Iran Hawks Are The New Iraq Hawks – opinion

Iran Hawks Are The New Iraq Hawks

Many Assumptions That Guided America’s March to Conflict in 2003 Still Dominate Today 

Peter Beinart | The Atlantic

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 informed the United Nations Security Council that some of the material he was about to present came from “people who have risked their lives to let the world know what Saddam Hussein is really up to.” He went on to play a secretly recorded conversation of two Iraqi officials supposedly plotting to mislead weapons inspectors.      

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 is uncanny. In both cases, American leaders feared that a long-time 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.
In both cases, two leaders of that effort were John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Obviously, there are differences between then and now. In 2003, the United States government wanted war. Today, it wants to undo a diplomatic agreement. In 2003, the Israeli government – as opposed to Netanyahu, who was then a private citizen – was wary of America’s confrontational policy.

Today, the Israeli government is aggressively lobbying for it. But while history is not repeating itself, it is rhyming in remarkable ways. 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 and menacing his neighbors. The sanctions regime was fraying. Inspectors had left Iraq in 1998 after Saddam restricted their access.

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.

“Saddam,” he warned in August, “has perfected the game of cheat and retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions.” Netanyahu, no longer in government after having lost his bid for re-election 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, Netanyahu 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.”

But under pressure from British Prime Minister Tony Blair to seek United Nations support, Bush in November procured a Security Council resolution demanding that Iraq allow “immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access” to international weapons inspectors or face “serious consequences.” And late that month, two groups of inspectors — one from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which focused on Saddam’s nuclear program, and another, called UNMOVIC, which focused on his chemical and biological programs — returned to Iraq.

What followed was an extraordinary diplomatic drama. Germany and France tried to help the inspectors verify whether Saddam was pursuing 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. The IAEA said it had conducted 68 inspections. UNMOVIC reported that it had visited 44 sites. But the Bush administration, which had begun deploying troops and weaponry to the Persian Gulf, was already getting impatient. The inspectors’ second report was due on January 27.

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. If they’re not able to do that by the 27th, then we’ll have to take that into account.”

In other words, if inspectors don’t find the WMD by January 27th, they will have proved themselves useless. Privately, Bush was blunter: “The inspections are not getting us there.”

On January 27, Hans Blix — the Swedish diplomat who led UNMOVIC — reported that his inspectors had visited more than 230 sites and should be able to verify Iraq’s disarmament “within a reasonable time.” Mohamed ElBaradei — the Egyptian official who led the IAEA — said his inspectors had visited 109 sites. “We have 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.”

Irate, Bush told Powell — the most internationally esteemed member of his national-security team — to publicly undermine the inspectors’ reports and prove that Saddam was still pursuing WMD. But even after Powell’s dramatic, 75-minute UN speech, the inspectors and their European defenders held firm. 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 and access was almost always provided promptly.” Blix explained. ElBaradei reiterated that, “We have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear-related activities in Iraq.” On March 5, Germany, France, and Russia issued a joint statement declaring that they “resolutely support Messrs Blix and El Baradei” and “observe that these inspections are producing increasingly encouraging results.”

Bush had had enough. On March 17, in a primetime speech, he 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.

In his memoir, ElBaradei accuses Bolton, who had “consistently worked behind the scenes to discredit the IAEA,” of having “launched a campaign to block my reappointment.” But by late 2004, the focus of Bolton’s ire had changed. He was no longer attacking ElBaradei and the IAEA for ignoring Baghdad’s nuclear ambitions. He was attacking them for ignoring Tehran’s. Bolton declared in 2007, after leaving the Bush administration, ElBaradei was “an apologist for Iran.”

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.

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.

I’m not suggesting that political talk shows only book politicians and pundits whose past predictions have been proven right.Since I myself supported the Iraq War, I would fail that test myself. I am suggesting that they ask politicians and pundits to reflect on what they’ve learned. If they merely did that, Bolton and Netanyahu’s current arguments about Iran would sound very different than they do now.

It would be comforting to believe that those arguments, which once helped lead to tragedy, are returning merely as farce. But they are 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 is AMNESIA. And Americans need a strategy to remedy that affliction.

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Comments

  • MCORPS  On May 14, 2018 at 11:33 am

    Concerning with Israel, their is NO ZERO secret, Israel PM, used their very own Nuclear Plants to stay of Iran have some form of Secret; If they get chance, Saudi Arabia, is going to be next. Zionist, killed most of the European jews, and they BLAMED it on the Nazis…

  • kamtanblog  On May 14, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    My suspicion is USA will not invade Iran but will certainly support Israel
    bombing it into submission.
    An invasion will isolate both USA and Israel on the world scene …
    With both Russia and China condemning Israeli action.

