And they did not give it up until late 2005, according to a former high-level Foreign Service officer who participated in U.S. discussions with Iran from 2001 until late 2005.
Hillary Mann, who was the director for Persian Gulf and Afghanistan Affairs on the National Security Council (NSC) staff in 2003 and later on the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, told the Inter Press Service (IPS) in a recent interview that the key to neoconservative policy views on Iran until 2006 was the firm belief that one of the consequences of a successful display of U.S. military force in Iraq would be to shake the foundations of the Iranian regime.
That central belief was conveyed to conservative columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave of the Washington Times in April 2002 by prominent neoconservative figures who told him the Bush administration "had decided to redraw the geopolitical map of the Middle East," he wrote later.
Under the influence of this central myth, after the 9/11 attacks, some of Cheney's allies in the Pentagon conceived the objective of removing every regime in the Middle East that was hostile to the United States and Israel.
The plan would start with the invasion of Iraq, and then target Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan, according to an account in Clark's 2003 book, Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire. The memo indicated the plan was to "come back and get Iran in five years."
But contrary to the popular notion that the neoconservatives believed that "real men go to Tehran," no one was yet proposing that Iran should be the military target.
In a 1999 book, Wurmser had laid out a plan for using the Iraqi Shi'ite majority and their conservative clerics as U.S. allies in the "regional rollback of Shi'ite fundamentalism" – meaning the Islamic regime in Iran.
In a September 2007 interview with the Telegraph, a few months after he had left Cheney's office, Wurmser confirmed his belief that regime change in Syria – by force, if necessary – would directly affect the stability of the Tehran regime. If Iran were seen to be unable to do anything to prevent the overthrow of the regime in Syria, he suggested, it would seriously undermine the Islamic regime's prestige at home.
The neoconservatives had long viewed the Iranian reformists, led by President Mohammed Khatami, as the primary obstacle to the popular revolution against the mullahs for which they were working. As French Iran specialist Frédéric Tellier noted in an early 2006 essay, they believed the electoral defeats of the reformists in 2003 and 2004 would also help open the way to a revolutionary political upheaval in Tehran.
Mann observes that the neoconservatives had never foresworn the use of force against Iran, but they had argued that less force would be needed in Iran than had been used in Iraq. By early 2006, however, that assumption was being discarded by prominent neoconservatives.
Within the administration, meanwhile, Wurmser was looking for the opportunity to propose a military option against Iran. In his September 2007 interview with the Telegraph, he insisted that the United States must be willing to "escalate as far as we need to go to topple the [Iranian] regime if necessary."
Neoconservatives aligned with Cheney argued that Iran was now threatening U.S. dominant position in the region through its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestinian territory, as well as with its nuclear program. They insisted the administration had to push back by targeting Iran's Quds Force personnel in Iraq, increasing naval presence in the Gulf, and accusing Iran of supporting the killing of U.S. troops.
Although the ostensible rationale was to pressure Iran to back down on the nuclear issue, in light of the previous views, it appears that they were hoping to use military power against Iran to accomplish their original goal of regime change'.