By Ali Gharib
It didn’t take long for the much remarked upon New York Times Magazine profile of Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes to reach a height that all probing news stories might aspire to: spurring Congressional hearings to investigate wrongdoing on the part of the government. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, but the witness list, as Mother Jones‘s David Corn points out, indicates that the intentions of the Republicans orchestrating the panel aren’t exactly part of “a serious, non-partisan, on-the-level project.”
The hearing, entitled “White House Narratives on the Iran Nuclear Deal,” is supposed to build on what has become the right-wing line on the Rhodes profile: that the Obama administration lied its way through selling the Iran nuclear deal to the public. It will do so with a witness list of the deal’s opponents.
Corn’s post holds up the irony of John Hannah‘s participation: Hannah was a senior Bush administration official — an aide to no less than Vice President Dick Cheney — who was deeply involved with selling the American public on going to war with Iraq in 2003. “So maybe Hannah does have experience in how a White House tries to create and promote a narrative,” Corn concludes. “But in his case, it was a false narrative.”
All well and true! But there’s so much more to the irony. Hannah, a top official at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has some relevant views on Iran, too. Corn writes that FDD opposed the Iran deal, but that isn’t quite right: the group doesn’t take organizational positions. However, one would be hard-pressed to find an FDD scholar, past or present, who supported the deal. And the group has been a home to some of the most vociferous proponents of attacking Iran. (Corn also says FDD is “neoconish”; the “-ish” seems totally unnecessary.)
For his part, though, Hannah has made his views on Iran abundantly clear: it’s not that the nuclear deal was a bad one, it’s that the deal shouldn’t have been made at all. Where would that leave US policy? Luckily for us, Hannah laid out his preferences in a January 2015 piece for Foreign Policy that bore the helpful headline “It’s Time to Pursue Regime Change in Iran.” Failing that, though, Hannah has a Plan B: he wants readers to know they’re all underestimating “the success that military action has enjoyed in keeping at bay the nuclear ambitions of some of the world’s worst states.” And a Plan C: if the US isn’t willing to attack Iran, at least we should pretend like we’re going to (never mind that pressure and pressure alone isn’t worth anything without a deal). And remember that these are Hannah’s views in January 2015, as diplomacy was gearing up for the signing of the Iran nuclear deal that summer — and all Hannah could think of was to shift to an extremely destructive course of action.
Nonetheless, the fun at this Congressional hearing won’t end with Hannah. There are four other witnesses. In addition to Rhodes himself, the Congressional committee will get to hear from:
- Michael Rubin, a neoconservative scholar at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute who has shied away from advocating a full-scale military attack, but has nonetheless suggested assassinating Iranian leaders and an American policy of regime change in Tehran.
- Michael Doran, a neoconservative scholar at the neoconservative Hudson Institute, whose (flawed) theory about Barack Obama’s secret intentions with the nuclear deal informed the Rhodes profile, and who has also called for a US policy of regime change in Tehran.
- Senator Tom Cotton, a protege of neoconservative don Bill Kirstol and the most aggressively hawkish member of the upper chamber who tried tried anything and everything to kill nuclear diplomacy with Iran. He hasn’t exactly called for war with Iran, but he has twicesuggested that going to war there would actually be no big deal at all. And one cannot, by this point, be surprised to learn that Cotton, too, has called for a US policy of regime change in Tehran.
In the Times Magazine profile, we learn this about how the administration pushed the Iran deal in public: “Framing the deal as a choice between peace and war was Rhodes’s go-to move — and proved to be a winning argument.” It was precisely this framing that so enraged many of the deal’s opponents, including many neocons from the same milieu that members of Congress will hear from tomorrow. Most of them insisted, like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that all they really wanted was a better deal. That’s a tough pill to swallow when you marshall a bunch of supposed experts on nuclear diplomacy with Iran and they, to a man (and they are all men), favor a much more hawkish course, either an official US policy of regime change or actually going to war.
In other words, this Hill hearing is going a long way towards proving that Ben Rhodes’s “framing” of the Iran deal as a choice between war and diplomacy might’ve been more than just framing. It might be the truth.