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Pundits who supported Iraq war should come forward now, in order to stop Iran conflict

Media Analysis

This is a moment of crisis in the Middle East. The USS Abraham Lincoln is steaming toward the Gulf, and there’s a clear impetus for war from an unhinged and empowered segment of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. While many have voiced opposition to the war footing, the opposition is not well-organized, and the media are being too passive. It’s going to take more than one Washington Post editorial to stop this madness, but the Post has had nothing to say about it.

New York Times editorial writers did publish a valuable caution on May 4, warning that “The Trump administration is playing a dangerous game in Iran, risking a serious miscalculation by either side.” Chris Van Hollen has challenged the president, Do you want war? So has Senator Brian Schatz:

John Bolton seems to be mobilizing the case for another war in the Middle East which is alarming because those wars have been largely unsuccessful.

Senator Chris Murphy bewails the policy of blind escalation and says the country is counting the days till Trump is gone.

J Street is doing an impressive job of trying to rally congressional leadership to oppose conflict. That Israel lobby organization’s Dylan Williams issued a very strong rallying cry in Jewish Insider today:

“President Trump understands how quickly John Bolton is leading him toward a war of choice. The most important step Congress can take today is to make clear that the president does not have its authorization for the use of military force against Iran. Secondly, lawmakers and presidential candidates, in particular, can make clear that the best way to address Iran’s partial noncompliance with the agreement is for the United States itself to come back into compliance with the agreement and then build upon it through further negotiations. We’re very happy that most of the presidential contenders voiced support for the United States re-entering the agreement. We’re continuing to push the contenders who haven’t said so to say they will or make clear what their approach to the situation would be.”

There’s one segment of the establishment we’d really like to hear from now: the thinkers/writers/analysts/politicians who were wrong about the Iraq war.

Those folks surely have a cross to bear for a tragic error, and now is their opportunity to clear their account. They could learn from their sad experience and vigorously oppose war with Iran, and they should do so now to have maximum effect.

Joe Biden voted for the Iraq war and has offered the lamest regrets (“It was a mistake to assume the president would use the authority we gave him properly”). Biden should take complete responsibility for his mistake now, including an acknowledgment of the devastating consequences of that war for the Middle East, and speak out to stop this heedless rush for another war.

Maybe he and Hillary Clinton could put together a statement about the dangers of being wrong. It would make them profiles in courage.

The New York Times columnist Roger Cohen supported the Iraq war. So did David Remnick of the New Yorker. These are credible voices for liberals and Democrats. They should be out front now saying, “We were wrong before; we won’t be wrong again.” Such a stand is noble; it would demonstrate how much they care about the welfare of the country, not to mention peoples in the Middle East.

Ken Pollack led the march to war last time in the pages of the New York Times. Today he seems to be against a shooting war with Iran. It would be better if he used the moral force of an expression of regret for the Iraq mistake to argue against hostilities with Iran today.

And of course there’s Jeffrey Goldberg. He has largely abandoned Middle East policy since he became Atlantic editor-in-chief but his resume is so marred by his encouragement of the Iraq disaster that he should he come forward, express regret, and caution Americans: let’s not serve Netanyahu’s agenda against a regional rival.

There are others. Fred Kaplan, Peter Beinart, George Packer, Lawrence Kaplan, Jonathan Chait (who has been valiant in his support for the Iran deal) — all ought to account for their support for the Iraq war in warning our leaders against making such a mistake again.

So far, Thomas Friedman, the senior New York Times foreign affairs expert, has said not a word about the Iran crisis. Yesterday he delivered one of his trademark pedestrian observations on U.S. politics. His silence is not excusable when you reckon that Friedman supported the Iraq war, saying that suicide bombers blowing up Tel Aviv pizza parlors justified the U.S. going into the “heart of the Arab world [to] smash something.” Friedman could show real accountability by opposing another rash attack. He could call up the contacts he has developed in the Israeli security establishment over the past 40 years, and he is likely to find that many of them have doubts about Netanyahu’s saber-rattling (and many actually supported the Iran deal). He will certainly find that the “Israeli intelligence sources” who supposedly told Pompeo and Bolton that Iran is a rising threat to U.S. soldiers in the region are either exaggerating or non-existent.

As for the Washington Post editorial board, its continued silence is nor pardonable. Some of its members egged on the disastrous 2003 U.S. invasion. Don’t they want to make amends?

Reflect that one of the most effective tactics in the push to forge the Iran deal in 2015 was Secretary of State John Kerry’s famous statement that Netanyahu was wrong about how great the Iraq war would be in 2002, so why should we listen to him now? Kerry was not able to shut Netanyahu up, but it certainly pulled the rug out from under a rightwing militarist. Yet Netanyahu is the one who is laughing last. We need to revisit his delusory congressional testimony of 2002.

