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Barack Obama's presidency

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George W. Bush's presidency since 2007

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George W. Bush's presidency from 2005-06

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From free trade to the Kosovo crisis.

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WPost Still Talking Tough on Iran

By Robert Parry
January 25, 2011

Just as some Republicans view tax cuts as the answer to all domestic problems, the Washington Post’s neoconservative editors see “regime change” in hostile Muslim nations as the only acceptable option, ignoring the slippage in U.S. influence in the Middle East that has resulted from following that approach in Iraq and elsewhere. 

The Post was at it again on Tuesday with an editorial about the latest round of talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Noting the lack of progress – and apparent failure of new economic sanctions to soften up Tehran – the Post’s editors were dreaming again about “regime change” in the form of helping the “Green Movement” topple President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“By doing more to support the Iranian opposition, the United States could press the regime where it actually feels threatened,” the Post wrote. “It could also send an important message to Iranians: that the international coalition seeks not to punish them but to weaken the government they despise.”

But the Post’s position reflects a narrative of recent history that is so full of neocon distortions and fallacies that it is hard to know where to begin. Indeed, the Post’s predictable embrace of “regime change” again demonstrates the danger to U.S. national security and world stability that comes from having the foreign policy “elite” of a major superpower live in a fantasy world.

Instead of dealing with facts – such as the clear evidence that Ahmadinejad actually won the 2009 election and the reality that his government was willing to agree as late as spring 2010 to relinquish nearly half its supply of low-enriched uranium – the Post’s editors simply shifted into a different narrative, one aligned with neocon propaganda.

In that world, Ahmadinejad stole the 2009 election; the Islamic government is a dictatorship despised by Iranians who are on the edge of revolution; and Iran’s negotiators deceived the world last year about their readiness to trade low-enriched uranium for isotopes needed to run a medical reactor.

Yet, whatever one thinks of the blustering Ahmadinejad, the Post’s narrative is simply not real. For instance, there’s the troublesome fact that virtually all available evidence indicates that – contrary to Western hopes and desires – Ahmadinejad won the June 12, 2009, election in Iran and that his chief challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi didn’t even come close.

As an analysis by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes discovered, not a single Iranian poll – whether before or after the election, whether conducted inside or outside Iran – showed Ahmadinejad with less than majority support.

These polls also showed a consolidation of support behind the government after the election, despite demonstrations by Mousavi’s supporters seeking to overturn the results. [For details, see’s “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It!”]

Brazil-Turkey Initiative

Then, there were the efforts in spring 2010, led by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to get Ahmadinejad to agree to relinquish Iranian control of nearly half the country's supply of low-enriched uranium.

This initiative revived a plan first advanced by President Barack Obama – and the Turkish-Brazilian effort had his private encouragement. However, after Ahmadinejad accepted the deal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. hardliners switched into overdrive to kill the swap and insist instead on imposing harsher sanctions against Iran.

Clinton’s position was endorsed by editors at the Washington Post and the New York Times, who mocked Erdogan and Lula da Silva as inept understudies on the international stage. If anything, the Post and Times argued, the United States should take an even more belligerent approach toward Iran, i.e. seeking "regime change." [See’s “WPost, NYT Show Tough-Guy Swagger.”]

As Clinton pushed for the new round of United Nations’ sanctions last spring, Lula da Silva even released a letter from Obama that had urged the Brazilians to press forward with the swap arrangement. However, with Washington’s political momentum favoring another confrontation with a Muslim adversary, Obama retreated and lined up behind the sanctions.

Now, it appears that the sanctions have only served to harden Iran’s negotiating position, with Ahmadinejad’s emissaries refusing to even consider a modified swap arrangement unless the sanctions are lifted as a precondition.

So, predictably, the Post’s editors have returned to their favorite default position, “regime change,” via covert U.S. support for the Green Movement. It is the same kind of “tough-guy” wishful thinking that led the Bush administration to believe that the invasion of Iraq would be “a cakewalk” with Iraqis welcoming U.S. troops with flowers and candies.

It also represents the kind of false narrative that may be popular at Washington’s dominant neocon think tanks but has contributed to a string of U.S. setbacks in the strategic Middle East, from Lebanon to Iraq.

