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Amid the increased likelihood that President Barack Obama will cave in to pressure from foreign policy hawks to "Libya-ize" Syria and to accord Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the same treatment meted out to Libya's Col. Muammar Gaddafi, the main question is WHY? Obviously, there is concern about the human rights catastrophe in Syria, but is the main target Syria's main ally, Iran, as many suspect?
Surely, the objective has got to be more than simply giving Secretary of State John Kerry a chance to brag, in the manner of his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, regarding Gaddafi, "We came, we saw, he died." And, there is little expectation -- however many Cruise missiles the United States fires at Syrian targets in a fury over disputed claims about chemical weapons -- that lives are likely to be saved.
Iran's leaders need not be paranoid to see themselves as a principal target of external meddling in Syria. While there seem to be as many interests being pursued -- as there are rag-tag groups pursuing them -- Tehran is not likely to see the common interests of Israel and the U.S. as very complicated. Both appear determined to exploit the chaotic duel among the thugs in Syria as an opportunity to deal a blow to Hezbollah and Hamas in Israel's near-frontier and to isolate Iran still further, and perhaps even advance Israel's ultimate aim of "regime change" in Tehran. So, what are Iran's new leaders likely to see as the real driving force behind Obama's felt need to acquiesce, again, in a march of folly? And why does it matter?
In the nearer term, are the neocons in Washington revving up to nip in the bud any unwelcome olive branches from the Iran's new leaders as new talks on nuclear matters loom on the horizon?
The Not-So-Clean Break
"A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," a policy document prepared in 1996 for Benjamin Netanyahu by a study group led by American neocons, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, laid out a new approach to solving Israel's principal security challenges. Essentially, the point was to shatter the frustrating cycle of negotiations with the Palestinians and instead force regime change on hostile states in the region, thus isolating Israel's close-in adversaries.
Among the plan's features was "the containment of Syria by engaging in proxy warfare and highlighting their possession of "weapons of mass destruction." The following "Clean-Break" paragraph is, no doubt, part of the discussion in Iran's leadership councils:
"Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq -- an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right -- as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions." [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War."]
Against this background, what is Iran likely to think of the two-year old mantra of Hillary Clinton, repeated by Obama that "Assad Must Go?" Or what to think of Obama's gratuitous pledge a half year later, on Super Bowl Sunday 2012, that the U.S. will "work in lockstep" with Israel regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions. Assuming they checked Webster's, Iran's leaders have taken note that one primary definition offered for "in lockstep" is: "in perfect, rigid, often mindless conformity or unison."
In that pre-game interview, Obama also made the bizarre charge that the Iranians must declare, "We will pursue peaceful nuclear power; we will not pursue a nuclear weapon." In actuality, Iran has been saying precisely that for years.
Still more odd, Obama insisted, "Iran has to stand down on its nuclear weapons program." The Israelis could hardly have expected the President to regurgitate their claims about Iran working on a nuclear weapon, but that is what he did -- despite the fact that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had said on TV just four weeks before that Iran was NOT doing so.
Of course, Panetta was simply reiterating the consensus conclusion of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that declared in 2007 that Iran had halted work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 and that it did not appear that such work had resumed.
And even if you don't want to believe the U.S. intelligence community and Panetta, there was the acknowledgement by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that Israeli intelligence had reached the same judgment. Barak gave an interview on Jan. 18, 2002, the day before JCS Chairman Martin Dempsey arrived for talks in Israel:
"Question: Is it Israel's judgment that Iran has not yet decided to turn its nuclear potential into weapons of mass destruction?
"Barak: ... confusion stems from the fact that people ask whether Iran is determined to break out from the control [inspection] regime right now ... in an attempt to obtain nuclear weapons or an operable installation as quickly as possible. Apparently that is not the case. ...
"Question: How long will it take from the moment Iran decides to turn it into effective weapons until it has nuclear warheads?
"Barak: I don't know; one has to estimate. ... Some say a year, others say 18 months. It doesn't really matter. To do that, Iran would have to announce it is leaving the [UN International Atomic Energy Agency] inspection regime and stop responding to IAEA's criticism, etc.