Hot ISOG Action

In all of the discussions about picking more fights with Iran, people should take another look at this “article”: published in the _Boston Globe_ a little while back.


For nearly a year, a select group of US officials has been quietly coordinating actions to counter the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, including increasing the military capabilities of Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.

The group, known as the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group, or ISOG, is also coordinating a host of other actions, which include covert assistance to Iranian dissidents and building international outrage toward Iran by publicizing its alleged role in a 1994 terrorist attack in Argentina, according to interviews with half a dozen White House, Pentagon, and State Department officials who are involved in the group’s work.

Pentagon officials involved with the group intend to ask Congress as early as February to increase funding for transfers of military hardware to allies in the Persian Gulf and to accelerate plans for joint military activities. The request, which is still being formulated, is expected to include but not be limited to more advanced-missile defense systems and early-warning radar to detect and prevent Iranian missile strikes.

For some reason, some people speculate that the ISOG might be involved in efforts to cause regime change in Iran:

The United States has repeatedly said its policy is not to overthrow the Iranian regime, but one former US official who attended a meeting during ISOG’s initial phase eight months ago said in an interview that he got the impression that regime change was a key goal of many of the meetings’ participants.

He said that some of the intelligence reports ordered by members of the group were so highly classified that they were accessible to less than a dozen people in the US government, suggesting that some of the group’s activities were far from routine.

But interviews with half a dozen current White House, Pentagon, and State Department officials indicated that ISOG’s aims are more modest. Several said that as much as they would like to see the regimes in Tehran and Damascus go, ongoing military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan have limited their range of options. The main goal now, they said, is Cold War style “containment” of Iran in the hopes that Iranians one day will opt to change their own government.

Part of the article’s description of ISOG’s composition and M.O. reminded me of “this post”: I wrote a few months ago, in which I referenced “this piece”: from Josh Marshall.

Josh wrote:

As you may know, Vice President Cheney’s daughter Elizabeth is the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. She also has the title of “Coordinator for Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiatives.” Basically that means she’s in charge of democratizing the Middle East.

She has a budget of, I believe $75 million, for bringing about ‘regime change’ in Iran.

I also noticed this recent aside in The Nelson Report in which Chris Nelson wrote that his sources “say [Undersecretary of State Nick] Burns has been fighting an apparently losing battle with Undersecretary for non-proliferation Bob Joseph on a variety of issues, and that Vice President Cheney’s office seems to be sponsoring the hiring of exceptionally large numbers of political appointees, not career FSO’s, to staff the to-be-created Iran democracy projects to be run out of State.”

Here’s the _Globe_ on the same subject:

ISOG was modeled after the Iraq Policy and Operations Group, set up in 2004 to shepherd information and coordinate US action in Iraq. ISOG has raised eyebrows within the State Department for hiring BearingPoint — the same Washington-based private contracting firm used by the Iraq group — to handle its administrative work, rather than State Department employees.

Some lower level State Department officials saw the decision to outsource responsibility for scheduling meetings, record keeping, and distributing reports as an effort to circumvent the normal diplomatic machinery and provide extra secrecy for the group.

The article also identifies those administration officials who comprise ISOG:

bq. ISOG is led by a steering committee with two leading hawks on Middle East policy as chairmen: James F. Jeffrey, prinicipal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, who once headed Iraq policy, and Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser for “Global Democracy Strategy.” Michael Doran, a Middle East specialist at the White House, steps in when Abrams is away. Elizabeth Cheney, the vice president’s daughter, who was the former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, served as cochairwoman before she took a maternity leave earlier this year.

I’ve heard a little bit about this stuff, but anyone who knows anything is more than free to pass on their wisdom.

FWIW, here’s what Mr. Jeffrey said a “couple of months ago:”:

bq. The U.S. is not seeking regime change, what we’re seeking is a change in behavior across the board and the path to seeking this change is multilateral action primarily in the U.N. with the — what we call the P-5+1, one being Germany, but also through international efforts such as that at the U.N. that produced 1701 for Lebanon and multilateral actions –interactions with the countries of the region on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and in several other fields. We have a variety of bilateral sanctions that we’re trying to gain more international support for to deter Iran for — and pursuing the path of nuclear weapons. And we also have a variety of steps that we’re taking with our friends and allies in the region to strengthen their defense against a growing Iranian military threat.

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