Nukes, Neo-Cons, and the Bush Who Cried Wolf Again
Part I: Four More Wars
Thursday 25 November 2004
Somewhere in the Middle East, an exile group fights to overthrow a ruthless dictatorship, one that has long feuded with
the United States and encouraged terrorists, especially against the Israelis. The exiles have also used terror, but are
now selling themselves as small "d" democrats.
Of greater interest to some, their country sits on an ocean of oil. Their people are Muslims, mainly Shiite. Their
chief patrons are American Neo-Conservatives in and around the Bush Administration. And their latest song and dance is
to warn the world that the hated regime they seek to topple is now building atomic bombs.
Where did we hear that before?
A lifetime ago, it seems, the tireless Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress passed "intelligence reports" to
their Neo-Con sponsors warning of Saddam Hussein's nuclear threat, which the Iraqis had already been forced to
dismantle. Embellished by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon,
Chalabi's lies helped sell the invasion of Iraq.
Now, Iran has become the threat du jour, and the "intelligence reports" come from an even more exotic group - the
Mujihadeen Khalq, or People's Warriors, and their political front, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has
its offices near Paris.
A strange mix of Marx and Mohammed, the MK descends from Bani Sadr, one of the original leaders of the Iranian
revolution against the Shah and an early victim of it. Saddam Hussein later supported the group as an irritant to Iran,
and the U.S. State Department defined them as a terrorist organization. With the American occupation of Iraq, the
Mujihadeen Khalq now work inside Iran in cooperation with Washington and Tel Aviv. Just the bunch to believe when they
tell us the Ayatollahs are building a bomb.
Another source, equally credible, is the CIA, or as Professor Chalmers Johnson calls them, the Worthless Intelligence
Agency. Based on their investigation of Pakistan's nuclear mastermind A. Q. Khan, whom Gen. Mushareff still protects
with American acquiescence, the CIA claims that he provided Iran with component designs for advanced weapons. According
to Secretary of State Powell, this might have included work on nuclear missiles.
Having lied repeatedly about Iraq, neither the CIA nor Powell should be surprised that the world does not necessarily
believe them on Iran.
But that is only the beginning of the disaster we now face. Whether true or not, the nuclear scare-mongering serves a
much larger agenda. As with Iraq, those leading the current campaign make no secret of their ultimate aim - regime
change in Tehran and beyond. Bomb or no bomb, they want the United States to help overthrow the Ayatollahs.
"The time for diplomacy is at the end," the professorial Michael Ledeen declared in April 2003. "It is time for a free
Iran, free Syria and free Lebanon."
A Neo-Con icon and one of the loudest voices urging regime change in Iran, Ledeen made his declaration of war at a time
when Washington had only just invaded Iraq. And, he made it in a speech to the hawkish Jewish Institute for National
Modestly promoting himself in his authorized online biographies as "one of the world's leading authorities on
contemporary history and international affairs," Ledeen openly boasts of carrying out "some of the most sensitive and
dangerous missions in recent American history."
Best-known of his derring-do is Iran-Contra, which was the first major Neo-Con screw-up and a 1980s prelude to Ledeen's
more recent efforts against Iran. His role is well worth remembering, not least by President Bush.
Working for Reagan's National Security Advisor Robert McFarland, Ledeen met several times with Israeli leaders and an
Iranian arms dealer named Manucher Ghorbanifar, who claimed to have close contacts with "moderates" in Tehran. The CIA,
Pentagon, and State Department quickly dismissed the Iranian as a lying scoundrel, while Ledeen described him as "one of
the most honest, educated, honorable men I have ever known."
From these meetings, Ledeen presented his cunning plan to McFarland and a gung-ho gofer named Col. Oliver North. If
Washington agreed to sell Iran large numbers of HAWK, TOW, Sidewinder, and Phoenix missiles - or permitted the Israelis
to do so - Iran would help free American hostages whom its Lebanese allies held.
Caught up in a bitter war with Iraq, the Ayatollahs needed the missiles, especially since the Americans were secretly
giving Saddam satellite intelligence of Iranian troop movements and chemical and biological agents to use against them.
Reagan wanted primarily to free the American hostages in Lebanon, while the Israelis hoped to win favor with Tehran to
preserve the safety of Persian Jews.
But the Israelis also had larger goals in mind. For many years, they had worked closely with the Shah, and many old
friends still held high positions in the Iranian Army. In the process of transferring American missiles to them, the
Israelis actively explored the possibility of encouraging a military coup against the Ayatollahs. Ledeen specifically
urged the arms-for-hostages swap to help the Israelis "bring out credible military and political leaders" in Iran.
Ledeen went on to suggest that Washington use the Israelis in a series of covert operations around the world. To pay
for these efforts without having to ask Congress, the Israelis and Americans would overcharge the Iranians for the
missiles and plough the profits into the new projects. One of these clever work-arounds provided arms to the Contras
fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Ideologically driven, Ledeen never grasped the damage his grand scheme would do to President Reagan or to the Gipper's
promise never to pay ransom. Ledeen similarly overlooked the impact on Reagan's unsavory alliance with Iraq and his
relations with a Democratic Congress, which had legally barred U.S. aid to the Contras. In their unending quest to bring
"Democracy" to the world, Neo-Cons despise democratic norms at home.
Flash forward to the year 2001. Now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Ledeen set up a series of
meetings in Rome and Paris between the wily Ghorbanifar, other Iranian exiles, and Doug Feith's Office of Special Plans.
Col. Larry Franklin, whom the FBI publicly attacked but never charged as a possible Israeli spy, attended these
meetings, which - among other dubious propaganda - produced so-called intelligence about Saddam's uranium stocks. It
seems likely that Ghorbanifar and friends in the Italian secret services provided the forged documents claiming to show
Iraqi uranium purchases from the African country of Niger.
More important to Ledeen, the meetings also pushed ahead his campaign for regime change in Iran, the country he sees as
"The Mother of Modern Terrorism." By bringing Pentagon officials together with Iranian dissidents even before the war in
Iraq, he was building a base in Washington for his American-backed revolution in Tehran.
But his efforts carried a high price. In the summer of 2003, Iran captured 5 key terrorists. They included bin Laden's
son Saad and the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. According to NBC and several other accounts, Iran offered to exchange
Zarqawi and the others for members of the Mujihadeen Khalq, who were attacking Iran from their safe haven in Iraq. The
exchange never took place. According to the well-placed Jerusalem Post, Ledeen and his Neo-Con associates intervened to
undermine the negotiations.
The Post never explained. I would guess that Ledeen saw the MK as too useful in harassing the Ayatollahs and gathering
intelligence about their nuclear program. Others of a more conspiratorial bent have suggested that the Neo-Cons wanted
Zarqawi in Iraq to show that the Iraqis had in fact, harbored terrorists who could be tied to bin-Laden.
Next time, Part II: And Now a Word from the Wolf
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman
lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France,
where he writes for t r u t h o u t.