Press Releases

News Analysis: U.S. Attack on Iran May Be in the Cards By WILLIAM O. BEEMAN Pacific News Service

Tuesday June 28, 2005

TEHRAN, Iran—The United States may still attack Iran, and for all the wrong reasons. 

Two recent analyses, both appearing a day before Iranians elected former Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency on June 23, reveal how this may happen and what the logic behind such an attack may be. 

The first analysis, by former United Nations nuclear arms inspector Scott Ritter and distributed through the Al Jazeera Web site, claims that the U.S. assault on Iran has already begun. Ritter asserts that the terrorist organization, the Mujaheddin-e Khalg (known as the MEK or MKO in the West) is operating as a strike force under CIA direction, and that the United States is preparing to stage military attacks with U.S. troops from the neighboring Republic of Azerbaijan. 

The second analysis appears in the Boston Globe. Ray Takeyh, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, claims that the “counter reform” movement that led to Ahmadinejad’s victory at the polls is entirely the doing of Iranian chief jurisprudent Ali Khamene’i. Takeyh’s analysis echoes an infamous paper issued by the Committee on the Present Danger—an organization of ex-Cold Warriors that has retooled itself as an anti-terrorist organization. That report, issued Dec. 20, 2004, was entitled “Iran: A New Approach,” and was authored by Mark Palmer and George Schultz. Its main point was to paint Khamene’i as a Saddam-style dictator. 

Both of these analyses have inherent flaws, but taken together they spell something quite ominous. Ritter’s pronouncement that the attack is already underway seems premature, despite the fact that Seymour Hersh predicted that it would happen about now in “The Coming Wars” in the New Yorker on Jan. 24 and 31 of this year. But he does appear to be reporting on movement that significant elements in the Bush administration favor, and for which they may have laid the groundwork. 

There are a lot of random facts that lend credence to Ritter’s claims. Last year, there were fake elections in Azerbaijan. The ex-dictator of that country, octogenarian Haidar Aliev was rumored to have died two months before the election. The installation of his unqualified ne’er-do-well son, Ilham, to applause from the Bush administration allowed the completion of an oil pipeline from the Caspian region across former Soviet Georgia to Turkey, bypassing Iran.  

Additionally, there have been continued contacts between Iranian Azerbaijani separatist Mahmudali Chehregani and the Bush administration. Moreover, there are apparently real plans for the Bush administration to establish a military base in the Republic of Azerbaijan, the better to stage the kind of attack on Iran about which Ritter is writing.  

There is continued administration contact and support for the MEK, and support from a number of U.S. senators and congresspeople. Ritter’s scenario begins to look probable, if not real.  

However, Takeyh’s piece (along with the paper from the Committee on the Present Danger) is the more dangerous of the two analyses, because of its attribution of a genuine social movement to a single person. This makes it tempting for administration hawks in possession of limited intelligence (of all sorts), and who are susceptible to the avalanche of neoconservative blather on Iranian politics to think that toppling Khamene’i will bring the whole Islamic Republic down like a house of cards. This is truly dangerous thinking, and it is blatantly not in the long-term interests of the United States or Iran for the U.S. government to act upon such a flawed assumption. 

The election results took almost all Iranian analysts by surprise. However, this development should not have been unforeseen. 

Iran is still engaged with internal revolutionary dialog. The original Revolution of 1978-79 was a drive for purification of the Iranian soul as much as anything else. This need for spiritual and moral purity was the element that engaged the middle and upper classes in the end, encouraging them to oust the shah against their own economic interests.  

The pull of the spiritual is obviously still strong in Iran, and Ahmadinejad has been able to embody this successfully in his image of simplicity, humility and spirituality. He further combines his image with an economic message that promises that the fruits of the revolution—namely the elevation of the mostazefin (downtrodden)—can still be achieved.  

Ahmadinejad’s persona and his message are clearly irresistible to people who see the original ideals of the revolution slipping away through the increasingly Westernized behavior and sensibilities of the salons and boutiques of North Tehran. In short, the social forces that brought Ahmadinejad to the presidency are real, broad and clearly very powerful. Any American move to attack Iran, or to try to achieve regime change through the narrow measure of trying to topple Khamene’i or any limited group of individuals will fail. The Iranian public supporting Ahmadinejad and what he represents will reject any replacement for the current government, and the rest of the Iranian population will consider anything initiated by the United States to be tainted.  

The day when Washington will finally try to understand Iran on its own terms may come. But the world may have to wait for a very long time for this to take place.  


William O. Beeman observed the Iranian presidential elections from Tehran. He is professor of anthropology and director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. His forthcoming book is The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other (Praeger).