The Neoconservative Obsession with Iran

Americans should be enjoying cultural and commercial relations with Iranians.


Americans could be enjoying cultural and commercial relations with Iranians were it not for U.S. "leaders," who are more aptly described as misleaders. Because of institutional, geopolitical, and economic reasons, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were not about to let that happen. They thought America needed an enemy, and Iran filled the bill.

President George W. Bush appeared to follow in his predecessors' footsteps, Gareth Porter writes in his important new book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. But Bush added his own twist: the neoconservative zeal for regime change in the Middle East, a blind fanaticism about the magic of American military power that overwhelmed all sense of realism about the world. The results have been costly in lives and resources, and despite the current talks with Iran over its nuclear-power program, the neocon legacy might yet include war against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Bush's predecessors were determined to deny the Islamic regime all legitimacy. The regime came to power after Iran's U.S.-backed autocratic ruler was overthrown in 1979, a quarter-century after the CIA overthrew a democratic government and restored him to power. As part of their efforts to undermine the Islamic Republic, American presidents strove to keep it from building even civilian nuclear power and medical-research facilities. However, as a signer of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is subject to inspections and is permitted to acquire equipment and materials for generating nuclear power and medical isotopes. As a result of the U.S. government's obsession with undermining Iran's regime, attempts by the Shi'ite government to cooperate with the U.S. government were repeatedly rebuffed, even when rapprochement would have been in an administration's interest, for example, in the battle against a common enemy, al-Qaeda.

On the surface, Bush's anti-Iran policy, signified by his listing the country in the "axis of evil," looked like those that came before. "But," Porter writes, "like so much of the politics and policies surrounding the issue, that public posture was a cover for a rather different policy. The administration was actually less concerned about the Iranian nuclear program than about delegitimizing the Iranian regime. And that ambition for regime change distorted the Bush policy toward the nuclear issue, perversely skewing it toward provoking Iran to accelerate its [uranium] enrichment program."

In fact, Hillary Mann Leverett, who coordinated Persian Gulf and Afghanistan policy for Bush's National Security Council, told Porter that Vice President Dick Cheney's staff took the view that "After regime change, we may not want to oppose nuclear weapons by Iran."

The Bush people thought that the U.S. government could fundamentally change the Middle East with military power. "The administration's strategy … was based on the firm conviction that the Islamic regime in Iran would fall within a few years as part of the broader redrawing of the political map of the region that the neoconservatives were planning," Porter writes. Iraq would be first, "turning Iraq into a base for projecting US power into the rest of the Middle East. The result was expected to be a string of regime changes in those countries that had not been de facto allies of the United States.… And it would leave Iran surrounded by pro-American governments in Kabul, Baghdad, and Istanbul. Iran was targeted as the biggest prize of all in the regime change strategy."

If that didn't bring regime change, war would.

Predictably, things did not work out as Bush's neocons planned. Iraq gained a pro-Iranian government, while remaining mired in horrendous sectarian violence. Afghanistan's government is corrupt, autocratic, and ineffective against the Taliban. Bashar al-Assad of Syria, an ally of Iran, remains firmly in power despite U.S. efforts to aid an opposition dominated by al-Qaeda-type jihadists. And Iran's supreme leader, who backs an elected president determined to reconcile with the West, doesn't appear to be going anywhere.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration did everything in its power, including lying, to stop the more realistic British, French, and Germans from reaching agreement with an Iranian government eager to ensure the transparency of its nuclear program and, in return, have economic sanctions lifted.

Let's hope President Obama doesn't let the neocons destroy the current chance at reconciliation.

This article originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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  1. were it not for U.S. “leaders,” who are more aptly described as misleaders,

    Oh, burn!

  2. why, exactly, should we try and make nice with a nation that actively sponsors terrorism? I’m hardly of the mindset of “bomb Iran” but what Sheldon calls “reconciliation” works both ways.
    –stop funding Hezbollah
    –enough with the Israel extermination talk

    Two basic steps that Iran seems incapable of taking. Again, not advocating bombing but it’s not always “neo-conz!!11!”

