. Porter says Obama seems to understand the need to talk to Iran but sections of both parties could support a war. The debate is raging in Washington and no clear decision seems to have been made.

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Welcome for part 5 of my interview with Gareth Porter on Iran, the United States, and the possibilities for war. Gareth, if you somehow try to put yourself in the mind’s eye or inside the head of some of the people making these decisions in Washington, what’s the debate that’s going on there now?

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE HISTORIAN: Well, the debate is clearly in part about whether the United States should attack Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Islamic Revolutionary Guard bases.

JAY: But just bases. And what does that get for them?

PORTER: This is the debate, because the vice president, Dick Cheney, has been pushing this idea since certainly last summer that this is the immediate issue the United States has to confront. He has made that the issue, I believe, and others who have been very knowledgeable about the way the vice president thinks and his allies in the administration think, that he sees this as a way of finding an excuse, a pretext for attacking Iran’s nuclear program, because he’s hoping that if we attack the Revolutionary Guard bases, the Iranians then will respond in some way militarily, and that will give us an excuse for attacking the nuclear program.

JAY: And then what?

PORTER: Well, exactly. And I think the US military and the defense departments have been saying in the past, and I assume still saying today, that this is a bad idea, that this would be potentially disastrous for US interests. For one thing, if the air force is not able to suppress, you know, completely the Iranian military capabilities, they could potentially sink US naval ships in the Persian Gulf. They’re very vulnerable, and the US navy knows that, and I think the US navy is not at all eager for a military confrontation with Iran. That’s why I think Admiral Fallon, as CENTCOM commander, was arguing very strongly, so strongly against a military confrontation with Iran, and saying we need to try to find a way to reach agreement with Iran, not just about Iraq.

JAY: If these bases were attacked and he gets the counterattack you say he’s asking for, where else does this lead?

PORTER: Well, no doubt there would be a Hezbollah response. There would be a Mahdi Army response. There would be responses elsewhere in the Middle East, where Shiite agents are positioned to carry out operations. I mean, this certainly is a—we don’t know but this certainly is*

JAY: *But Iran’s certainly been threatening*

PORTER: *It’s a reasonable danger. It’s a reasonable danger, and there’s no—.

JAY: And Iran just keeps reminding us they have many means to counterattack.

PORTER: And I can tell you that the debate within Washington circles, within the administration, has definitely turned on the recognition of Iran’s ability to carry out attacks against US interests and US forces, particularly in Iraq. That was the single biggest argument against an attack on Iran.

JAY: Between 150,000 to 300,000 Americans right now sitting in Iraq within easy missile range of Iran.

PORTER: Well, that’s right, but not from missiles in Iran, but from the Mahdi Army itself, because the Mahdi Army has not by any means used its full force. I mean, Muqtada al-Sadr has been very consciously, and I think wisely, holding onto his forces as much as possible against the attacks that have been waged by the United States and by the al-Maliki regime.

JAY: Especially in the days following Bush’s speech about appeasement, McCain has made it pretty clear he won’t talk to the Iranians—there’s no deal to be made. And then the Democratic Party seems to be quite split itself on this.

PORTER: Well, I think there’s no doubt that Obama understands that we have to negotiate with Iran. I believe that he is far more committed to this point of view than he has said publicly thus for. I think that he has an understanding that that’s the only way the United States can go, that there has to be a grand bargain. We have to sit down, look at all the issues, bring them all together, and figure out what it is that the two sides can come together on in terms of common interest. And I think he understands that the Iranians are perfectly willing to negotiate on terms that would be quite acceptable to the United States, and that once you drop the pretense of regime change, everything changes.

JAY: And the neocons, the Cheney gang, seem to be every bit is determined to stop that.

PORTER: Absolutely. They’re not going to change their position before the end of this administration. And I think the real danger is that because the Bush administration continues to become more committed rhetorically to the idea that we must do something about Iran, it becomes more difficult for Bush in the final analysis to say no when Cheney whispers in his ear, “Now is the time to attack, before the end of your term.” And he gets more support from Democrats as well as Republicans as time goes by. I mean, this repeated drum beat of propaganda against Iran has had its effect. There’s no doubt about it. And there’s much more willingness now within Congress to go along with it than there was a year ago.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.