Right-wing scholar-activist Daniel Pipes often functions as the conservative id, saying and writing things that many conservatives also believe but have the good sense not to say outright. A good example is when Pipes admitted before the Iranian presidential elections that, were he a registered voter in Iran, he would “vote for Ahmadinejad, [because] I would prefer to have an enemy who is forthright and blatant and obvious.” Given how much the neocons had invested in promoting Ahmadinejad as a symbol of Iranian menace, his replacement with the more moderate Mir Hossein Mousavi would have been disastrous for their strategy of getting America into more wars.
The latest example is Pipes’ new article in National Review Online, which he suggests that President Obama can “save” his presidency… by bombing Iran.
Writing that “Obama’s attempts to ‘reset’ his presidency will likely fail if he focuses on economics, where he is just one of many players,” Pipes claims that the president “needs a dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him… preferably in an arena where the stakes are high, where he can take charge, and where he can trump expectations”:
Such an opportunity does exist: Obama can give orders for the U.S. military to destroy the Iranian nuclear weapon capacity. […]
Just as 9/11 caused voters to forget George W. Bush’s meandering early months, a strike on Iranian facilities would dispatch Obama’s feckless first year down the memory hole and transform the domestic political scene. It would sideline health care, prompt Republicans to work with Democrats, make netroots squeal, independents reconsider, and conservatives swoon.
Obviously Pipes has no real interest in Obama having a successful presidency. He’s simply trying to nudge the ball a few yards toward the war with Iran that many neoconservatives have been dreaming of for years. But it’s rare for one of them to be this explicit about their cynical view of foreign wars as an instrument of American domestic politics. Let’s remember, this is the man who George W. Bush nominated in 2003 to the board of the United States Institute of Peace, something which even born-again hawk Christopher Hitchens found to be a joke.
Pipes makes a number of other highly questionable claims in the piece. He insists that “No one (other than the Iranian rulers and their agents) denies that the regime is rushing headlong to build a large nuclear arsenal.” Apparently, this would include Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), who said in a January 12 interview that “The bottom line assessments of the NIE still hold true,” that “we have not seen indication that the government has made the decision to move ahead with the program. But the fact still remains that we don’t know what we don’t know.”
In one of the funniest bits, Pipes claims that “the apocalyptic-minded leaders in Tehran” could eventually “launch an electro-magnetic pulse attack on the United States, utterly devastating the country.” There’s not an actual, credible Iran expert who believes that Iran’s leaders are interested in triggering the apocalypse. In a report for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran analyst who spent over a dozen years studying Shia theology in Qom, wrote that “Not one of [Khamenei’s] speeches refers to any apocalyptic sign or reveals any special eagerness for the return of the Hidden Imam… The most significant task of the Supreme Leader is to safeguard the regime.” Combine this with the comical-even-for-Pipes EMP-alarmism and you’ve got the rhetorical equivalent of Pipes donning a bright red clown nose and big floppy shoes.
Assuring us that attacking Iran would be a cakewalk, Pipes claims that “were the U.S. strike limited to taking out the Iranian nuclear facilities, and not aspire to regime change, it would require few ‘boots on the ground’ and entail relatively few casualties, making an attack politically more palatable.” The definitive refutation of this delusion was delivered by Gen. Anthony Zinni back in September. “After you’ve dropped those bombs on those hardened facilities, what happens next?” Zinni asked. “Because, eventually, if you follow this all the way down, eventually I’m putting boots on the ground somewhere. And like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran.” Needless to say, I’m inclined to go with Gen. Zinni on this one, and not with the the guy insisting that we can do war clean and on the cheap.
It’s important to understand that, even as many on the right have attempted to embrace Iran’s Green movement as a means of attacking President Obama’s engagement policy, there’s no doubt that an attack on Iran of the sort that Pipes advocates is the surest way to snuff out that movement. As in the past, I’m sure I’ll receive private assurances that Pipes doesn’t speak for all conservatives. I’m also sure that, as in the past, no one on the right will have the decency to step forward and condemn him.