|Trump and war monger John Bolton who was 100% wrong on Iraq.|
Two things that always strike me about America's governance are (i) a constant refusal to learn from other nations, and (ii) a refusal to learn from past catastrophic mistakes. In many ways the Iraq disaster occurred due to a failure to have learned from what should have been the lessons of Vietnam. Now, the same false assumptions that took America to war in Iraq based on lies are being repeated - in many cases by some of the very same players - with respect to Iran. Among the frightening aspects of what we are seeing is that those who very so very wrong in the lead up to disaster in Iraq are seemingly not going to be challenged about their past mistakes and failures. Mistakes and failures that cost American taxpayers over $1 trillion and lead to the deaths of thousands of American military members. And that doesn't even consider the tens of thousands of Iraqis who lost their lives due to an unjustified and horrendously executed war. A long piece in The Atlantic looks at the disturbing reprise of the lead up to the Iraq fiasco. Here are highlights:
Last week, while watching Benjamin Netanyahu unveil secret information that supposedly proved that Iran is deceiving the world about its nuclear-weapons program, I had a flashback. It was to February 5, 2003, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell unveiled secret information that supposedly proved that Iraq was deceiving the world about its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. Like Netanyahu’s, Powell’s presentation was dramatic. . . . He later presented a photo of bunkers that allegedly held “active chemical munitions” but were “clean when the inspectors get there.” Saddam, Powell insisted, wants “to give those [of] us on this Council the false impression that the inspection process was working.” Powell’s presentation was designed to prove that it was not.The parallels between that moment and this one are uncanny. In both cases, American leaders feared that a longtime Middle Eastern adversary was breaking free of the fetters that had previously restrained it. In both cases, American leaders pursued a more confrontational policy, which they buttressed with frightening statements about the regime’s nuclear program. In both cases, international inspectors contradicted those alarmist claims. In both cases, America’s European allies defended the inspectors and warned of the chaos America’s confrontational policy might bring. In both cases, hawks in America and Israel responded by trying to discredit the inspection regime. And in both cases, two leaders of that effort were John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Which raises a disturbing question: How is it possible—15 years after the launch of one the greatest catastrophes in American history—that so many of the assumptions that guided America’s march to war in Iraq still dominate American foreign policy today?
Answering that question requires remembering the history that Netanyahu, Bolton, and their political and journalistic allies would likely prefer that Americans forget. Powell’s presentation constituted a key moment in the struggle between the Bush administration and international weapons inspectors. . . . President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had taken office convinced that Saddam Hussein—who had spent most of the 1990s subjected to international sanctions and weapons inspections—was breaking free of the constraints that kept him from rebuilding his weapons programs . . . The answer, they concluded, was regime change.
Empowered by the belligerent public mood following 9/11, and America’s apparent success in toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Bush administration in 2002 turned to that goal. Cheney worried that sending weapons inspectors back into Iraq would complicate the path to war. . . . Netanyahu, no longer in government after having lost his bid for reelection as Israeli prime minister, agreed. “It is not very difficult,” he testified to Congress that September, “to deceive inspectors.” In a Wall Street Journal op-ed later that month, he warned that because Saddam had constructed “centrifuges the size of washing machines … even free and unfettered inspections will not uncover these portable manufacturing sites of mass death.”
Germany and France tried to help the inspectors verify whether Saddam was pursing weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration, eager for war, insisted they could not.
On December 21, the inspectors issued their first report. While criticizing Saddam for not being more transparent about his past activities, they claimed to be making progress. . . . . On January 9, John Bolton—a Cheney ally who before joining the Bush administration had attacked the “discredited idea that U.N. weapons inspectors can eliminate Iraq’s ability to produce weapons of mass destruction”— declared that “There’s no doubt if [the inspectors] had enough people in Iraq, if they had enough facilities, that they would find the hidden weapons of mass-destruction production facilities and dual-use items that Iraqis still possess.
On January 27, Hans Blix—the Swedish diplomat who led UNMOVIC—reported that his inspectors had visited more than 230 sites and . . . . to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear-weapons programme,” he declared, and promised that “we should be able within the next few months to provide credible assurance that Iraq has no nuclear-weapons programme.”
In his next report, on February 14, Blix rebutted Powell’s claim that Iraq was moving its WMD before inspectors arrived. “All inspections were performed without notice,” he explained, “and access was almost always provided promptly.” ElBaradei reiterated that, “We have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear-related activities in Iraq.”
