AIPAC’s Iran Strategy On Sanctions Mirrors Run-Up To Iraq War Tactics

The decision of more than 90 U.S. senators to press President Obama for Iraq-style sanctions on Iran flew in the face of what some observers warned could be the beginning of a stress test of the international support for pressuring Iran and another step closer to a potential war with the Islamic Republic.

But a Tuesday press release [PDF] from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) brings to mind eery parallels between the escalation of sanctions against Iran and the slow lead up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The press release read:

AIPAC applauds today’s bipartisan letter — signed by 92 U.S. Senators — to the administration urging it to sanction the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), or Bank Markazi. The letter, spearheaded by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), notes that the CBI lies at the center of Iran’s strategy to circumvent international sanctions against its illicit nuclear program.

Sanctioning Bank Markazi might, as mentioned by the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon, be interpreted as an act of war. But that doesn’t seem to bother AIPAC. Indeed, they’ve been down this sanctions road once before before the invasion of Iraq.


In June, Robert Dreyfuss interviewed former AIPAC senior Iran analyst Keith Weissman who offered details of how its allies in the Bush administration pushed the allegation that Saddam Hussein was in league with al Qaeda. More importantly, Weissman discusses AIPAC’s plans for ultimately bringing regime change in Iran. Dreyfuss writes:

Weissman says that Iran was alarmed at the possibility that the United States might engage in overt and covert efforts to instigate opposition inside Iran. He says that many in AIPAC, especially among its lay leadership and biggest donors, strongly backed regime change in Iran. “That was what Larry [Franklin] and his friends wanted,” he says. “It included lots of different parts, like broadcasts, giving money to groups that would conduct sabotage, it included bringing the Mojahedin[-e Khalgh], bringing them out of Iraq and letting them go back to Iran to carry out missions for the United States. Harold Rhode backed this…. There were all these guys, Michael Ledeen, ‘Next stop Tehran, next stop Damascus.’

Indeed, as shown in the AIPAC press release, Iran is now the target of similar sanctions and bellicose rhetoric similar to those that targeted Iraq in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Sanctioning Iran’s central bank and imposing a de facto oil embargo on Iranian oil exports would appear to be pages torn from the playbook before the invasion of Iraq.

If the current evidence that AIPAC is supporting an oil embargo isn’t convincing, consider Weissman’s comments on the oil industry’s support of AIPAC, and a boycott of Iranian oil, in the late 1990s:

Even Prince Bandar ibn Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, and Adel al-Jubeir — then the Saudi embassy spokesman and currently the ambassador — welcomed AIPAC’s work in helping to support the BTC pipeline and isolating Iran, its Persian Gulf rival, economically. Remembers Weissman:

“Prince Bandar used to send us messages. I used to meet with Adel al-Jubeir a couple times a year. Adel used to joke that if we could force an American embargo on Iranian oil, he’d buy us all Mercedes! Because Saudi [Arabia] would have had the excess capacity to make up for Iran at that time.”

It would appear that AIPAC is now using the same escalating measures against Iran that were used before the invasion of Iraq.


Given some misunderstandings about this post, we want to make clear that we are not reporting on whether AIPAC lobbied for the Iraq war.


Also as a matter of clarification, international sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, particularly those engineered by the Obama administration, are useful. And as the United Nations has documented, sanctions have succeeded in slowing Iran’s nuclear progress. However, as Obama administration officials have pointed out, the central bank sanctions that many have pushed are “a bad idea that could alienate foreign countries, make it more difficult to pressure Iran, and raise oil prices, which could actually help the Iranian economy.”

The Center for American Progress is very concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and supports sanctions as a means to ensure that it does not weaponize its nuclear material. The IAEA reported recently that Iran has engaged in work on its program that is “specific to nuclear weapons.” But as the run-up to the war in Iraq illustrated, it is important that journalists and policy makers don’t rush to judgments that aren’t backed up by facts.

The Obama administration cautions that the IAEA report “does not assert that Iran has resumed a full scale nuclear weapons program nor does it have a program [sic] about how advanced the programs really are.” Given Iran’s horrible record on human rights abuses and outright hostile and anti-Semitic rhetoric towards Israel, an Iran with nuclear weapons is very concerning and we support responsible measures to reduce that threat.