War in Iran
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."
There has been intermittent media speculation about a Bush administration military strike on Iran since at least 2004. Much of the speculation has been driven by the administration's anti-Iranian rhetoric, which has focused on Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, and its purported support for insurgents in Iraq.
- 1 2007
- 2 2006
- 3 2005
- 4 2004
- 5 Resources
On September 20, 2007, Sens. Joe Lieberman, Jon Kyl, Norman Coleman, and Lindsey Graham filed a "Sense of the Senate" resolution as Amendment No. 3017 to the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill "that the U.S. should 'combat, contain, and roll back' Iran’s 'violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq.' It counsels doing so 'through the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of [U.S. power], including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments.' It also urges the administration to designate the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization."
September 2007: All at sea
An early September 2007 warning of a forthcoming strike comes from Ken Silverstein of Harper's Magazine, in early September 2007. He quotes an unnamed former CIA official (who evidently favors military action) as follows:
- "It looks like a military strike is in the works and I base that on two things: observable fact and the rhetoric emanating from the White House. There’s a lot of movement of troops and material into the region–it’s stuff the United States can’t hide. It’s a huge expense to put Navy battle groups in the Gulf and we’ve got three of them there. We’ve also moved new fighter planes to Guam amidst much public fanfare. You can plainly see the upturn in US Naval activity in and around the Norfolk Naval installations. The movement of ships, re-supply, ammunition loading and general level of activity is high.
- "The Naval facilities and the ammunition loading areas are well known, and the activity is readily visible, especially at night. There’s a stream of ships coming in to load up and when they take off new ones come in. There’s only one part of the world where all that stuff is heading. Also, everyone I know who would be involved in an attack on Iran–pilots and other air assets–is gone. Normally some of them are around but now all of them are away at the same time.
- "The other evidence of a likely strike is all the harsh talk from the White House. President Bush has been talking about Iran a lot more recently, and he put the Revolutionary Guard on the list of terrorist groups. Whatever you think of the president, he has said he won’t let Iran move forward with its nuclear program. I’d take him at his word.
- "And it’s doable. The only part of the military that’s not stretched to the limits in Iraq is the Air Force. It will be a multi-day, multi-target air campaign–not ‘Shock and Awe,’ which wasn’t shocking and didn’t awe anyone, but a savage blow struck against President Ahmadinejad. We shouldn’t hit Iran’s Navy or Air Force but target the nuclear sites and the Revolutionary Guard. A measured response helps Ahmadinejad because he’s saying the Americans won’t attack, or can’t hurt, Iran. A disproportionate response will be hard for him to explain to the Iranian public."
Escalating the push for "regime change" with new CIA "non-lethal" "covert operations"
ABC Evening News Tonight's Brian Ross reported May 22, 2007, that the U.S. had "opened a new front in its showdown with Iran." President Bush—who signed a secret "nonlethal presidential finding"—directed the CIA to "carry out covert operations both inside and outside Iran 'aimed directly at weakening the Iranian regime.'" 
According to ABC, officials said the "non-lethal" CIA "plan 'takes the place of proposed U.S. military action against Iran, reportedly advocated by Vice President [Dick] [[Dick Cheney|Cheney." 
The war in Iraq is Iran's fault
"Iran is now the bad guy behind everything wrong in Iraq (funny, it used to be Saddam Hussein, and then Al Qaeda, but just ignore that for a second)," John Aravosis wrote February 11, 2007, at AMERICAblog. "If I were Iran, I'd be laughing, hardy har har har.
"With what possible Army, and what possible support from the American people, is Bush going to launch HIS THIRD WAR? The first two wars are hardly going well, and he thinks we're going to have a third? He's nuts or bluffing, or both, and what's worse, the Iranians know it. We don't even have the men and equipment to supply our current needs, and Bush thinks Iran is going to be scared by our threats? The Irani government may be evil, but it's not stupid."