The people who went along with Netanyahu and Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and AIPAC back then have some accounting to do and now is the time to do it.

As it is, the discourse so far is being dominated by crazy neoconservatives. Have you observed the rage among neoconservatives over Iran’s decision to withdraw from some portions of the Iran deal, or JCPOA? The same people who pushed to get rid of the Iran deal are arguing that Iran needs to abide by it, or else. Here’s Michael Makovsky of Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs at Jewish Insider:

President Trump was correct in withdrawing from the JCPOA . . .  However, Iran might choose to gradually ramp up its nuclear program in contradiction to the JCPOA, with the expectation that the American response will be meager. Trump will then need to back his prior warning to Iran not to escalate its nuclear program. As long as Trump is viewed as credibly determined to confront Iran militarily, beyond economic pressure, I believe Iran will avoid a conflict, thereby reducing tension in the region.

So: We should nullify the JCPOA. But Iran has to respect it. And if they don’t we should attack them. . .

Michael Doran at the Hudson Institute is excited about war, too. (Also Jewish Insider).

So yes, there’s a conflict coming, it’s already begun. Does the administration have the stomach for it? I think so. I hope so.

It is simply tragic that such analysts have a platform in the mainstream discourse after twenty years of failed wars in the Middle East.

P.S. We have yet to see any major U.S. newspaper or television channel reminding Americans that back in 1988, a U.S. warship in the Persian Gulf accidentally shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing all 290 people on board. As Netanyahu, Pompeo and Bolton raise the tension, they are risking just this sort of tragedy.

James North and Philip Weiss

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33 Responses

  1. annie on May 9, 2019, 12:10 pm

    bolton/trump are playing a calculated game, forcing iran’s hand by ending specific waivers in the sanctions.. see “How The U.S. Is Pressing Iran To Breach The Nuclear Deal”

    https://www.moonofalabama.org/2019/05/how-the-us-is-pressing-iran-to-breach-the-nuclear-deal.html#more

    The Trump administration wants to force Iran to come into breach of the deal to then use that as an excuse for further action against the country.

    The U.S. provided waivers for several nuclear trades that were part of the JCPOA deal. Some of these were now eliminated, others were put under time restrictions.

    Iran is allowed to enrich Uranium under the deal, but it is not allowed to hold large amounts of ready enriched Uranium. Enriched Uranium is valuable and Iran found a customer who bought it. Iran also produces heavy water, needed to cool some types of reactors, and exports it. These trades were previously provided with waivers. The Trump administration did not renew those wavers and the export of those products will end. Iran will have to either stop all enrichment and heavy water production or it will have to store what it produces and thereby come into breach of the JCPOA agreement.

    big gap — more at the link…

    That Iran is forced to temporarily accumulate products above the level allowed in the deal is solely caused by the U.S. breach of that deal, i.e. its new sanctions. It is unlikely that the other JCPOA signers will regard Iran’s as being in breach of the JCPOA. The U.S. will of course scream bloody murder and will continue to do what it would have done anyway – ratchet the tensions further up

    that was written on monday, yesterday iran announced partial withdrawl citing exact provisions, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/07/iran-to-announces-partial-withdrawal-from-nuclear-deal “Iran announces partial withdrawal from nuclear deal”

    all of this is a result of US dropping out of the deal and putting more sanctions that don’t allow iran to either store uranium and sell it.

    Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, addressing the carrier deployment to the gulf: the U.S. administration is putting things in place for accidents to happen. And there has to be extreme vigilance, so that people who are planning this type of accident would not have their way.

    this is a dirty game the US is playing, and it’s very transparent. the international community needs to loudly say NO and stand up to the US. i recommend Javad Zarif’s twitter feed and comments about b team https://twitter.com/JZarif/status/1125725081999740928

  2. wondering jew on May 9, 2019, 1:40 pm

    His silence is not excusable when you reckon that Friedman supported the Iraq war, saying that suicide bombers blowing up Tel Aviv pizza parlors justified the U.S. going into the “heart of the Arab world [to] smash something.”

    Friedman’s going into the heart of the Arab world to smash something is a problematic conclusion that he reached. But it was not Tel Aviv pizza parlors, but rather 9/11 that occasioned his conclusion. And to write it this way is propaganda rather than reporting.

    • Mooser on May 9, 2019, 10:00 pm

      ” but rather 9/11 that occasioned his conclusion. “

      The conclusion that the US should attack a state, Iraq, which had nothing to do with it, and no WMD.

      No, I don’t think 9-11 “occasioned” that conclusion. More probably “occasioned” by Israel.

      • oldgeezer on May 10, 2019, 8:23 pm

        @Mooser

        You are too gentle and kind. 9/11 provided an opportunity for neocons and zionists to smash Iraq who stood against Israel’s regional hegemony. The cost of US lives was outweight by the direct benefit to Israel of removing a foe and the indirect benefits of oil and revenge for the scuds launched at them in Gulf I.

