POLITICS

War With Iran Is Nothing To Worry About, Men Who Launched Iraq War Promise

2020 is the new 2003.
Left to right: Tom Friedman, Stephen Hadley, Marc Thiessen, Joe Lieberman, Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer and Paul Wolfowitz.
Left to right: Tom Friedman, Stephen Hadley, Marc Thiessen, Joe Lieberman, Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer and Paul Wolfowitz.

Over the past week, the American people have been glued to cable news broadcasts with blaring red chyrons warning of imminent military conflict in the Middle East. Trump administration officials have offered varying rationales for military action, none of them particularly credible. The human cost of this war, if it happens, could be devastating — which has put the international community and millions of Americans on edge. But people like Paul Wolfowitz and Ari Fleischer, wielding their large media megaphones, have assured the nation that everything will be fine — that it’s even possible people in the country we might attack will “celebrate” our efforts. 

It’s not 2003, but it sure feels like it. In a sane and just society, the architects of the nearly 17-year-old war in Iraq — which is still ongoing and has left an estimated half-million people dead — would face war crimes charges and those who cheered them on would be thoroughly discredited. Instead, they are the “experts” praising President Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate top Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani and offering the public insight on the way forward with Iran. 

Here is an incomplete list of people who were horribly wrong about Iraq but are convinced they are right about Iran: 

Bush Administration Officials

Paul Wolfowitz

2003: As deputy secretary of defense, Wolfowitz was one of the architects of the Iraq War. “If Rumsfeld is the face, mouth and strong right arm of the war in Iraq, Wolfowitz — the intellectual godfather of the war — is its heart and soul,” CNN reporter Mark Thompson wrote in December 2003, referring to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Iraqis “are going to welcome us as liberators,” Wolfowitz predicted ahead of the invasion. “The notion that we are going to earn more enemies by going in and getting rid of what every Arab knows is one of the worst tyrants — and they have many — governing them is just nonsense,” he said at the time. 

2020: Wolfowitz told Fox News that “a lot of people were saying we were being too mild” by not using military force against Iran sooner. “I think in hindsight we did it about right. And I think this was the time to do something rapid and bold,” he said of the Soleimani assassination. If Iran responds violently, that action might turn out to be part of a plan that Soleimani had cooked up before he was killed, Wolfowitz said in an effort to obscure U.S. responsibility for escalating violence. “It’s not like they’re necessarily responding to us,” he said.

The key priority, according to Wolfowitz, should be keeping U.S. troops in Iraq — even though members of Iraq’s parliament and the outgoing prime minister have called on American forces to leave. “It would be an enormous victory for Iran if they were able to see us leave,” Wolfowitz said.

Karl Rove

2003: As President George W. Bush’s senior adviser, Rove helped scare the public into supporting a preemptive war against Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein. He advised the Republican Party to politicize the war and try to convince people that Republicans were better than Democrats at protecting America, Newsweek reported

2020: Rove blasted Democrats for not being enthusiastic enough about military conflict with Iran. 

“They’ve gotta turn this into a complete political tribal moment and respond negatively and make the entire Democratic Party look weak,” Rove said on Fox News. “The Democrats are like San Francisco Democrats all over again in the mid-1980s. ‘Oh, we’re weak, we’re wringing our hands. Oh, terrible, woe is me, the president is taking actions that could put us at risk.’” 

Ari Fleischer

2003: As Bush’s press secretary, Fleischer played a key role in selling the Iraq War. Now out of government, he commemorates the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks each year with long Twitter threads detailing what it was like behind the scenes the day the Twin Towers fell. 

2020: He hopes Americans will come together and cheer the death of Soleimani like they did after the U.S. military killed Osama bin Laden, Fleischer said on Fox News. It is “entirely possible” that the U.S. assassination of a top Iranian military official could serve as a “catalyst” inside Iran, where people would “celebrate this killing of Soleimani and put pressure on the Iranian government to stop its terrorism, to stop supporting all the various terrorist movements it has around the world,” he said.

Marc Thiessen

2003: Thiessen was the chief speechwriter for Rumsfeld, who knew the Bush administration’s case for war wasn’t backed by intelligence but plowed ahead with invasion nonetheless. Thiessen went on to write a book defending the CIA’s torture program as necessary to save American lives ― a claim that contradicts the spy agency’s own internal memos, which document how torture failed to provide useful intelligence. 

2020: Now a columnist for The Washington Post, Thiessen argued that Trump had demonstrated “enormous restraint” but ultimately had to enforce a red line and kill Soleimani so that Iran would know Trump wasn’t weak. Thiessen contended that the assassination was “defensive, preemptive, and lawful,” an assertion based on the Trump administration’s claim that intelligence suggested Soleimani was plotting an imminent attack on U.S. targets. That intelligence was “razor thin,” U.S. officials told New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi.

Stephen Hadley

2003: As Bush’s deputy national security adviser, Hadley failed to remove references to a false intelligence report about Iraq’s nuclear ambitions from Bush’s State of the Union speech, despite receiving two memos and a phone call from then-CIA Director George Tenet objecting to the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium ore from Africa to build nuclear weapons. Hadley was promoted to national security adviser in 2005.

2020: Killing Soleimani “was a bold move with potentially far-reaching consequences. It unquestionably heightens the risk of war; it could also open the door to diplomacy,” Hadley wrote in The Washington Post. The Post did not mention that Hadley is a director at Raytheon, the defense contractor that built a targeting system used in the type of drone that killed Soleimani, as writer Adam Johnson noted on Twitter. 

