WASHINGTON — Jerome R. Corsi, a leader of the Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth campaign against former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry, is hard at work on his next political project: preparing American public opinion for what he sees as a likely war with Iran.
"The world cannot tolerate the potential that these mad mullahs would have a deliverable nuclear weapon, even one, secretly developed," Corsi said in a recent interview. "They might just launch on Tel Aviv. The moment the world intelligence community becomes convinced that could happen, either the U.S. alone or the U.S. plus Israel or Israel alone will seriously contemplate a preemptive strike, and I'd be in favor of it."
Corsi's credits include a doctorate in political science from Harvard University and more than 10 books. He was not a Swift Boat veteran himself, but rose to fame as coauthor of the bestselling book "Unfit for Command -- Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry." The group was accused of distorting the facts of Kerry's Vietnam War record, but their campaign was nevertheless seen as damaging to Kerry's candidacy.
The group also raised millions of dollars for television ads attacking Kerry, although the Bush campaign insisted that the group was not acting on the president's behalf.
Corsi, who believes a U.S.-Iran war could occur as soon as March, said his Iran campaign is an independent mission, with no backing from either the White House or from the Swift Boat veterans group. His forthcoming book on Iran's nuclear program, due out in 2005, is funded by an advance from publisher Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative website WorldNetDaily.com.
Corsi said he had not discussed his views on Iran with Bush administration officials, though he said he would not rule out doing so.
Corsi plans a tour to promote his Iran book and can expect a large audience on talk-radio shows and other media.
"We'll devise a strategy to bring the manuscript to the media; we'll have websites to be developed," Corsi said. "I see a similar movement building to the one built around the Swift Boats. I think there's a similar large reservoir of sentiment among the nearly 900,000 Iranians living in America that a regime change in Iran is necessary to bring freedom to Iran."
Corsi is an advisor to the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran, run by Texas-based Iranian exile Aryo Pirouznia.
It is unclear whether Corsi's credibility on the Iran issue will be affected by revelations that he had posted anti-Muslim slurs on another conservative website, called freerepublic.com. Corsi said he had since repudiated and apologized for those comments.
Corsi is perhaps the most colorful of the many conservatives who are beginning to thunder against Iran. At the moment, U.S. officials and analysts say the Bush administration does not appear to be encouraging them. From a diplomatic point of view, it may be convenient for the administration to have outside groups rallying U.S. public sentiment against Iran.
The administration faces a dilemma: It cannot threaten strikes against Tehran for what U.S. officials say is Iran's refusal to end its nuclear programs without endangering Washington's already difficult relationship with the European nations doing the diplomatic heavy-lifting.
At the same time, policymakers worry that Tehran has little incentive to compromise without a credible U.S. military threat.
"It would be useful to have some military prospect out there that requires some Iranian decision-maker to say, 'Fellas, maybe they won't let us go all the way, so maybe we better negotiate a solution that gives us some benefits,' " said George Perkovich, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "If I'm in the U.S. government, I'm trying to create the impression that there's a military solution, but that's difficult because it's not clear that there is."