    1. Will the US stop funding terrorists who attack Iran? (The US even funds MKO which has killed Americans)

      Will the US stop calling for the end of the Islamic regime? (Iran has called for the end of the Zionist regime)

      1. Will the US stop calling for the end of the Islamic regime?

        Pretty certain that literally not one single US leader in a generation or two has actually called for that.

        1. Except for your hero…


    2. You left out “stop executing Baha’is, gays, and religious dissidents.”

      Richman is the Walter Duranty of our time. Reason should be embarrassed to be paying him.

      1. We are nice with the Saudis even though they execute all sorts of people and not only fund terrorists but Saudis are in the top ranks of foreign fighters in Afganistan, Iraq, Yemen, etc etc

        1. And that situation has worked so beautifully, why wouldn’t we want to replicate it?

          1. Because it’s better than going to war with them.

        2. I don’t know the third person version of “tu quoque,” but our idiocy in dealing with other countries is irrelevant to the discussion at hand, one specific country. Duran… errr… Richman seems to only write about Iran and regurgitate the same talking points about what a wonderful place it is except for the nasty stuff they have to endure from the US.

          1. is quoque (he, too).

            Also, I agree with this and earlier points.

        3. We try to get what we need from the Saudis because if we use military force against them, we win, and if we win we end up in charge of Mecca and Medina.

      2. Iran does not execute gays or religious minorities. Just because you saw a YouTube video of a man with a noose around his neck it doesn’t mean that he was gay.

        Now, how about beheadings in Saudi Arabia and cannibalism in Syria by our dear rebels?

      3. Reason should be embarrassed about a lot of articles lately.

    3. Hezbollah and Israel aren’t my problems as an American taxpayer.

      You’re either for free trade or not.

    4. Why should Iran stop funding Hezbollah which is NOT a terrorist group? How about the U.S. stopping the funding of the terrorist state of Israel?

      As for “extermination talk,” calling for someone’s death in not a threat, it is a wish. It will stop when stupid Netanyahu stops saying like an idiot, “All options are on the table.” Do you know the meaning of the word, “All?”

  3. Let’s hope President Obama doesn’t let the neocons destroy the current chance at reconciliation.

    Really? There’s only one subset of one party causing all of this? Was this written in 2009?

    1. Books take a few years to go through the editorial wringer.

    2. The Nobel Prize winner is the Bringer of Peace and the Healer of the Environment, don’t you know?

  4. War eagle, did you not see that in 1953 Mosadegh was overthrown on behalf of Britain and the US. They installed their puppet dictator. Mi6 and CIA trained the new IraniAn secret police known as the Savok. Any dissenters, or anyone rallying against these new leaders were subjected to (along with their families) rape torture and even murder. The constitution was thrown out, and women’s rights were repealed.

    How in the eff does anyone go around thinking they can fuck with people and subject them to such atrocities and make it like there is no resentment, and that no one would want to protect themselves from future overthrows.

    The new Iran is brought to you care of the US and UK. This foreign policy is very dangerous, and after 72 interventions since ww2 they should have learned. Yet folks like McCain, and that douchebag Giuliani walk around wondering why folks want to attack us. It’s not because we’re free, because this is no free country first off…’s because the US intervenes in everyone’s affairs.

  5. What ever happened to “sticks and stones”?

    I have no problem with our so-called leaders rhetoric on Iran. That place is run by despots. But I do have a problem with our persistent attempt to undermine their sovereignty by arming their enemies. In my opinion it’s no better that if they started sending weapons secretly to terrorists in our borders. Or, you know, like what we’re doing with F&F…or what we did in Libya…or Egypt…or Syria…or in a dozen other countries we are currently trying to meddle in.

    1. It seems like Israel can handle itself and Saudi Arabia can go fuck itself.

  6. Does anybody get the sense that literally the only person as obsessed with Iran as Richman imagines neocons to be is, in fact, Richman?