"Some senior administration officials still relish the notion of a direct confrontation," Karen DeYoung reportedin the Washington Post, February 11, 2007. "One ambassador in Washington said he was taken aback when John Hannah, Vice President Cheney’s national security adviser, said during a recent meeting that the administration considers 2007 'the year of Iran' and indicated that a U.S. attack was a real possibility. Hannah declined to be interviewed for this article," DeYoung wrote.
According to Michael Hirsh and Maziar Bahari, writing in the February 19, 2007, issue of Newsweek:
- "'They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,' says Hillary Mann, the administration's former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs."
Raid on Iranian consular office in Northern Iraq
On January 10, 2007, as "an overnight raid was in progress" of the Iranian consular office in the "northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil" (220 miles from Baghdad), during which five people were arrested, "including diplomats and staff"—"the second such operation in the past month" characterized as "routine operations"—President George W. Bush "was vowing in a keynote address on American television to disrupt what he called the 'flow of support' from Iran and Syria for insurgent attacks on US forces in Iraq," Reuters reported.
"In fact, we’ve probably been executing military operations inside Iran for at least 18 months," retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner said September 18, 2006, on CNN. "The evidence is overwhelming," he said. 
"Bush sent US forces to attack the inviolate territory of a foreign diplomatic mission, the Iranian mission in northern Iraq - legally, the land of a foreign nation - and took the Iranians hostage," John Aravosis of AMERICAblog wrote January 11, 2007. "It's hard to see under international law how this is legal, let alone how this isn't an act of war. And it's beyond ironic that we appear to have condoned the very action that we condemned Iran for - attacking diplomatic missions in violation of international law.
"But what's most troubling about this is the transparency of what Bush is up to. He's trying to provoke a war with Iran, either by forcing Iran to strike back, or by discovering secret Iranian diplomatic documents that would prove their complicity in helping the insurgents in Iraq. We just invaded Iran last night, folks. Foreign embassies and diplomatic outposts are legally the foreign soil of the country represented. We invaded Iran. This is an act of war," Aravosis said.
A "new phase" of diplomacy in Iran
At the January 13, 2006, White House press briefing, spokesman Scott McClellan said that the Iran "regime has shown over time it cannot be trusted. We have long said we will see how these diplomatic efforts go in this first phase, or this initial phase that we were in. And now we're entering a new phase of diplomacy. And there are additional options that are available to the international community, and this is about bringing the weight of the international community together to bear on the regime in Iran.
"This is not about the people of Iran. We stand firmly with the people of Iran. The people of Iran want greater freedom. But what their regime is doing is continuing to further isolate them from the rest of the international community. It's because of the actions of a few -- unelected few in power that they continue to go down the wrong direction, a direction that runs counter to others in the broader Middle East that are taking steps toward a more peaceful and free future," McClellan said.
Two months later, at the March 16, 2006, White House press briefing, McClellan said that, "because the regime in Iran has failed to come into compliance with its safeguard obligations, and they continue to engage in enrichment related activity"; because "we [the U.S.] have supported the efforts of the Europeans to resolve this matter diplomatically"; and because Iran needs "to change their behavior" and continues "to defy the international community", "the matter has been reported" to the United Nations Security Council. "We have now entered a new phase of diplomacy. And there are a lot of discussions going on about how to prevent the regime from developing a nuclear weapon capability, or developing nuclear weapons. And that's why those discussions are ongoing," McClellan said.
- January 29, 2002: The "threat" of a possible war in Iran began with President George W. Bush's State of the Union address in which he characterized Iran as a rogue nation and as a member of the axis of evil.
- January 18, 2005: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named Iran as one of the six outposts of tyranny. As in Iraq, the core of concern is the possibility that Iran possesses weapons of mass destruction, most significantly nuclear weapons. Another preemptive war in the global war on terrorism, much like the on-going war in Iraq, looms on the horizon. 
