Stay Calm and Keep Bombing

defense-largeSecretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. Cliff Owen/ AP

27 June 2017 | Paul R. Pillar/ Greg Thielmann | Defense One

The headline was: Cherry Picking Intelligence For War in the Middle East? Here We Go Again. The subheadline was: Will Trump follow Bush and start a war with Iran? Except it is not Trump alone threatening to start a war. If there is one it will be allowed to happen by the same people, media and corporations who looked the other way when Bush started the war with Iraq. JP

The ingredients are in place for the United States to repeat a scenario that has cost us dearly in the past: the misuse of intelligence to muster public support for an unwise war.

Fifteen years ago, Bush administration officials led the nation to invade Iraq based on their own political agenda more than facts. This time the adversary would be Iran,  the target of unrelenting hostility from the Trump administration.

Donald Trump’s presidency has quickly become one of the most deeply troubled and unpopular ones in American history. Although Trump led voters to believe during the campaign that he did not want a new Middle East war, foreign wars have long been a favorite way of diverting attention from domestic troubles and reviving popular support.

The administration has refused to build constructively on the Iran deal in addressing other regional problems. It’s an agreement Trump says he reviles even though it significantly restricts Iran’s nuclear program. Trump officials only grudgingly have admitted that Iran is complying with that accord. More recently, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is speaking openly of regime change as a U.S. objective in Iran, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis long has spoken of Iran as if it were the root of all problems in the Middle East.

The enormous blunder of invading Iraq in 2003 offers valuable lessons of how intelligence is apt to be misused in such a situation. The promoters of that war portrayed their action as based on intelligence, but it was not. Iraq had been on the neoconservative hit list for years.

President George W. Bush issued orders to prepare to invade Iraq, and Vice President Dick Cheney was publicly declaring that there was “no doubt” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of destruction before the intelligence community had even begun work on what would become an infamous intelligence estimate about Iraqi weapons programs.

As then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz later admitted, the weapons topic was not a prime mover of the war but merely was, for bureaucratic reasons, “the one issue that everyone could agree on.”

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