    1. ^This.

  7. Good article Sheldon…

    And more Booosch apologia in the comments, which is not so good. Why not just come out with it and say that Bush was the greatest President ever. The only consistent theme with most of you is to defend anything a Republican does, while sanctimoniously claiming non partisanship. There’s nothing here in the comments I can’t read in the comments section of, but you at least know that over there the people aren’t full of bullshit.

    1. Gee, looks like you’re the only person to bring up Bush. Voices in your head easier to argue with than actual other humans?

      1. And you are the one slinging Walter Durranty. Your voices must be louder than mine. Why attack the writer, who makes an uncomplicated libertarian argument about how we should seek peace with other countries?

        1. SR’s oft-beaten equine is always the same- it’s a wonderful place with a fine government that only is forced to do evil because of the US. A perfect Duranty.

          There’s a difference between favoring intervention (which would describe nearly zero of the commenters here)and eyes-open recognition of the evil of that country (which would describe 99% of the commenters here). The latter does not imply the former, the voices in your head or Richman’s apologetics notwithstanding.

          1. Thank you. It’s quite possible to sensibly oppose military intervention in Iran while recognizing it as a really awful place that sponsors terrorism and executes people for being gay or being raped, among other horrific things.

    2. Ctrl-F


      1 result



      0 results

      Yep, you’ve really knocked this one out of the park.

      1. Did you see the part about sanctimony and bullshit? The reason the writer is obsessed with neocons and still writing about it is that they– very recently– launched a 2 trillion dollar war in Iraq and threatened to launch a larger war against Iran. Why attack the writer if you aren’t covering for the policy? Who did you vote for in 2008? It was Obama, right?

        1. What’s been our outlay on Obama’s wars?

          Get over the voices in your head that keep telling you that anyone who recognizes Obama as an incompetent boob favors his predecessor.

          1. In fact the biggest problem I have with the Obots like AS is that it’s “different” when their guy does it. Barry is just Bush III with more socialism (which makes the medicine go down, the medicine go down…).

    3. The American Socialist loves Sheldon. What a surprise.

  8. If someone told me I couldn’t have guns I’d do everything in my power to get them because there is only one reason to deny a person guns, Control over the non armed. I think Iran probably feels the same way especially since it is mostly our fault that they hate us for fucking with their political system. The U.S. would never tolerate outside influences on our leaders. Note though the reason we did f with all these middle eastern countries was to keep Russia from getting their oil, of course in doing so we messed up our own oil supplies as an excuse to go for theirs. So my conclusion is leave all these countries alone until they mess with us personally. But neither the republicans nor democrats are willing to leave others alone.

    1. Not Russia- the USSR. BIG difference.

    2. “The U.S. would never tolerate outside influences on our leaders. ”

      If only that were true. There are numerous examples of this being an incorrect statement.

      The most glaring example that comes to mind is when Al Gore took millions (IIRC) in campaign donations from a group of Chinese monks who had taken vows of poverty and then defended it publicly by saying that there was “no controlling legal authority. He admitted that he had broken the law but that there was no authority in place to punish him for doing so, so FYTW.

      An large number of people in high government positions have dual citizenship. I believe they hold membership in both major political parties.

      One of Hillary’s top advisors has a father and brother that are high ranking members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

      Obama’s online donation page just happened to not have a screening mechanism for donations from non US issued credit cards.

      I’m sure there a numerous other accounts from both parties but it does seem that Dems take the lead.

      So yes, the US does tolerate outside influences on our leaders.

      1. As long as you aren’t against foreign money in American politics, because that’s a form of protectionism. We need all we can get to fight domestic unions and other enemies of free trade.

