Beware the Iran ‘Pearl Harbor’ Moment
The horrors of October 7 are being subordinated to a foreign adventure project decades in the making.
In 2000, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) issued a report that proposed establishing a new U.S.-led security perimeter across the globe to protect Western interests and perform the “constabulary” duties associated with “shaping the security environment in critical regions.”
The report, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” which suggested billions more in the Pentagon budget annually for reimagining military capabilities across the forces, including nuclear and space, was based in part on the Defense Policy Guidance, crafted by Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney during the George H. W. Bush Administration “for maintaining U.S. preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.”
The report noted that “the process of transformation” that PNAC envisioned, “even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.”
PNAC, which was founded by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan and had been actively lobbying to remove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from power, got its “Pearl Harbor” a year later. Within two years of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. invaded Iraq, saw Hussein executed, and was well on its way to fulfilling at least one top line goal from “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”: to “fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars.”
Of course the “winning” part never happened. Yet the centrifugal force that was the neoconservative project, which placed several of its founders and signatories at the levers of political and military power inside the George W. Bush Administration (Cheney, Wolfowitz, Don Rumsfeld, Elliott Abrams, Paula Dobriansky, Scooter Libby), was able to perpetuate a Global War on Terror and a U.S. military footprint across the Greater Middle East and Africa that remains to this day.
Why revisit this now? Despite their discredited handiwork overseas (vividly reflected in the vulnerability of 3,400 U.S. troops left over from counterterror operations against ISIS, a militant group created in the vacuum from PNAC’s vaunted Iraq regime change), neoconservatives and their aspirations are still at the very center of today’s foreign policy debates, and they really, really want the U.S. to go to war with Iran.
“You have to figure out which Iranian leaders are making the decisions, and you take them out,” the GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley said following the drone attack on three U.S. Army troops stationed in Jordan on Jan. 29. This wasn’t a one-off. Haley, who shares mega donors with AIPAC, has been neocon-friendly since her days in the Trump administration, when she helped kill the Iran nuclear deal. Her campaign has been heavily dosed with hyperbolic and simultaneous calls for fighting Putin, the mullahs in Iran, and Xi Jinping in China. She is fond of saying things like we have to “punch (Iran) once and punch them hard.”
Haley is part of a longstanding ecosystem of neoconservatives and their attendants in the foreign policy blob who have long identified Iran as a key, if not existential, adversary of both the U.S. and Israel—this was clear in “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”—putting it on the current place in the “Axis of Evil,” thanks to George W. Bush speechwriter and neocon David Frum in 2002.
The Biden administration may choose not to retaliate in a big enough way as to set off World War III—all signs this week thankfully point to an effort on both sides, Washington and Tehran, seeking to tamp down the prospects. Even with the U.S. strikes on militia targets in Iraq and Syria on Friday night, “they appeared to stop short of directly targeting Iran or senior leaders of the Revolutionary Guard Quds Force within its borders, as the U.S. tries to prevent the conflict from escalating even further,” according to early AP reporting.
This is no thanks to this pernicious army of the Iran obsessed, who implicitly regard the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel as the “Pearl Harbor” for the final confrontation, if not the regime change, they have long been seeking.
Top on this list is the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), which was conceived as an American public relations tool for Israel but made its mark in Washington as a neoconservative counterterrorism think-tank and Iraq War cheerleader after 9/11. With retired military and administration officials like Ret. Gen. H.R. McMaster often fronting the mission, FDD has long advocated for the toppling of the regime in Iran, mostly focused on Tehran’s nuclear program and its threats to Israel.
The killing of U.S troops in Jordan has paved the way for the FDD’s apotheosis, as its fellows (like Mark Dubowitz, Andrea Stricker, Richard Goldberg) have enjoyed mainstream news attention, accusing President Biden of long-standing “appeasement” and demanding he “strike Iran hard.” Their talking points can be heard in the mouths of nearly every single war party hawk who has found his or her way to a microphone or camera following Oct. 7, including but not limited to, John Bolton, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, Tim Scott, Tom Cotton, and Roger Wicker.
A number of retired U.S. military officers have been using their cache to advocate for war with Iran over the last three months, too. They may not be “neocons” but they work closely with groups that are, and have internalized the messaging. Just like the ramp up and justification for the Iraq invasion two decades ago.
Gen. Frank MacKenzie and retired Admiral James Stavridis lead this conga line, showing up on Fox News, Bloomberg, and NBC News almost daily now.
“Iranian leaders work with Lenin’s dictum that ‘you probe with bayonets: if you find mush, you push. If you find steel, you withdraw.’ Tehran and its proxies are pressing their attacks because they haven’t confronted steel,” wrote MacKenzie just after the fourth anniversary of the U.S. assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. MacKenzie boasted that he was the commander of that operation under the Trump administration.
“The Iranians subsequently backed down,” he added in his Wall Street Journal essay. “Here is the lesson: The Iranians’ strategic decision-making is rational. Its leaders understand the threat of violence and its application.”
Meanwhile, Stavridis, who never misses an opportunity to push military solutions onto complex combustible geopolitical problems, has written at least two Bloomberg pieces outlining plans for multi-pronged strikes on Iran and its proxies. After the Jordan strikes, his plans now include attacks on Iranian warships, boarding and seizing an Iranian naval or commercial vessel, targeting Iranian oil and gas platforms in the Arabian Gulf and strikes against Iranian military command-and-control sites, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps headquarters.
“If that doesn’t work, the administration is going to have to consider strikes inside Iran,” Stavridis told NBC News on Thursday.
Earlier in January, Stavridis was echoing a familiar call in the message force multiplier vortex—that the U.S. sank the Iranian naval fleet in 1988 during “Operation Praying Mantis.” “Iran got the message,” he said. “Perhaps it is time to send it again.”
So what does this all mean?
Neoconservative forces injected the foreign policy discourse as early as the 1990s with the idea that deposing Saddam Hussein was part of a grander plan to maintain peace and security (U.S. primacy) in the Middle East. They pushed this idea until it became a reality, with 9/11 giving them their opening to make war on Iraq and to push the boundaries of their Middle East vision in the Global War on Terror.
Twenty years later, the Iran piece of the “Axis of Evil” remains intact. There is no doubt that Iran has funded and resourced proxies that have fought against the lingering U.S. military presence in Iraq and Syria. There is no doubt Iran has funded and resourced Hamas, which bears the sole responsibility for the horrific Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. Yet it is important to put the voices for war with Iran into perspective and not allow them to inflate the threat for their own agenda, which far predates the current crisis and for which motivations are less clearly in the U.S. national interest.
In other words, we cannot afford another war, and if we need to retaliate, it should be after careful deliberation and based on sound strategy, not the saber rattling of zombie neoconservatives and their minions in the blob.