Monday, October 02, 2006

The Neocon desire to invade Iran

from starroute:
The Neocon desire to invade Iran immediately after Iraq was not particularly secret. I don't have detailed notes on this, but I do find a writeup of a WINEP meeting in February 2003 saying, "Many in Iran look forward to a U.S. invasion of Iraq in the hopes that the United States will overthrow the Islamic Republic soon thereafter."

Michael Ledeen was very busy in the immediate post-invasion period, beating the drums for regime change in Iran. On April 30, 2003, he addressed the JINSA Policy Forum, saying, "I have never seen a country more ready for democracy than Iran." A week later, on May 6, AEI held an event titled, "The Future of Iran: Mullahcracy, Democracy, and the War on Terror," cosponsored by Hudson Institute and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Its theme was "What steps can the United States take to promote democratization and regime change in Iran?" and the participants included Cliff May, Meyrav Wurmser, Michael Ledeen, Bernard Lewis, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Morris Amitay -- in short, all the usual suspects.

Those public events don't seemed to have mentioned the possibility of invasion directly, but there was clearly a lot more doing on behind the scenes. For example, Franklin and Rhode were heavily involved in the push for war with Iran. Here, for example, is Juan Cole, writing about the AIPAC case in 2004:

Franklin moved over to the Pentagon from DIA, where he became the Iran expert, working for Bill Luti and Undersecretary of Defense for Planning, Douglas Feith. He was the "go to" person on Iran for Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and for Feith. This situation is pretty tragic, since Franklin is not a real Iranist. His main brief appears to have been to find ways to push a policy of overthrowing its government (apparently once Iraq had been taken care of). This project has been pushed by the shadowy eminence grise, Michael Ledeen, for many years, and Franklin coordinated with Ledeen in some way. Franklin was also close to Harold Rhode, a long-time Middle East specialist in the Defense Department who has cultivated far right pro-Likud cronies for many years, more or less establishing a cell within the Department of Defense.

Rhode's own activities during the spring and summer of 2003 are also of interest. Here, for example, is something which originally appeared in the Washington Monthly in September 2003:

Rhode got another big break when Pentagon hawks sent him to Baghdad this spring as their chief liaison (read: handler) to Iraqi National Congress chief Ahmed Chalabi, the hawks' favorite exile. But problems cropped up them, too, when, during his stay at the occupation headquarters in Baghdad, Rhode quickly alienated most of the American military and civilian pros in the country by saying all manner of unfortunate things about Arabs, Iranians, and Muslims in general. Later he holed himself up with Chalabi at the latter's hunt-club headquarters and bombarded Washington with faxes about plans to install Chalabi as the George Washington of Iraq. Following his subsequent recall--not so voluntarily, we hear--Rhode showed up sitting next to Chalabi in the front row at Vine President Dick Cheney's rally-the-neocon-troops speech at the American Enterprise Institute in July. Most recently, Rhode made the news again for a series of meetings he held in August with one of the most colorful characters from Washington's last major foreign policy scandal: exiled Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, of Iran-Contra fame.

Rhode and Chalabi weren't the only ones in prominent attendance at that July 2003 AEI speech:

In the audience when Dick Cheney spoke Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute was Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress and one of the 25 members of the Iraqi National Governing Council appointed earlier this month by administrator L. Paul Bremer. Chalabi did not speak to Cheney, who entered and left the stage without speaking privately to anyone, but Chalabi did exchange warm greetings with Defense Department official Harold Rhode and with Judith Miller of the New York Times and other reporters.

Whatever behind-the-scenes agitation may have been going on for an immediate invasion of Iran seems to have died out after August 2003. Things started going downhill in Iraq, the CIA began pushing for investigation of the Plame outing at the end of September, and if Larisa is right about Ghorbanifar being involved in a plot to plant evidence, that seems to have failed as well.

and more starroute
I just recalled another Plame-Iran link that I've found fairly baffling.

Kathleen mentions "the company line is that it was common knowledge among the press that Plame was CIA." However, the first person I know of to make this claim was Clifford May in his September 29, 2003 National Review column. This is the same Clifford May who's been neck-deep in the Iran regime-change movement -- note his presence at that May 2003 AEI presentation I mentioned above. (Indeed, his Foundation for the Defense of Democracies was one of the co-sponsors.)