- April 8, 2006: "Preparations for confrontation with Iran underscore how the issue has vaulted to the front of President Bush's agenda even as he struggles with a relentless war in next-door Iraq. Bush views Tehran as a serious menace that must be dealt with before his presidency ends, aides said, and the White House, in its new National Security Strategy, last month labeled Iran the most serious challenge to the United States posed by any country ... Many military officers and specialists, however, view the saber rattling with alarm. A strike at Iran, they warn, would at best just delay its nuclear program by a few years but could inflame international opinion against the United States, particularly in the Muslim world and especially within Iran, while making U.S. troops in Iraq targets for retaliation."—Washington Post
Iraq Study Group member warns against striking Iran
"U.S. contingency planning for military action against Iran's nuclear program goes beyond limited strikes and would effectively unleash a war against the country, a former U.S. intelligence analyst said on Friday", January 19, 2006, Reuters reported.
"I've seen some of the planning ... You're not talking about a surgical strike," said Wayne White, who is a member of the Iraq Study Group and, until March 2005, was a "top Middle East analyst" for 26 years with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research  and its "principal Iraq analyst" from 2003-05. 
White, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute, said that should President George W. Bush "opt to attack Iran, the region will turn from a controversy pot to a cauldron with Iraq at its core."  White called Baghdad "a Shiite-Sunni Stalingrad." 
Regime change part III: Iran
"President Bush and his team have been huddling in closed-door meetings on Iran, summoning scholars for advice, investing in opposition activities, creating an Iran office in Washington and opening listening posts abroad," the Washington Post reported in March 2006. "Members of the Hoover Institution's board of overseers who met with Bush, Vice President Cheney and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley two weeks ago emerged with the impression that the administration has shifted to a more robust policy aimed at the Iranian government." The State Department recently created an Iran desk and increased the number of full-time positions on Iran from two to 10. The U.S. Embassy in Dubai, and "other embassies in the vicinity," are also adding staff "to watch Tehran." Voice of America broadcasts into Iran will increase from one to four hours a day by April 2006, with plans to expand to 24 hours.
A nuclear bomb in 16 days (... or 10 years)
On April 12, 2006, Stephen G. Rademaker, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, told reporters in Moscow that Iran "could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in 16 days," Bloomberg News reported.
In August 2005, the National Intelligence Estimate "projected that Iran is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, roughly doubling the previous estimate of five years, according to government sources with firsthand knowledge of the new analysis," while, at the same time, Bush administration officials "asserted" but had not "offered proof" that Iran was "moving determinedly toward a nuclear arsenal," Dafna Linzer wrote in the Washington Post.
In February 2005, David Kay, the CIA weapons inspector who sought weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the first leader of the Iraq Survey Group, cautioned about the Bush administration's approach on Iran:
"There is an eerie similarity to the events preceding the Iraq war. The International Atomic Energy Agency has announced that while Iran now admits having concealed for 18 years nuclear activities that should have been reported to the IAEA, it is has found no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. Iran says it is now cooperating fully with international inspections, and it denies having anything but a peaceful nuclear energy program.
"Vice President Cheney is giving interviews and speeches that paint a stark picture of a soon-to-be-nuclear-armed Iran and declaring that this is something the Bush administration will not tolerate. Iranian exiles are providing the press and governments with a steady stream of new 'evidence' concerning Iran's nuclear weapons activities. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has warned that Iran will not be allowed to use the cover of civilian nuclear power to acquire nuclear weapons, but says an attack on Iran is 'not on the agenda at this point.' U.S. allies, while saying they share the concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions, remain determined to pursue diplomacy and say they cannot conceive of any circumstance that would lead them to use military force. And the press is beginning to uncover U.S. moves that seem designed to lay the basis for military action against Iran.
"Now is the time to pause and recall what went wrong with the assessment of Iraq's WMD program and try to avoid repeating those mistakes in Iran."
"Nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran would be a grave danger to the world. That is not what is in doubt. What is in doubt is the ability to the U.S. government to honestly assess Iran's nuclear status and to craft a set of measures that will cope with that threat short of military action by the United States or Israel," Kay concluded.
Smoking Gun #2 or wishful thinking?: "A History of Concealment and Deception"
In an hour-long PowerPoint "slide show that blends satellite imagery with disquieting assumptions about Iran's nuclear energy program, Bush administration officials have been trying to convince allies that Tehran is on a fast track toward nuclear weapons," the Washington Post's Dafna Lindner wrote September 14, 2005.
