Last week, Barnett Rubin of New York University sparked a controversy by accusing hardliners in Dick Cheney’s office of giving right-leaning think tanks in Washington “instructions” to start a drumbeat for war with Iran. Among the think-tankers Rubin called out was Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer and Iran specialist, who wrote in this week’s Newsweek that diplomacy with Iran and other “moderate tactics” are doomed to failure. I asked Gerecht for a response to Rubin’s allegations, and he e-mails:
I like Rubin, but I have no idea of what he’s talking about. (And I see that George Packer at The New Yorker seems to be similarly “informed” and similarly convinced of his sanity.) Newsweek contacted me. Fareed Zakaria was on vacation/book leave. They wanted to know whether I wanted to write about Iran. I said sure. Actually, I almost said “no” since I was in the midst of an international move and had no time. FYI: I don’t know of a single instance of the VP’s
office trying to encourage commentary from AEI staff. Not once. I suspect the VP’s office knows that such forays would be highly unwise. The idea is offensive, and I think they know that, and would likely lead to considerable unpleasantness.
Imagine if Barack Obama won the presidency and his VP, Joe Biden, called you and George
Packer and suggested that you two write for them since all concerned were more or less on the same page. Even if you were in total agreement with Mr. Biden and wanted to advance “the cause,” I suspect you would find such a suggestion presumptuous, to say the least. And on a side note, I wouldn’t be so sure that the VP and his principals want to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. I’ve known a few folks from that office over the years, and I wouldn’t say that confidently. The press commentary pitting the “wise” and “professional” State Department against the “reckless” and “bellicose” VP office is, to put it politely, hyperventilated. One of the good things that might come from a Democratic victory in 2008 is that center-left/left-wing journalists, i.e., the vast majority of journalists, might actually know somebody well enough in the government to make this conspiratorial reflex less acute.
Meanwhile, in a blog post yesterday, Rubin took on Gerecht’s argument, and in one respect, he agrees: negotiations are likely to fail — provided that the Iranians believe the U.S.’s true objective is to topple the regime. He also blames U.S. hardliners for creating the conditions leading to the rise of Iranian hardline president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad:
In part thanks to them, we are now dealing not with the Iranian Gorbachev, but with the Iranian Putin, who is rather worse than the original. Nonetheless, the Iranian power structure still includes people with a range of views, from conservative realist to reformist, with whom it is possible to engage, if an agenda of regime change did not sabotage any efforts on their part. I meet with such people regularly. Certainly the Iranian democratic opposition has made clear its opposition to forcible regime change.