Last November, Paul Vallely and Thomas McInerney of the Iran Policy Group -- one of the most extreme of the Iran regime-change organizations -- popped up to say that Joe Wilson had boasted about his CIA wife in their presence in early 2002. This claim was immediately and thoroughly debunked by, among others, Larry C. Johnson.

People like May, Vallely, and McInerney don't have any obvious connection with Cheney or the administration Neocons, and it isn't clear to me that they would put their reputations on the line by telling lies about Valerie Plame just to try to save the administration's bacon. So why are they doing it? Moreover, why would they still be doing it as late as last fall? Iran is the most obvious common factor among them, but but I can't for the life of me figure out how discrediting Plame and Wilson at this point advances an Iran regime-change policy.

Perhaps someone more clever than I am can fill in the missing pieces.
(Someone cleverer than starroute? ha! unlikely.)

emptywheel gave a partial answer in regard to May's involvement here - including the fact that "May also wrote a story the week of the leak. Though he didn't get the leak" and suggesting that May was merely one of many GOP operatives running around spreading the talking points.

I don't have much for starroute, although I will note that it was kinda weird that they didn't bother rolling out the 'everyone knew Plame was CIA' thing until after the case was referred to the DoJ. Presumably they thought Ashcroft (Tenet?) would contain it. Along those lines, it appears that the referral decision from the CIA kinda came outta the blue - I don't think I've read anything about how that decision came about - Did Tenet lead the charge? Was he pushing back against others who were trying to get it referred? Who was pushing it? does anyone have a link or two about that?

re the fact that it was widely known that the plan was to move straight on to Iran immediately after Iraq, I don't think that I appreciated that until this year (shame on me) - the OSP clearly had it's eyes on both countries - with their Iranianists Franklin and Rhodes, and the Rome meetings were all about Iran, and the Niger forgeries also tried to implicate both Iran and Iraq in their devious "military campaign against major world powers" etc.

BTW - was there ever any good reason for Rhode to be running around Iraq with Judy and Chalabi chasing weapons or whatever the hell they were doing?

One thing none of us have ever been able to answer is why on earth the USG invaded Iraq at all - but perhaps we need to start really looking at it through the lens of a (proposed) joint attack on Iraq and Iran - with Iraq just being a presumed speedhump. Perhaps that might help answer starroute's question about why May et al were involved in defending/spinning the Plame thing - although I don't have much to offer in terms of why they were still at it in 2005.

As Larisa said:
" own speculation is that stage two (iran) went terribly wrong sometime in the summer of 2003. If you look at that period of time, from May until roughly November, it is as though the wheels suddenly came off the cart mid-game. Everything shifted. So if certain interests did have the Iranian regime change in mind, then they were terribly surprised by what went wrong sometime over that summer... In other words, somebody was double-crossed - that's just my theory - I’m not saying I’m right."
Kathleen chimes in with:
"I do remember Stephen Hadley's name coming up a lot in what I read, and Robert Josephs too. It's definitely a group effort. WHIG.

I don't think Armitage was the original leaker either, but rather a planned fall back guy, so they could make their claim that Plame's identity and status were common knowledge.

Since Plame was working on WMD's in Iran, I think she needed to be outed. Then we have reports that the single author of the new Congressional report on Iran and nuclear weapons was Fred Flietz, a report debunked by Baradei, just like the Niger forgeries were. Bolton keeps asserting that Iran is defying the UN and enriching uranium, so the Fleitz/Bolton team is still in operation, while Plame is not.

James Risen says that a computer glitch outed the whole WMD team in Iran. Does anyone know when that happened in relation to the Plame leak?"
The 'computer glitch' was apparently 'in 2004' - so well after the Plame leak. This Guardian article has a good extract from Bamford's book - primarily the 'glitch' event and Operation Merlin (which has to be read to be believed for pure duncery)

can anyone else help starroute?


starroute said...

On September 25, 2003, the House Intel Committee blamed the intelligence agencies for the failure on WMD's. I don't know if that was the precipitating factor for the CIA request the next day that the Plame leak be investigated, but it's struck me as a possibility.

See, for example, this Washington Post story titled "House Probers Conclude Iraq War Data Was Weak."

starroute said...

There was a flurry of activity involving Iran between June and October of 2003. My impression is that the invasion of Iraq was putting pressure on Iran to be more accomodating towards the US -- and that a prime objective of whatever backroom intriguing was going on was to attempt to sabotage any actual agreement.