The "briefing, titled 'A History of Concealment and Deception,' has been presented to diplomats from more than a dozen countries. Several diplomats said the presentation, intended to win allies for increasing pressure on the Iranian government, dismisses ambiguities in the evidence about Iran's intentions and omits alternative explanations under debate among intelligence analysts."
Smoking Gun #1: diffused
On August 23, 2005, the Washington Post reported that "Traces of bomb-grade uranium found two years ago in Iran came from contaminated Pakistani equipment and are not evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, a group of U.S. government experts and other international scientists has determined.
"'The biggest smoking gun that everyone was waving is now eliminated with these conclusions,' said a senior official who discussed the still-confidential findings on the condition of anonymity."
"Whatever plans Dick Cheney and his neo-conservatives may have had to conjure up a nuclear threat from Iran as 'justification' for military action have been sharply undercut by some timely leaks to the Washington Post. In a redux of President George W. Bush's spin on the 'grave and growing' danger from Iraq, Cheney protégé and newly appointed U.N. Ambassador John Bolton is on record warning that Iranian 'deception' must not be allowed to continue much longer: 'It will be too late. Iran will have nuclear weapons.'" --Raymond McGovern, Tom Paine.Common Sense, August 3, 2005.
Developing war scenarios
"There is no evidence that President Bush has already made the decision to attack Iran if Tehran proceeds with uranium-enrichment activities viewed in Washington as precursors to the manufacture of nuclear munitions. Top Administration officials are known to have argued in favor of military action if Tehran goes ahead with these plans--a step considered more likely with the recent election of arch-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's president--but Bush, so far as is known, has not yet made up his mind in the matter. One thing does appear certain, however: Bush has given the Defense Department approval to develop scenarios for such an attack and to undertake various preliminary actions. As was the case in 2002 regarding Iraq, the building blocks for an attack in Iran are beginning to be put into place." --Michael T. Klare, The Nation, July 21, 2005.
- "President George W. Bush began his second term with speculation rising about future military moves against Iran." The week before, Vice President Dick Cheney "placed Iran first on the list of world trouble spots and darkly hinted that unless tougher measures were taken to curtail Iran's nuclear program, Israel might launch its own pre-emptive air strikes." 
- "In a telephone interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, former U.S. weapons inspector David Kay said the Bush administration's current rhetoric on Iran is 'very, very similar' to what it was on Iraq two years ago.
- "'This really sounds very much like the lead-up to military action in Iraq: Very strong statements from the vice president; two secretaries of state -- both Colin Powell earlier and now Condoleezza Rice -- citing dissident information to prove the existence of a weapons program; a lack of confidence in [the UN's] ability to detect whether the Iranians are proceeding with a nuclear weapons program. All that's very -- you know, it's very, very similar,' Kay said." (February 7, 2005) 
- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said February 9, 2005, that "Iran must live up to its international obligations to halt its nuclear program or 'the next steps are in the offing.'
- "'And I think everybody understands what the next steps mean,' Rice told reporters after a meeting with NATO foreign ministers and European Union officials." 
- On February 15, 2005, Silvan Shalom, Israel's foreign minister, "told a London audience that the mullahs were six months away from having an atomic bomb -- not six years, six months.
- "'The question is not if the Iranians will have a nuclear bomb in 2009, 10 or 11,' Shalom said. 'We believe that in six months from today they will end all tests and experiments,' that the 'nightmare scenario' would be on the West by the end of this summer." 
- Former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter said February 18, 2005, that "George W. Bush has 'signed off' on plans to bomb Iran in June 2005." 
- Note: Although this is essentially correct, Scott Ritter clarified his comments and what they mean in an exclusive Raw Story interview with Larisa Alexandrova, March 11, 2005. 
- On February 22, 2005, George W. Bush said "the idea that the U.S. is planning to attack Iran is 'simply ridiculous' -- but then added that 'all options are on the table.'" 