  9. The cold truth is that decades of post colonial, UN driven, mustn’t hit diplomacy hasn’t worked. We aren’t too prone to use military force, we are too prone to not use enough. The reason that states like Iran don’t respond to our diplomatic initiatives is that we have not consistently demonstrated how unpleasant life is likely to get if we abandon diplomacy. Doing so was more or less the point of Iraq and Afghanistan, but the drumbeat of “Bush Lied” bullshit pretty much blunted the point. The Academic Liberal Left was scared to death that Bush would throw the lot of them in prison for decades of playing Radical Chic footsie with terror groups, because that’s what they would have done in his place. Why the hell Libertarians were and are so desperately intent on vitiating the object lesson escapes me.

    Do you WANT us to acquire an empire by conquest? Because if we can’t school the Islamic idiots on the uses of diplomacy and trade and keeping their word with limited military action, that’s where we are going to end up.

    1. Like we don’t already trade with any predominately Muslim countries? Why are you against free trade?

      1. I’m for free trade. I’d welcome trade with Cuba, I don’t worry about our trade imbalance with China, and I’d trade with Iran if there was something they made that we want. Heroin, for example.

        But I don’t see where trading with them and thumping them a little (in an educational way) are incompatible.

        1. Why thump them and if they didn’t thump us? And i’m not counting Americans that leave US soil. They should be on their own.

  10. What a stupid article. So, Iran would love us if not for our political leaders. I am sure our opposition to them has nothing to do with their hostage taking, support for Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorists, providing refuge for terrorists, including al Qaeda agents, targeting Israelis and Jews abroad, and torturing and killing Americans. Then, there is their attempt to destabilize the region by pursing nuclear weapons.

    Of course, there is Iran’s threat to destroy Israel, an ally and the only westernized state in the region worth continuing cultural and commercial relations.

    All of this stems from their Islamic ideology. To suggest that this is all of our fault is flat wrong.

    1. You comment shows utter ignorance. You are simply brainwashed. Iran does not support terrorism and is in fact the biggest victim of terrorism by the U.S. and Israel.

      Hezbollah is not a terrorist group. It was formed to fight the terrorism of Israel in Lebanon. Also, Al Qaeda is a mortal enemy of Iran while it is the pal of the U.S. in Syria.

      1. EarthView,

        How much is Iran paying you to propagandize for them?

        1. How much of my tax dollars are bing used to pay you to propagandize for the government?

          1. *being

          2. Not a cent. My opinions are my own. I don’t get paid for them. And you probably do not get paid to propagandize for Iran either. In any event, your pro-Iran argument is weak.

            1. What pro-Iran argument?

        2. Typical. When you have nothing intelligent to say just attack the messenger. So, what do you dispute in what I said? What is your evidence?

          1. My evidence is the 1979 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tehran sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and using students to do the job. That’s my evidence. What’s your evidence?

            1. Nobody sponsored the student. They didn’t need any sponsors. They were reacting to the years of subjugation by the Shah supported by the USA. Also, the embassy was a CIA spy center.

              Now, do you have any idea what horrible deeds the US has committed towards Iran? How about the overthrow of its government in 1953? How about support for Saddam and his chemical attacks on Iran during the Iran-Iraq war? How about the US Navy shooting down an Iranian passenger airline in 1988 killing all 290 aboard? Do you want more?

              You have the audacity to complain about the embassy takeover 35 years ago? By the way, did anyone die?

          2. EarthView|5.15.14 @ 1:29PM|#

            “Typical. When you have nothing intelligent to say just attack the messenger. So, what do you dispute in what I said? What is your evidence?”

            Right back at you, dipshit. This is exactly your ploy in responding to me above. You know, when you said: “You comment shows utter ignorance. You are simply brainwashed. Iran does not support terrorism and is in fact the biggest victim of terrorism by the U.S. and Israel.” Yet, you offered no evidence (in fact you contradict the evidence), just ad hominems.

            What a hypocritical twat you are.

            1. Now, you prove to be a jerk too with your filthy mouth.

              You are the hypocrite who claims that Iran the horrible deed of taking over the US spy center (where nobody died) but it is OK for the US to cause the death of more than a million people when it supported Saddam’s attack on Iran. I guess you cannot read about all the other barbaric acts of the US against Iran either that I enumerated.