Even before the war, claims about Iran's nuclear program had been building up. In December 2002, there were allegations that Iran had a gas-centrifuge facility for uranium enrichment, which Iran denied. However, on February 10, 2003 Iran acknowledged it was building a nuclear-energy facility at Natanz. On February 12, Larry Franklin and the AIPAC folks started their discussions of US policy towards Iran. On February 21, El Baradei and his team visited Iran and were shocked to find that the centrifuges were of Pakistani design.

Things really heated up in June, though. There was the Rhode-Ghorbanifar meeting in Paris, probably early in the month, which allegedly had the objective of preventing a deal whereby Iran would hand over some high-ranking al-Qaeda members and in return the US would stop supporting the terrorist MEK or even hand over MEK members. (This from Juan Cole citing the Jerusalem Post.) According to Eurasianet, there was a conflict at this time between the Neocons and the State Department over whether to ally with MEK against the Iranian government.

At about the same time, there were pro-democracy student demonstrations going on in Iran, which George Bush endorsed on June 15; on June 16, El Baradei called on Iran to allow more intrusive nuclear inspections; and on June 17, the French arrested 165 MEK members at their headquarters near Paris. It's apparent that something was going on behind the scenes -- perhaps an abortive attempt to foment an Iranian uprising -- but whatever it was, it seems to have died down again after the arrests.

On July 10-13, the IAEA held discussions with Iran and asked for full transparency. This led to the visit of an IAEA team to Iran on August 9-12 to inspect their nuclear sites. On August 15, Colin Powell listed the National Council of Resistance of Iran as an MEK alias and ordered its US offices closed and its assets frozen. The NCR claimed that it was being listed as part of negotiations whereby Iran had agreed to let in the IAEA and turn over the al-Qaeda operatives it was holding. The IAEA reported on August 26 that it had found particles of highly enriched uranium at Natanz, but Iran argued that they must have come in with the imported centrifuges.

All of this can be seen in the context of Michael Ledeen's claims that in early August, Ghorbanifar had introduced him to an informant who knew where highly enriched uranium was hidden in Iran. If the June events were aimed at an Iranian popular uprising, the August events seem to have been more narrowly targeted at developing a causus belli.

By October, however, the A.Q. Khan network had been exposed and Iran had agreed to accept tougher IAEA inspections. At that point whatever behind-the-scenes plotting had been going on since June seems to have died out. According to the Larry Franklin indictment, on October 24, he and Naor Gilon spoke on the phone about how work on the US policy towards Iran with which they have been concerned seemed to have stopped.

starroute said...

I see I made a mistake above. The Ghorbanifar claim was about highly enriched uranium hidden in Iraq -- not in Iran. As reported by :

Ledeen says that in early August, Manucher Ghorbanifar—an Iranian businessman whose claims of contacts among Tehran moderates touched off the Iran-contra scandal—put him in touch with an informant claiming to know where highly enriched uranium was hidden in postwar Iraq.

LEDEEN TOOK THIS info to top Defense contacts, who passed it to the CIA (which in the 1980s ordered its operatives to shun Ghorbanifar). Ledeen says agency spooks did meet in Iraq with Ghorbanifar’s subsource. The contact soured when the CIA demanded a sample of the alleged nuclear material.

However, here's the really interesting part of that little caper -- this from the new Woodward book, as quoted at
American Prospect:

At another point Kay got a cable from the CIA that the vice president wanted him to send someone to Switzerland to meet with an Iranian named Manucher Ghorbanifar.

“I recognize this one,” Kay said when he saw the cable. “This one I’m not going to do.” . . .

This time, Kay read, Ghorbanifar claimed to have an Iranian source who knew all about Iraqi nuclear weapons, but who wanted $2 million in advance, and who would not talk directly to the U.S., only through Ghorbanifar.

Kay discovered the latest Ghorbanifar stunt involved Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, a former NSC colleague of Oliver North who had been involved with Ghorbanifar in the Iran-contra days.

So Cheney was right in the middle of it -- and willing to pay $2 million for the privilege? Verrrry interesting...

Anonymous said...

Merlin's was able to wisthand some "hits" despite the outing of NOC. The glitch was a final nail in that program. The NOC running Iran case workers was outed, but the agents and case workers were not - at least not all of either type. 2004 is interesting for the glitch. I read somewhere on this blog about inputs and outputs/Iran. Have your brilliant readers failed to connect the dots?