- However, keep in mind, for what it's worth, that Bush gave a similar response to a reporter's question about "a march to war in Iran" at a July 30, 2003, White House press conference in the Rose Garden: 
- Bush said "that Iran's development of nuclear weapons is 'not in their interests,' and that concerted international effort is needed to dissuade Iran from its nuclear weapons program. ... Bush warned that 'all options remain on the table,' but that he believed a peaceful solution was possible."
Alleged special forces incursions and overflights
The UPI press agency reported in January 2005:
- "The U.S. Air Force is playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Iran's ayatollahs, flying American combat aircraft into Iranian airspace in an attempt to lure Tehran into turning on air defense radars, thus allowing U.S. pilots to grid the system for use in future targeting data, administration officials said... To collect badly needed intelligence on the ground about Iran's alleged nuclear program, the United States is depending heavily on Israeli-trained teams of Kurds in northern Iraq and on U.S.-trained teams of former Iranian exiles in the south to gather the intelligence needed for possible strikes against Iran's 13 or more suspected nuclear sites, according to serving and retired U.S. intelligence officials. Both groups are doing cross border incursions into Iran, some in conjunction with U.S. Special Forces, these sources said."
A New York Times editorial in late January 2005 explicitly warned the Bush administration against military action in Iran:
- "...these hawkish rumblings eerily recall the months before the American invasion of Iraq when some of the same officials pressed hardest for military action, while the president remained publicly uncommitted. Given that experience, it would be foolhardy to dismiss the current rhetorical buildup. We hope that this time, wiser heads in the administration will intervene before it is too late."
And then a Bush "Flip-Flop"
March 11, 2005: "Europe and the United States have agreed on a joint approach to negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program after months of dispute, with the Bush administration agreeing to offer modest economic incentives and the Europeans agreeing to take the issue to the United Nations Security Council if negotiations fail, senior American officials said Thursday.
"The American incentives would go into effect only if Iran agreed to halt the enrichment of uranium permanently. The agreement represents a major shift in strategy for both the Bush administration, which has refused for years to offer Iran incentives to give up its program, and for Europe, which had been reluctant to discuss penalties." 
Testimony: June 24, 2004
In testimony before the House International Relations Committee's Middle East and Central Asia subcommittee, "Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Flory, who accompanied [Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs John] Bolton at the hearing, "noted that Iranian procurement of nuclear weapons would 'mark a dramatic change for the worse in the security landscape of the Persian Gulf and the broader Middle East.' A nuclear-armed Iran, Flory pointed out, would threaten American allies in the Persian Gulf-Middle East region as well as U.S. forces. In the post-9/11 world, 'nothing is unthinkable,' Flory emphasized, including the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran exporting nuclear technology to other enemies of the United States. 'Flory pointed out that Iran is supporting the Sunni Muslim extremist group Ansar al-Islam in Iraq. American foreign policy on Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons 'is unequivocal,' Bolton said. 'We cannot let Iran, a leading sponsor of international terrorism, acquire the most destructive weapons and the means to deliver them to Europe and most of Central Asia and the Middle East or beyond,' he concluded." 
Iran 'will be dealt with'
The Washington Post's Mike Allen reported on April 22, 2004, that President Bush said "Iran 'Will Be Dealt With, starting through the United Nations' if it does not stop developing nuclear weapons and begin total cooperation with international inspectors."
Allen recalled that the language "was reminiscent of comments Bush made about Iraq long before the war, and to admonitions he has issued to Syria. ... Administration officials said they have no plans to attack Iran, and that Bush's policy on Tehran had not changed. But the remarks offered a window into Bush's long-range view of relations with Tehran."
- Carah Ong, "Lieberman-Kyl Introduce Provocative Amendment," Iran Nuclear Watch Blogspot, September 21, 2007. Post includes link to copy of amendment.
- Editorial: "Countering Iran’s Designs," National Review Online, September 21, 2007.
- Ken Silverstein, "Speaking From Experience, Part II: Former CIA official expects war with Iran", Harper's Magazine, September 4, 2007.
- Jorge Hirsch, "War Against Iran," Antiwar.com, April 2006.
- Jorge Hirsch, "Biological Threat and Executive Order 13292," Antiwar.com, April 1, 2006.