For Washington’s neo-cons, the battle to shape U.S. policy towards Iran is a crucial test of their dwindling influence. They played a decisive role in persuading the United States to make war on Iraq. They clamoured for the destruction of the Hamas government in the Palestinian territories. They gave fervent support to Israel’s war on Hizbullah, relentlessly portrayed as a terrorist movement and as the armed outpost of Iran.
But the neo-cons have lost ground in Washington. The war in Iraq has turned into a strategic catastrophe, with another disaster looming in Afghanistan. Anti-Americanism in the Arab and Muslim world is at record levels. Leading neo-cons like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Lewis Libby have left the Administration. For the remaining neo-cons — and their standard-bearer, William Kristol editor of The Weekly Standard, losing the argument over Iran could be a terminal blow.
Their ultimate nightmare is that the United States may have to come to rely on Iran to help stabilise the dangerously chaotic situation in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The visit to Tehran this week of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is, from their point of view, a ghastly pointer in that direction.