    We shall see ..but the Mid East is now
    very much a war zone.

  • Clyde Duncan  On May 14, 2018 at 5:58 pm

    Friends Without Benefits: How Europe Was Wrong-footed by Trump Over Iran

    World leaders thought they gained traction in a last-minute bid to salvage the Iran deal, but Trump’s radicalism persisted

    Julian Borger | The Guardian UK

    It was clear within the first few minutes of Emmanuel Macron’s White House meeting with Donald Trump that there was little hope of saving the Iran nuclear deal, when the USA president declared he was ready to impose the “worst ever” sanctions on Tehran.

    Macron was well aware how hostile Trump was to the 2015 Iran agreement, the flagship achievement of his predecessor Barack Obama, but Trump had been so friendly and welcoming to his French guest, the first official state visitor of the administration, that Macron thought he might have some leverage.

    He was just the latest ally to discover Europe had little – if any – sway on this president.

    “Do you want a war?” Macron asked Trump, astonished.

    Accounts from diplomats and officials of the last few desperate weeks of the European bid to salvage the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reveal how Trump’s radicalism constantly took other world leaders by surprise.

    Each time the Europeans thought they had gained traction in negotiations, it turned out to be an illusion.

    The UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, flew into Washington on 6 May 2018, bullish that an agreement to save the JCPOA was still within reach. His spirits were raised by the fact he had managed to get a meeting with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, whose presence had been in doubt – hours after meeting Johnson, Pompeo made a secret trip to Pyongyang.

    According to diplomats, Pompeo thought he had won from Trump an extra two weeks in negotiating time with the Europeans. But in meetings with the secretary of state, the national security adviser, John Bolton, and Vice-President Mike Pence, it was clear Johnson was too late.

    A decision had been made and USA officials had little interest in his ideas.

    “By the time he left, he was pretty furious he had made a trip for nothing,” said an official familiar with the USA-UK meetings.

    The officials they were talking to had little influence on Trump and could only guess at his plans. Even Bolton, Trump’s newest hire, was taken by surprise by Trump’s tweeted revelation last Monday that he would announce his decision on the JCPOA the following day.

    He was informed by an European official who saw the tweet while they were having a phone conversation, in which Bolton was supposed to be the one imparting information about USA plans.

    Worse still for the transatlantic relations, US officials have told their counterparts that, in the wake of Trump’s decisive breach with the JCPOA last Tuesday, there would be no exemptions for European companies in the coming wave of sanctions against anyone who continues to do business with Iran.

    A European diplomat said: “The generic answer given by Bolton was we want the sanctions to hurt, so we are not going to exempt anyone from sanctions.”

    Furthermore, the USA shows no sign of making an exception for Europe when the administration imposes steel and aluminium tariffs due to take effect on 1 June, making a trade war a virtual inevitability.

    France, the UK and Germany – the European parties to the JPCOA – had spent months negotiating with USA diplomats, in the hope of saving the agreement.

    After painstaking to-and-fro talks, the Europeans thought they were close to a compromise text with the Americans, at least on missiles and regional issues.

    But Trump gave the impression during his 24 April meeting with Macron that he was not even aware those negotiations had been taking place.

    It was also clear that even after years of campaigning against the Iran Treaty, the USA president did not know what was in it.

    Trump told Macron he thought his policy of “maximum pressure” had forced Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table ready to make concessions, and that the same approach would work on Iran. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has told European officials the same thing.

    “They call it the North Korean scenario. You squeeze the Iranians and they will do the same as Kim Jong-un. They will surrender in front of the American power,” a European diplomat said.

    However, USA officials have not explained to their European counterparts how, even if they scare western companies out of Iran, they intend to stop big purchasers of Iranian oil, like China, India and Malaysia, to join a new boycott after Washington had violated the JCPOA.

    “We were told that with what happened at the NSC [national security council], with the change of people, they have not had time to prepare the plan B,” a European diplomat said.

    The absence of a plan became evident in a phone conversation over the weekend between Pompeo and European foreign ministers, in which the USA secretary of state asked his counterparts: “How do you see the future?”

    The European response, summed up by one diplomat, was: “You broke this. What’s YOUR plan?”

    • kamtanblog  On May 14, 2018 at 6:33 pm

      Nice one
      Is there a plan B now that plan A has failed to resolve the issues.
      Peace was brokered during Obama reign now war is to be waged by POTUS using Israel to do the dirty…
      Bombing Iran into submission.
      Result “Syria” mk2

      Won’t surprise me if Russia does not
      assist Iran in developing its nuclear capability. The Arabs and Jews can wipe each other off the map.
      Shameful and disgraceful
      USA will be even more isolated
      if it supports/endorses Israel bombing Iran . More loss of lives ..no winners or loosers.

      Kamtan

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