Whether wittingly or witlessly, President Barack Obama is pursuing a neocon-charted path on Iran that parallels the one that George W. Bush took to war with Iraq ratcheting up sanctions against the "enemy," refusing to tolerate more peaceful options, and swaggering along with the propagandistic tough-guy-ism of the major U.S. news media.
The Obama administration is celebrating its victory in getting the UN Security Council on Wednesday to approve a fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran. Obama also is expected to sign on to even more draconian penalties that should soon sail through Congress.
Obama may be thinking that his UN diplomatic achievement will buy him some credibility and some time with American neocons and Israel's Likud government, which favor a showdown with Iran over its nuclear program.
However, the end result of the new sanctions may well be a greater likelihood that the debate within the Iranian government will tilt toward a decision to proceed with ever-higher-level enrichment of uranium and possibly construction of a nuclear bomb as the only means of self-defense.
That may be the opposite of what Obama seeks, but it is what the neocons and Likud would cite as justification for another Middle East war.
Just as the neocons and Israel wanted "regime change" in Iraq, they have long hungered for "regime change" in Iran, too. A favorite neocon joke at the time of the Iraq War was to speculate on which direction to go next, to Syria or Iran, with the punch-line, "Real men to go Tehran!"
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that he considers the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon an "existential threat" to Israel, one that would justify a military strike. While Israel's powerful air force would likely inflict the first blows, national security analysts believe that the U.S. military would be pulled in to finish off Iran's military capabilities.
The neocon/Likud hope would be that these military attacks would embolden Iran's internal opposition to rise up and overthrow the Islamic system that has governed Iran since 1979, in other words, "regime change." Much like the neocon/Likud thinking about Iraq, however, these grandiose plans often end up with unpredictable and bloody outcomes.
Many war-gamers believe the economic, geo-political and military consequences of an attack on Iran are impossible to gauge, though some in the U.S. military fear that such a conflict could ignite a regional war and cause serious strategic damage to the United States. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Bomb-Bomb-Iran Parlor Game."]
Whether President Obama comprehends these risks or may invite them is unclear. What is known is that he staffed his administration with a number of hardliners on Iran, from Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State to Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff. Voices of moderation, if there are any, have been noticeably silent.
Some analysts believe that the President is a relative "dove" on Iran, citing his private letter to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that encouraged Brazil and Turkey to work out a deal to get Iran to transfer about half its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for more highly enriched uranium that could only be used for peaceful medical purposes.
However, after Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan got Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to agree to that deal, the arrangement was denounced by Secretary of State Clinton and was ridiculed by the major U.S. news media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Even after Brazil released Obama's supportive letter, the President would not publicly defend his position. Instead, his administration pressed ahead with the new round of sanctions.
What is also clear is that tough-guy-ism is running strong, much like it was in the months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
A New York Times editorial on Thursday praised the new round of anti-Iran sanctions, but complained they "do not go far enough." Still, the Times took encouragement from the hope that the United States and European countries might impose much harsher sanctions on their own.