If the neoconservatives were not so adept at claiming the patriotic high ground for themselves -- and convincing the nation that they are interested only in advancing the security of America and Israel and the cause of democracy -- it might be time to start asking which of them are actually agents of Iran. The question is pertinent because "objectively," as they like to say, neoconservative policy has resulted in enormous profit to the Iranian mullahs, at grave cost to the United States and with little or no benefit to Israel.
The most obvious example, of course, is the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has conveniently eliminated Iran's chief military rival in the region, and replaced Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime with a weak government dominated by Shiite Islamist parties friendly to Tehran. The only certain outcome of our misbegotten effort is that the Iranians have finally gotten what they could not achieve during eight years of war with Iraq, despite the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars. And we delivered the prize to them at no cost -- except what we have lost in thousands of dead and wounded U.S. troops and hundreds of billions of dollars.
Oddly enough, they don't seem any more grateful than the Iraqis.
Remember that the war's chief instigator, aside from the neoconservatives themselves, was their friend and collaborator Ahmed Chalabi, who has since proved to be a more reliable ally of the Iranians than of his former American sponsors. With much help from domestic propagandists, Chalabi oversaw dissemination of the disinformation about Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" that served as the rationale for war. The original neocon plan was to enthrone him in Baghdad as a strongman ruler, at least on a temporary basis. He had promised, among other things, that the new Iraq would grant diplomatic recognition to Israel. Things haven't quite worked out that way.
Could the neocons truly have been so dense and clueless about the consequences of an American invasion of Iraq? Not if one believes their constant flattery of their own seriousness and sagacity. They did do an excellent job of misleading the American public about how the war would proceed, from their promises that the costs would be underwritten by Iraqi oil, to their predictions that a "new democratic Iraq" would radically improve the prospects for regional peace and progress, to their assurances that Shiite domination would prove benign. William Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor whose magazine so assiduously promoted war, brushed aside any concerns about empowering the Shiites during an April 2003 interview with National Public Radio's Terry Gross:
"And on this issue of the Shia in Iraq, I think there's been a certain amount of, frankly, Terry, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular." For a man who by then had spent almost 10 years arguing for war in Iraq, he was either stunningly ignorant or intentionally deceptive.
It would be easier to believe that Kristol and his fellow war enthusiasts were merely misinformed or stupid if all of their mistakes did not so consistently benefit Tehran. But consider the results of the policies pursued by the White House at their insistence.
By constantly threatening Iran and proclaiming a policy of "regime change" that may someday be imposed militarily, the Bush administration has gravely weakened the domestic opposition to the mullahs. This loud, clumsy approach has made the U.S. so unpopular among the Iranian people that exile groups seeking democratic reform dare not identify themselves with us. Actually, the excessive belligerence of the neoconservatives is a great boon to the otherwise unpopular mullahs, creating an external threat that unites the Iranians and distracts from their domestic misery. And the threat of an attack by the United States has given Tehran an excellent reason to continue seeking a nuclear deterrent.
In the same vein, Tehran profited from the original Bush policy of refusing to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, which divided the United States from its traditional allies in Europe and allowed the mullahs to play Russia and China off against the West. Indeed, the overarching Bush policy of breaking apart our alliances and acting unilaterally has aided all of our adversaries, especially Tehran, by dividing and weakening us. (See Iraq war, above.) Meanwhile, the failure to unite the world behind sanctions much sooner has allowed Iran to accelerate its nuclear program.
The Iranians have also enjoyed the fruits of an incredibly reckless decision by the Bush administration -- again encouraged by the neoconservatives -- to back Israel's bombardment of Lebanon. Tehran's friends in Hezbollah are now the toast of the Arab world, and they are well on their way to destabilizing Iran's enemies (and America's allies), destroying any chance to revive the peace process, and radicalizing Muslims around the world. What benefit, if any, the U.S. or Israel derived from this latest misadventure is hard to see.
At still another level of policy, the Bush administration has fought to prevent the imposition of automobile fuel economy standards or other conservation measures that would begin to free us from Iranian threats to withhold oil. While the White House occasionally pretends to be interested in new energy technologies, the government has done little or nothing to pursue real energy independence. But then, that is simply the inevitable result of electing George W. Bush as president, a failed oilman more concerned with chopping brush and making fart jokes than foreign policy.
And then there's Dick Cheney, the real author of these disastrous policies. It is the vice president who has provided the bureaucratic muscle behind the neoconservatives, whose patronage he has long enjoyed at the American Enterprise Institute. Cheney too has a curious history with Iran, as the former chief executive of Halliburton, a company that blithely and repeatedly violated U.S. sanctions against Iran through foreign subsidiaries. As a congressman, Cheney was also the most outspoken apologist for the secret arms trading with the Iranian mullahs, despite their record of supporting terrorism against American troops, that almost brought down the Reagan administration.
But Cheney is an opponent of Tehran, as are his comrades at the Weekly Standard, in the Pentagon and elsewhere in the ranks of neoconservatism. They aren't secretly trying to give aid and comfort to Tehran.
It only looks that way.