On March 17, in a primetime speech, he [Bush] told the American people that the inspectors had been “systematically deceived.” American intelligence, he insisted, “leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” Two days later, America invaded Iraq.
There’s a postscript to this story. In late 2004, a year and a half after the Iraq War began, ElBaradei—who would soon win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work leading the IAEA—learned that the Bush administration was trying to deny him a third term as head of the Agency. In its effort to find incriminating information, the United States even tapped ElBaradei’s phone. The effort’s ringleader: John Bolton.
Fast forward 11 years. Bolton is back in government as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser. Netanyahu is again Israel’s prime minister. And they are making the same arguments about the futility of the international inspections regime in Iran that they once made about the futility of the international inspections regime in Iraq.
Their argument begins, once again, with the claim that a fearsome adversary is breaking free of the constraints that previously held it in check. In the run-up to the Iraq War, Bolton warned that because of weakening international sanctions and a feckless Clinton administration, Saddam “represents a serious and growing security threat.”
Bolton last year claimed that, “Tehran is trying to cement an arc of control from its own territory, through Baghdad-controlled Iraq and Mr. Assad’s Syria, to Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon.” The irony, which neither Netanyahu nor Bolton acknowledge, is that Iran’s growing regional strength stems in large measure from the Iraq War they championed, which turned Iraq from a bulwark against Iranian power into a close Iranian ally.
As with Iraq, Bolton and Netanyahu want the United States to meet this supposedly growing threat with a more confrontational policy. Key to that policy shift is withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal, which would leave the U.S. free to reimpose sanctions, and perhaps, as Bolton has suggested, even bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
And, as with Iraq, it’s easier for Bolton and Netanyahu to achieve that goal if they discredit the current system of international inspections.
Netanyahu and Bolton’s problem, as with Iraq, is that the inspectors don’t think they’re being cheated. ElBaradei’s successor as director general of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, has said his organization “now has the world’s most robust verification regime in place in Iran.” The IAEA has certified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal nine times. And, as in 2003, key European governments are defending the inspectors.
Just as the Bush administration could not prove that Iraq was still pursuing a nuclear-weapons program in 2003, the Netanyahu and Trump administrations cannot prove that Iran is pursuing one today. So, like the Bush administration, they keep shading the truth. . . . Bolton has repeatedly declared—despite the IAEA’s findings and without proof—that Iran is still actively seeking nuclear weapons.
How is this possible? How is it possible that Trump—who during the presidential campaign boasted about his supposed opposition to the Iraq War—has now embraced an outlook so similar to the one that guided Bush in 2002 and 2003? How can Bolton and Netanyahu remain unrepentant about their role in promoting war with Iraq and yet be taken seriously when they make similar arguments about the supposed nuclear threat from Iran? Why can’t America learn from its recent past?
Part of the explanation is partisanship. . . . Since many Republicans won’t even admit the Iraq war was wrong, it’s hard to apply its lessons to the current debate over Iran. It’s particularly hard since doing so would mean admitting not only that Bush was wrong in waging war with Iraq but that Obama was right in striking a deal with Iran.
The second reason Bolton and Netanyahu can so easily recycle the arguments they made about Iraq in the current debate about Iran is the influence of pro-Israel sentiment in American foreign-policy debate.
The third reason for America’s inability to apply the lessons of Iraq to the current debate over Iran is the media, especially television. It’s rare to see non-Americans on political talk shows. That matters because non-Americans overwhelmingly think pulling out of the Iran deal is nuts. And non-Americans are more likely to raise fundamental questions about American nuclear policy—like why America isn’t pushing for inspections of Israel’s nuclear program, and why America keeps demanding that other nations denuclearize while building ever more nuclear weapons of its own.
Television interview shows also focus obsessively on the news of the moment. When Bolton or Netanyahu go on a Sunday show to peddle their current views on Iran, they can be confident they won’t be questioned much about their past views on Iraq. Thus, viewers hear arguments that sound reasonable in isolation without realizing that they’ve already proved disastrous in practice.
Be very, very afraid.It would be comforting to believe that those arguments, which once helped lead to tragedy, are returning merely as farce. But they’re not. Withdrawing from the nuclear deal could easily put the United States or Israel, or both, on the path to war with Iran. As long as John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu retain their current influence, another Middle Eastern war is entirely possible. Where it might lead is anyone’s guess. The greatest current threat to American national security is not Iran, North Korea, or ISIS. It’s amnesia. And Americans need a strategy to fight it.