Hawks in the United States and Israel appear set on "regime change" in Iran, pursuing a game plan similar to the run-up to war in Iraq, ratcheting up tensions while frustrating opportunities for a peaceful settlement.
In the latest example, the New York Times on Tuesday published a leaked account of an order signed by U.S. Central Command chief, Gen. David Petraeus, expanding "clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups to counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region."
In most of those countries, the secret U.S. military operations would be intended to help U.S. allies combat anti-government militants. However, in Iran, the goal would be to make contact with opposition forces, according to the Times article by Mark Mazzetti.
"Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate," the article said.
The leaking of Petraeus's order -- which was signed almost nine months ago on Sept. 30, 2009 -- follows a May 17 tripartite agreement among Iran, Brazil and Turkey that called for Iran exporting 2,640 pounds of low-enriched uranium (LEU) about half its supply to Turkey in exchange for higher-enriched uranium that could only be used for peaceful purposes.
Though the new accord paralleled a tentative agreement that the Obama administration brokered last fall with Iran, hawks inside the U.S. government and the American news media quickly went to work ripping the deal apart.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva were portrayed as ambitious neophytes striving for a spot in the international limelight, with their oversized egos making them easy marks for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Even before the agreement was announced, the Washington Post's neoconservative editors had framed the story as a case of two out-of-their-league regional leaders getting sucked into "yet another effort to "engage' the extremist clique of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."
After the deal's announcement, the Post rushed out an analysis with the headline, "Iran creates illusion of progress in nuclear negotiations." Its main points were that the 2,640 pounds now accounted for a smaller percentage of Iran's low-enriched uranium than last fall; that Iran would retain enough LEU so it could theoretically be refined to a purity needed to build one bomb; and that Iran was not abandoning its proclaimed right to enrich uranium for what it says are peaceful purposes.
Quickly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration hawks began belittling and undermining the accord, too.
The following day, Clinton claimed that Russia and China had signed onto "a strong draft" for new sanctions against Iran. "This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide," she declared.
Even a week later, the mockery of the two Brazilian and Turkish leaders continued. On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a headline, "Iran Deal Seen as Spot on Brazilian Leader's Legacy," giving Lula da Silva's critics pretty much a free shot to hit him over his supposed stumble.
"The most charitable interpretation is that we were naïve," said Amaury de Souza, a political analyst in Rio de Janeiro. But "in a game like this, being labeled naïve just shows you have a third-rate diplomacy."
An Obama Letter?
Yet, while the U.S. news media engaged in Brazil-Turkey bashing, little or no attention was paid to a Reuters report from Brasilia that said President Barack Obama had sent a letter to President da Silva encouraging Brazil to move forward on the uranium swap.
"From our point of view, a decision by Iran to send 1,200 kilograms [2,640 pounds] of low-enriched uranium abroad, would generate confidence and reduce regional tensions by cutting Iran's stockpile," Obama said, according to excerpts from the letter translated into Portuguese and seen by Reuters.
Brazilian officials claimed that Obama's letter was just of one of the signs that dovish officials in Washington and other Western countries had quietly encouraged Brazil to help revive last October's fuel swap deal.