John Yoo

2003: Yoo, the deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003, is best known for drafting the legal justification for torturing people suspected of having ties to terrorist groups. He also wrote a memo two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks stating that Bush could use military force against groups and individuals even if it was “difficult to establish … that [they] have been or may be implicated in attacks on the United States.”

2020: People who criticize the legality of Trump killing the top military commander of a country that the U.S. is not currently at war with “have the law wrong,” Yoo wrote in National Review. According to Yoo, the strike was legal because of a vaguely drafted war authorization passed by Congress in 2001 to go after the Sept. 11 plotters and another in 2002 to go after Saddam Hussein. Even if those authorizations had been repealed, the Constitution allows the president to use force to prevent a future attack, Yoo continued, apparently leaning on the “razor thin” evidence suggesting Soleimani was planning an imminent attack. 

War Cheerleaders

Ken Pollack

2003: Pollack, a former CIA analyst who worked at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, helped convince liberals to support the war. In September 2002 he published a book called “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.” It was “surely the most influential book of this season” and “provided intellectual cover for every liberal who finds himself inclining toward war but uneasy about Mr. Bush,” then-New York Times columnist Bill Keller wrote in a piece titled “The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club.”

In 2007, Matthew Yglesias, then a blogger for The Atlantic, wrote of the by-then-bitter feeling of having read Pollack’s book and become “convinced as a result that the United States needed to, well, invade Iraq in order to dismantle Saddam Hussein’s advanced nuclear weapons program (the one he didn’t actually have).”

2020: Pollack told New York Times reporters that assassinating Soleimani means that “Iraqi politicians will be less fearful of Iran and more willing to listen to the Americans.” The Iranians in Iraq, Pollack said, will be unsure of what to do next without their leader.

Pollack’s predictions didn’t hold up for long. Two days after the Times published its story, Iraq’s parliament voted to expel U.S. troops from the country. The resolution was backed by Shiite lawmakers while several Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers boycotted the parliamentary meeting. Two days after the vote, Iran launched missiles at bases in Iraq that house U.S. soldiers in retaliation for the Soleimani strike. 

Joe Lieberman

2003: Then-Democratic Sen. Lieberman was one of the lawmakers who voted to authorize the Iraq War and who steadfastly defended his position long after it became clear that the invasion was a mistake. “I think the world is a lot better off, notwithstanding all the problems in Iraq,” Lieberman told MSNBC in 2015 after the Islamic State took control of parts of that country. “I think the world is better off and the region is better off and the people of Iraq are better off.” 

2020: Assassinating Soleimani was “bold and unconventional,” Lieberman wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing Democrats for not sufficiently praising the move. Killing Soleimani won’t lead to more war, Lieberman argued. On the contrary, he wrote, it will show Iranian leaders (and also North Korea’s Kim Jong Un) “our willingness to kill” and give them “much to fear.” 

Barry McCaffrey

2003: McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and drug czar in the Clinton administration, was part of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a group that parroted Bush administration talking points and encouraged the public to support regime change. Days before the invasion, NBC’s Tom Brokaw asked him if he had any concerns about going to war. “Well, I don’t think I have any real serious ones,” McCaffrey said. 

2020: “The days ahead are going to be perilous because our only good response at this point is an overwhelming dominance of U.S. air and naval power that can be employed against the Iranian homeland,” McCaffrey said on MSNBC after the Iranian missile attacks on the U.S. bases in Iraq. “When that goes, we’re really into high-intensity warfare with the Iranians.” 

Tom Friedman

2003: The Iraq War was “unquestionably worth doing,” Friedman, a New York Times columnist, told talk show host Charlie Rose in a May 2003 interview. According to Friedman, there was a “terrorism bubble” in the 1990s that led to the Sept. 11 attacks. Saddam Hussein was not involved in those attacks, but that appears to have been irrelevant to Friedman.

“What we needed to do was to go over to that part of the world, I’m afraid, and burst that bubble,” Friedman told Rose. “We needed to go over there basically and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble. And there was only one way to do it. ... What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying, ‘Which part of this sentence don’t you understand? ... Well, suck on this.’”

2020: “One day they may name a street after President Trump in Tehran” for killing Soleimani, Friedman predicted in a New York Times column. He went on to admit that he had no idea what would happen next in the Middle East, but what he did know was that Mother Nature would punish the region with climate change for “celebrating self-promoting military frauds.”

Bret Stephens

2003: As editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, Stephens named Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz the newspaper’s 2003 “Man of the [Jewish] Year” for authoring the “doctrine of preemption, which framed the war in Iraq and which, when it comes to it, will underpin U.S. action against other rogue states.” In 2008, Stephens declared victory in Iraq and bragged about winning a $100 bet with political scientist Francis Fukuyama over whether Iraq would be a “mess” five years after the invasion.

2020: The problem with Trump’s Iran policy is that he didn’t use military action sooner, Stephens argued in a New York Times column. Going forward, the U.S. should show a willingness to negotiate over Iran’s “regional aggression and expanding nuclear program” in exchange for sanctions relief, Stephens advised, failing to mention that Trump had willfully tanked a similar agreement. The U.S. should also threaten “deliberately disproportionate retaliation to any Iranian aggression, no matter whether it’s carried out by Iran or its proxies, and no matter whether it aims at us or our allies,” Stephens concluded.

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