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Washington’s conflicting strategies on Iran

The Real News Network’s Paul Jay talks to Gareth Porter about the dichotomy of Washington’s two strategies for Iran: On the one hand recognizing that they share common interests like stabilizing Iraq; on the other hand Iran is seen as a threat as a regional power to the Bush administration’s Middle East aims and therefore must be dealt with militarily.

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: In the days following President Bush’s speech in Israel, where he said to talk to terrorists was akin to appeasement of Hitler, his comments were taken in Washington as a knock on Obama’s willingness to speak to Iran. And what to do about Iran is the question of the day in Washington. To discuss it more deeply, I’m joined by Gareth Porter. He’s an investigative historian, independent investigative historian, who focuses on national security issues. Gareth, first of all, when Petraeus and Crocker spoke at the congressional hearings, something that was said by Petraeus and Crocker, not part of their main testimony, but something that came out in the Q&A that was not followed up on by any of the media—except, I should say, for The Real News Network—Crocker and Petraeus both said it’s in Iran’s strategic interest to work things out with the US over Iraq. But the neocons, Lieberman, and McCain in those days, certainly, the drum beats for an attack on Iran. So there’s two different strategies debating here. What do you make of this?

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE HISTORIAN: I think it’s true that there are two different strategies that are in conflict, one of which recognizes that Iran does in fact have some common interests with the United States in terms of supporting the al-Maliki regime in Baghdad, because it is a Shiite regime, because it is the best hope for Iran in the short run to stabilize the situation and ensure that there’s not going to be an overturning of that regime with the assistance of outside Sunni regimes in the region to take power away from the Shiites there. On the other hand, the Bush administration and Petraeus are afraid that the Iranians are at odds with the United States over the US determination to suppress the main Shiite political-military force in Iran, which is the Mahdi Army. And there’s where you have, you know, an excuse by the Bush administration for attacking Iran, which they have used over the last several months on more than one occasion. You know that Vice President Cheney was reported to have called for an attack on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps bases in Iran, which were allegedly used to train Mahdi Army—or at least Shiite—militiamen fighting in Iraq against American troops. So you have, I really think, it’s not just an argument within the administration, although that may be happening too, but even Petraeus himself and the White House are at odds among themselves or with themselves over to what extent they want to attack Iran, and on the other hand work with Iran. They’re trying to have it both ways, in effect.

JAY: There seems to be a fundamental point they’re going to have to come to terms with, one way or the other. Either they accept Iran as a regional power and they go back to, I guess, Cold War kind of tactics of containment and working things out and contention, but all within the realm of you accept the existence of this regional power or you don’t, which is the neocon position. Neocon position is you don’t. You take out that regional regime so they cannot be a regional power.

PORTER: Well, first of all, I don’t think that taking out that regime is a viable option. And despite the neocons’ embrace of that publicly, they know that as well. I mean, they’ve known that since at least 2006 that regime change is not going to work anymore. And that’s why I think that this administration, this Bush administration, is not going to acknowledge that Iran has a legitimate role as a regional power until it’s finished. I mean, that’s simply not going to happen. Now, the next administration, I agree: they do face a real choice between acknowledging that Iran is going to be, is already a regional power, because of its relationship with Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon and with Hamas in Israel.

JAY: Just back up. So your opinion is that this American government does not think they can regime change. But do they think they can infrastructure destroy? I mean, is there an issue of trying to weaken this regime so they’re simply not strong enough to be a regional power? Or is that really not a serious conversation? ‘Cause certainly the drumbeats for it [inaudible]

PORTER: There is no doubt in my mind that the vice president, Dick Cheney, still has in mind that he would to launch a strike against Iran before this administration’s finished. We know that he was reported to have called for that last year in the summer. I don’t believe he’s given that up. I think that the drumbeat of sort of a casus belli that we’ve heard in recent months against Iran, from the vice president’s point of view, is intended to build up support for such a strike against the bases in Iran, IRGC bases in Iran. I think to some extent he can claim some victories, some successes in that regard in Congress. I’ve been hearing that some key members of the Democratic Party in Congress, leaders in the Democratic Party in Congress, have gone over to a support for that kind of an attack.

JAY: And some of the foreign policy advisers that are closest to McCain—Woolsey, Scheunemann—these people have long been wanting for an attack on Iran.

PORTER: Well, absolutely. The Republican right absolutely supports that. So you do have a constituency, potentially, on the Democratic side and certainly on the Republican side who support it. The vice president’s office definitely supports it. I think there is still opposition from the military, from the Defense Department, the State Department. But on the other hand, I think the administration is united behind the idea of denying that Iran has any legitimacy as a power in the Middle East, and the United States must carry on at least a Cold War against Iran.

JAY: In part 2 lets break down the reasons Dick Cheney thinks there should be war against Iran.

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