Indeed, despite the expenditure of at least $1 trillion and thousands of American lives over the past decade, the position of the United States in the Middle East is weaker than it has been at any time in recent history. But that is a reality the Washington foreign policy "elite" seeks to wish away.

So, the neocons are still pitching the notion that the “victorious” U.S. war in Iraq should have payoffs in the form of a long-term American military presence there and a lucrative U.S. claim on Iraqi oil resources.

But the hard reality appears different, with the United States facing declining influence and the power of radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the ascendance. As al-Sadr takes a more prominent role in Iraqi politics, his movement remains insistent that U.S. military forces undertake a complete and irrevocable withdrawal by year’s end.

The U.S. government may be given a few consolation prizes as it is led to the exit door, but objective historians are likely to interpret the final reality in Iraq as a humiliating defeat for the American Empire.

Saudi Disgust

Even longtime U.S. allies have expressed private disgust at the consequences of ousting Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, who had been viewed by the oil-rich Persian Gulf sheikdoms as a crucial bulwark against Shiite-ruled Iran.

According to a U.S. diplomatic cable from December 2005 – released by WikiLeaks – Saudi King Abdullah lashed out at George W. Bush’s administration for ignoring his warnings against invading Iraq in 2003, noting that the new Iraqi government was dominated by Shiites with close ties to Iran.

“Whereas in the past the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Saddam Hussein had agreed on the need to contain Iran, U.S. policy had now given Iraq to Iran as a ‘gift on a golden platter,’” the U.S. Embassy cable quoted the king as complaining.

Similarly, in Lebanon, U.S. policies in line with Israel have failed to contain the militant Shiite movement, Hezbollah. Though the United States has joined Israel in condemning Hezbollah as a “terrorist” organization, it is widely regarded in the Middle East as a resistance movement and is now poised to gain control of the Lebanese parliament.

Hezbollah’s rise has marked another victory for Iran, which worked with Syria to back the movement. Meanwhile, Washington’s long-term allies – the dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Egypt – are viewed as losing ground in the regional rivalries.

A key factor in the eroding U.S. position is that Washington’s foreign policy elites – the think tanks, the leading news outlets, etc. – are still dominated by neocons who have imposed their own narrative, one that increasingly deviates from the ground truth.

This neocon take on the Muslim world – the “clash of civilizations” favored by right-wing Israelis and far-right Christians – reached a high point under George W. Bush, who followed the neocon notion that violent “regime change” could be used to reshape the region in ways acceptable to Israel and amenable to the secure extraction of oil resources for Western economies.

Though that strategy foundered over the Iraq War, there has been no appreciable change in Washington’s thinking.

President Obama tried to shift the U.S. strategy somewhat – with such policies as engaging Iran over its nuclear program and pressing Israel on Palestinian peace talks – but he ran into obstacles from the neocon-dominated punditocracy and from his own appointees, like Secretary Clinton.

Faced with this political resistance, Obama soon retreated, even backing away from his own letter of encouragement to Lula da Silva regarding negotiations on the Iranian fuel swap.

The Republican congressional victory in November is only making matters worse, with spectacles like the planned hearings to investigate alleged radicalization in America’s Muslim community.

While this investigation – pushed by neocons – may succeed in whipping up public fear and anger against this minority group in the United States, it is sure to be viewed with disgust among the world’s one billion Muslims and further damage America’s image.

But perhaps an even bigger obstacle to the United States adopting a more effective policy toward the Islamic world is the refusal of Washington’s foreign policy "elite" to adapt to the shifting realities regarding the region and American power. The truth is that U.S. influence in the Middle East is receding; the post-Cold War “uni-polar” moment is ending.

But Washington’s pundits and politicians remain wedded to the belief that the United States is all-powerful and that Muslim nations can -- and must -- be bullied into submission.

The gap between the world's hard realities and Washington's macho rhetoric is widening into a dangerous chasm – and the Washington Post’s editorial board has chosen the side of illusion.

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History and Secrecy & Privilege, which are now available with Neck Deep, in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there.  

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