A familiar coalition of hawks, hardliners and neo-cons expects Obama's proposed talks with Iran to fail - and they're already proposing an escalating set of measures instead. Some are meant to occur alongside any future talks. These include steps to enhance coordination with Israel, tougher sanctions against Iran, and a region-wide military buildup of US strike forces, including the prepositioning of military supplies within striking distance of that country.Obama has been as belligerent as Clinton was when it comes to Iran. He has made several strong statements completely backing the Israeli position on Iran as a clear and present danger to the Jewish state. He has said on a number of occasions that Iran will not be allowed to have nuclear weapons.
Once the future negotiations break down, as they are convinced will happen, they propose that Washington quickly escalate to war-like measures, including a US Navy-enforced embargo on Iranian fuel imports and a blockade of that country's oil exports. Finally, of course, comes the strategic military attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran that so many of them have wanted for so long.
It's tempting to dismiss the hawks now as twice-removed from power: first, figures like John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith were purged from top posts in the George W Bush administration after 2004; then the election of Obama and the announcement on Monday of his centrist, realist-minded team of establishment foreign policy gurus seemed to nail the doors to power shut for the neo-cons, who have bitterly criticized the president-elect's plans to talk with Iran, withdraw US forces from Iraq, and abandon the reckless "war on terror" rhetoric of the Bush era.
When it comes to Iran, however, it's far too early to dismiss the hawks. To be sure, they are now plying their trade from outside the corridors of power, but they have more friends inside the Obama camp than most people realize. Several top advisers to Obama - including Tony Lake, United Nations ambassador-designate Susan Rice, Tom Daschle and Dennis Ross, along with leading Democratic hawks like Richard Holbrooke, close to vice president-elect Joe Biden or secretary of state-designate Hillary Clinton - have made common cause with war-minded think-tank hawks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and other hardline institutes.
Last spring, Tony Lake and Susan Rice, for example, took part in a WINEP "2008 Presidential Task Force" study which resulted in a report entitled, "Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen US-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge". The Institute, part of the Washington-based Israel lobby, was founded in coordination with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and has been vigorously supporting a confrontation with Iran. The task force report, issued in June, was overseen by four WINEP heavyweights: Robert Satloff, WINEP's executive director, Patrick Clawson, its chief Iran analyst, David Makovsky, a senior fellow, and Dennis Ross, an adviser to Obama who is also a WINEP fellow.
Endorsed by both Lake and Rice, the report opted for an alarmist view of Iran's nuclear program and proposed that the next president set up a formal US-Israeli mechanism for coordinating policy toward Iran (including any future need for "preventive military action"). It drew attention to Israeli fears that "the United States may be reconciling itself to the idea of 'living with an Iranian nuclear bomb'," and it raised the spurious fear that Iran plans to arm terrorist groups with nuclear weapons.
Remember, Obama's pick for America's chief diplomat is a woman who said publicly not more than eight months ago that she would nuke Iran should Israel be attacked by Iranian nukes.
There's every reason to believe that under Obama, our relationship with Iran will only worsen and could lead to just the kind of massive escalation against Iran that the neocons are hoping and planning for.
Here is hoping cooler heads prevail in the Oval Office.