      2. EarthView;

        So, this planet you’re on from which you can see earth, and on which Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist org; how’s the weather there?

        1. So, why is Hezbollah a terrorist organization? Because it kicked out the Israeli terrorists from 20-year occupation of southern Lebanon? Since when is the defense of your country terrorism?

          As for Al Qaeda, you haven’t heard their leaders call for the murder of Iranian leaders? Obviously, you know nothing about the Middle East.

          Finally, do you have any idea what is going on in Syria, where Al Qaeda elements funded by Saudi Arabia are fighting with the so-called “rebels” supported by stupid United States? Who is going to take over after Assad? Do you have any idea?

      3. No evidence, I see, just name calling, contradictions, and emotionalism based on a fanatic ideology. I didn’t know the Iranian regime posted official comments here at Reason.

    2. Why should I as an American taxpayer care about Israel or Hezbollah? Not my problem, though I see nothing wrong with lifting trade barriers to Iran so that Americans can make money over there and vice versa. Now it shouldn’t be my problem as an American taxpayer if something happens to someone who left US soil so that argument won’t work on me.

  11. The position that is being taken here is a left wing position. This is hilarious, in that this website tends to favor conservative positions while calling them “libertarian” and with a strong dislike for the current administration, while championing a so called Libertarian candidate who is going to have to run on a Republican ticket anyway. However, this all goes to show that human beings can have anywhere up to five contradictory ideas rolling around in their brains while believing in all five of them at the same time.

    People tend to forget that while the late Shah of Iran left much to be desired, that a group of Muslim religious fanatics took over Iran in 1979, and have since done a good job of being any bit as oppressive of their peoples as the Shah ever was. In addition (AND THIS IS THE MAIN PART) that Islamic Regime also allowed a bunch of students to seize the U.S. Embassy and “detain” its American staff for a considerable period of time. ALL THAT WAS IN CLEAR VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW. Since then, periodic threats have been made by that very same Islamic Regime that if they get a nuclear weapon they will use it against Israel.

    1. In 1975, the government of North Vietnam drove tanks onto the grounds of the U.S. embassy in Saigon. The government of North Vietnam directly or via armed proxies imprisoned, tortured, killed, and wounded literally an order of magnitude or more American citizens than have ever been imprisoned, tortured, killed, or wounded by the Iranian government or its armed proxies. The US normalized relations with Vietnam just 20 years after those events. Unless you think the US should not have normalized relations with Vietnam, there’s no principled basis for saying the US should not normalize relations with Iran.

      1. I see what you are getting at. However, it is clear that Iran has threatened to use nuclear weapons against our ally Israel. As long as Iran keeps talking like that relations cannot be normalized between Iran and the United States.

        1. Isreal is not my ally, so who is this “our” and “we” business?

        2. Iran has no nuclear weapons and has never threatened stupid Israel. On the other hand, the U.S. and Israel constantly threaten Iran with their stupid, “All options are on the table.” Do know what the word “All” means?

    2. So, did any of the hostages in the embassy die? Do you have any idea what the U.S. has done to Iran since at least 1953?

      The CIA overthrew the Iranian government in 1953. Reagan backed Saddam Hussein in his attack on Iran and helped him with his chemical attacks on Iran. The U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian passenger airline in 1988 killing all 290 aboard. There are many others examples too. And, you dare complain about the embassy takeover?

      1. EarthView

        Yes, I dare complain about it because it was a CLEAR VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 without a formal declaration of war. However, the United States of America observed diplomatic and other protocol and allowed the Japanese Embassy in Washington, DC to close and depart in peace. That’s why I “dare complain about the embassy takeover.” If you love Iran so much, why don’t you pack up and move to Iran and become an Iranian citizen, and convert to Islam and all that.

