Policy groups press for Iran diplomacy

Tactics used to justify Iraq War fuel paranoia of the same thing in Iran - even though action is uncertain

Tactics used to justify Iraq War fuel paranoia of the same thing in Iran - even though action is uncertain

Effective PR techniques mixed with outright lies were used to sell the American public on the US military-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, or so claim many critics of the Iraq War. In 2007, the critics now wonder if those same techniques could again be marshaled to build a case for another war, this time in Iran.

Certainly, Iran looks like a bad actor. The country has been accused of abetting attacks on US forces in Iraq, developing nuclear weapons, and other nefarious activities that the Iranian government denies. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called the Holocaust a myth and said Israel should be "wiped off the map."

And media outlets, such as Vanity Fair, which recently published an article called "From the Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Iraq," and Rolling Stone, which had an article on "Iran: The Next War," argue that the same Bush administration members and neoconservative think tank scholars who pushed for the Iraq War are now gung ho about fighting Iran.

But while US, UK, and United Nations relations with Iran are at a very serious juncture - at press time, Iran was holding several British service members captive for allegedly violating Iranian waters - public policy experts say there is not necessarily a conspiracy afoot to promote another war in the Middle East.

At a recent panel on Iran, held by nonprofit RAND Corp., not one member of the panel, which included representatives from The Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, and the New America Foundation, contended that use of force against Iran was "imminent or desirable."

"There are always a lot of different groups with a lot of different solutions and a lot of different proposals. That's hardly a new development," says Clifford May, president of the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

May argues that Iran's governing regime is undeniably dangerous, but notes there are a variety of opinions about what action to take, from doing nothing to supporting Iranian revolutionaries to economic sanctions, blockades, and targeted air strikes.

When weighing the communications of all the various think tanks, dissident groups, and other sources of information on Iran or any other public policy issue, May says good policymakers and their staffs are persuaded by ideas rather than influenced by individuals - an important distinction.

"My boss influences me. Good columnists, such as Charles Krauthammer, persuade me," May says. "I can persuade you through sound argumentation. I can influence you with a baseball bat."

Even Iranian exile groups don't necessarily advocate war. Roozbeh Farahanipour, chairman of a Los Angeles-based Iranian exile group called Marze Por Gohar Party ("Iranians for a Secular Republic"), said an attack against Iran would, rather than erode support for the current regime, rally Iranians to the government.

"We come to Washington bimonthly [or] monthly to meet with officials, and we speak with the international media, [but] the only thing we're looking for is to make the revolution inside Iran a national revolution and topple the regime to create a secular republic," Farahanipour says of his group's outreach efforts.

Dr. Charles Fairbanks, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, argues that little evidence exists of any appetite for war with Iran among the Bush administration or advocates of the Iraq War.

"We're on the verge of losing in Iraq... and the Army is stretched terribly thin," Fairbanks says. "A suspicion of what some people in the administration would like to do is perfectly reasonable, but if you can't do it, you can't do it. [Such speculation] is interesting - it shows how the polarization over the Iraq War creates paranoia about the government's actions."

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