Magazine article The American Conservative

Leaders Wanted

Magazine article The American Conservative

Leaders Wanted

Article excerpt

Since the invasion of Iraq, the question of whether Washington would extend the war to Iran has been on the table. Ariel Sharon demanded that Bush go after Iran "the day after" Iraq was conquered, and the neoconservatives in and outside the administration have always made clear that Baghdad was only an appetizer. They wanted "regime change"-that bloodless, almost pacific euphemism-throughout the Middle East, but nowhere more than Tehran.

For four years now, a shadow play has been acted between the administration's hawks and the remaining realists in the upper reaches of the military and foreign-affairs bureaucracy. Seymour Hersh's well-sourced articles in The New Yorker, parsing various administration plans for attacking Iran, have been required reading in the capital.

The informed consensus was that the War Party was still around, though weakened by the Iraq debacle. Donald Rumsfeld was gone from the Pentagon, replaced by a man who rather logically suggested that Iran might want nuclear weapons because it is surrounded by four nuclear powers, has seen two of its neighbors invaded by the United States, and seeks the means of deterrence. Some in Washington might have remembered that Iran was the one place in the entire Muslim world where thousands turned out spontaneously for a candlelight vigil expressing sorrow and solidarity with the American people after 9/11.

What one heard most frequently from those in positions to make informed guesses was the ad^ninistration couldn't possibly do something so stupid. Iraq had injected some realism into the decision-making process. The consequences of an attack on Iran would be abysmal, and that was widely understood.

This was an optimistic reading: its plotline was that the Iraq War would be seen as a terrible but isolated strategic mistake, with consequences that the United States could eventually recover from, as it did from Vietnam. America's vast recuperative powers would reassert themselves, infusing the country with a bit more modesty, more "decent respect for the opinions of mankind."

But in the last few weeks, this calculus has shifted. War with Iran now seems more likely than not, perhaps nearly inevitable. Last May, the House, though controlled by Democrats who owed their majority to antiwar sentiment and opposition to Bush's foreign policy, abrogated their constitutional obligation by rejecting an amendment that would have required the president to seek Congress's approval for an attack on Iran. …

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