        1. @On The Road To Mandalay

          Google Operation Apex

        2. “If you love Iran so much, why don’t you pack up and move to Iran and become an Iranian citizen, and convert to Islam and all that.”

          You know you have nothing else to offer in an argument when you say this^^

        3. Gee, you talk about “international law?” You are hilarious.

          So, the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 was according to international law?

          Helping Saddam with his use of chemical weapons on Iran was according to international law?

          Sending the Stuxnet virus to Iran was according to international law?

          In fact, threatening Iran with the stupid mantra “All options are on the table,” is against the UN Charter.

          So, you have no idea what you are talking about.

    3. “The position that is being taken here is a left wing position.”

      More of a “mind your own god-damn business” position but ok.

      “This is hilarious, in that this website tends to favor conservative positions while calling them “libertarian”

      Actually they are libertarian positions that conservatives favor.

      “However, this all goes to show that human beings can have anywhere up to five contradictory ideas rolling around in their brains while believing in all five of them at the same time.”

      I may have to agree calling yourself a libertarian and following statist political parties is a bit contradictory.

      “People tend to forget that while the late Shah of Iran left much to be desired”

      The Shah was a brutal tyrant, no wonder fanatical muslim had a chance in power.

  12. The position being taken here is the small government, fiscally conservative one. The only one that is compatible with capitalism, economic globalization, the cutting of spending and the lowering of taxes.

    What Iran does to their people is not my problem as an American taxpayer, and embassies are expensive and outdated (hello Skype). Any America that leaves US soil should be on their own and not a burden on the taxpayers, and who cares about international law? Fuck the UN.

    And why should I as an American taxpayer care about Israel?

    1. That was a reply to user “On The Road To Mandalay”

    2. Because International Law is needed to assure that countries behave in some sort of sane fashion. It puts the breaks on before nation’s go off the deep end, which they tend to do anyway. The United Nations leaves much to be desired, but at least countries talk there, and it has prevented things from getting worse in some cases.

      As far as Israel is concerned. That country has been a good ally of the United States since 1948. Israel is one of our closest allies in The Middle East and it is our moral imperative to continue our relationship with Israel.

      1. Again, this “we” business.

      2. No it isn’t our moral imperative. Israel has been a real pain the ass. We don’t have to pick up where the now defunct British Empire left off.

        I’m fine selling them weapons but no more foreign aid shit.

      3. The UN can exist so long as it it gets out of the US and vice versa, and America has no imperative to support anybody but itself.

  13. its awesome. Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $500 a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out.

  14. Everyone thinks everyone just knows that neocons want to go to war with Iran.

    Neocons have never called for war and regime change in Iran. They never will. Despite whatever anyone thinks they know about neocons, neocons are secretly and determinedly pro-Islamist. Reinterpret every American foreign policy of the last 15 years with that idea as an organizing principle. Then ask yourself which idea, they are pro-Islamist or anti-Islamist, explains the facts better.

  15. Nasty old Bush, trying to “delegitimize” Theocratic Totalitarianism! How *dare* he?

    Nothing could be *more* legitimate than Theocratic Totalitarianism. At least to our buddy Sheldon.

    Has Reason decided to turn all HuffPo on us? It’s one bullshit article after another these days.

  16. There are few things as painfully enjoyable to watch as a libertarian pretending to opine on foreign policy.

    Reality is that there is no possibility of ‘normal’ relations between the US and Iran because Iran needs its Great Satan to legitimize itself. It has absolutely effin NOTHING to do with the US now. It is entirely an internal regime need there – and NOTHING the US does can/will change that.

    There is a huge difference between advocating non-aggression as a thought-out policy choice – and advocating nonaggression because you are an ignorant twit who thinks that ‘non-aggression’ actually is a substitute for knowledge of other countries around the world.

    Unfortunately, the main reason non-interventionists are ignored in foreign policy is because they are almost gleefully stupid about anything outside American borders. And in the land of the stupid, the half-wit ends up running things.

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