        And if wj is right then we should be even more concerned that someone so disconnected from reality is ever in any position of power or authority.

  3. wondering jew on May 9, 2019, 1:48 pm

    The Iranian achievement of domination of the region as in the Iraq-Syria- Beirut (Hezbollah) crescent of influence is bothersome to some and not to others.

    It obviously does not bother North and Weiss. Fair enough. But I assume that it does bother most of the people that North and Weiss are calling out. If so, it would pay for North and Weiss to put themselves in the shoes of those it does bother and to explain what would be a reasonable policy for those who do view Iranian influence as a problem.

    • bcg on May 9, 2019, 5:10 pm

      @Wonderingjew: Here’s a suggestion from Foreign Policy that seems right to me:

      “The Next U.S. President Should Rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal”

      https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/02/12/the-next-u-s-president-should-rejoin-the-iran-nuclear-deal/

      As for the other non-nuclear issues, they are other non-nuclear issues – the article has some suggestions as to how to deal with them.

    • RoHa on May 9, 2019, 10:26 pm

      Why is Iranian influence “bothersome to some”? It doesn’t bother me.

      • johneill on May 10, 2019, 4:57 am

        yair netanyahu said that george soros is the greatest threat to israel, so he’s not bothered by iran either.

    • echinococcus on May 9, 2019, 11:24 pm

      “a reasonable policy for those who do view Iranian influence as a problem”

      is to stop pretending to be insanely unreasonable to the point of viewing Iranian influence as a problem.

  4. echinococcus on May 9, 2019, 2:05 pm

    This –at least judging by the title– doesn’t make much sense this time, either.

    Whoever supported the war of aggression (on behalf of the Zionists) against Iraq is very likely supporting the war of aggression against Iran, too (equally on behalf of the Zionists.) It’s a question of personal material or moral interest –direct or indirect. “Risking tragedy” ain’t gonna deter them, au contraire. Support for war of imperial aggression is a yes-or-no thing: one can’t support it in one place like, say, Libya, and oppose it somewhere else.

    • Kay24 on May 9, 2019, 4:32 pm

      You are right Iran was in their crosshairs a long time ago, and Netanyahu even tried to sabotage Obama’s Nuclear Deal rather brazenly, and gave the world a good laugh with his presentation at the UN with that cartoon bomb. According to his lies, we should all have been bombed long time ago. The same war criminals that lied to the country, and took us into war with Afghanistan and Iraq, obviously do not care that we are spending trillions of dollars to maintain those wars, and that millions of Afghans and Iraqis have died for their lies, and greed.
      Trump is the buffoon president that these war criminals flatter, and then get him to destroy a working Nuclear Deal with Iran, replace it with NOTHING, and impose harsh sanctions. Now it will be the final push for war.
      Whatever games they accuse Iran of, the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, are guilty of the same or worse.

      • echinococcus on May 9, 2019, 11:40 pm

        Kay,

        Don’t try to deflect, please: this is about imperial war of aggression, pursued with at least as much murderous alacrity by your “party” as the other “party”. Behold the miracle of Democracy in America: we have a supporter of the rape of Libya calling supporters of the rape of Iraq to oppose the rape of Iran, and you jump in to make clear that your opposition is not to wars of aggression per se but to those initiated by buffoons of the other “party”.

      • Citizen on May 10, 2019, 7:38 am

        Agreed.

      • Kay24 on May 10, 2019, 1:30 pm

        Echinococcus, maybe you should read many of my previous comments regarding the bloody wars the US has waged….I have not blame one party only. I speak presently of the horrible situation we are in with the present president in charge, and his idiotic foreign policies Have I stated I am not against wars of aggression?
        I also blame the warmonger Netanyahu for trying to push the US to attack Iran for years.
        Try reading comments a bit carefully before you overreact, and seeing things that are not there.

      • echinococcus on May 10, 2019, 3:00 pm

        A quick note, Kay. I already did, as you now suggest, carefully read your many messages over the years, and it’s my comparative reading of the old ones vs. the current that’s summarized in what I wrote.

  5. Mooser on May 9, 2019, 6:11 pm

    “Those folks surely have a cross to bear for a tragic error, and now is their opportunity to clear their account. They could learn from their sad experience and vigorously oppose war with Iran, and they should do so now to have maximum effect.”

    Hey, did you two guys move to Washington State, and not tell us?

    • Citizen on May 10, 2019, 8:00 am

      Is Washington State somehow the home of naivety?

      • Mooser on May 10, 2019, 12:51 pm

        “Is Washington State somehow the home of naivety?”

        No, just the home of grown.

  6. Donald on May 10, 2019, 8:18 am

    “Those folks surely have a cross to bear for a tragic error, and now is their opportunity to clear their account. They could learn from their sad experience and vigorously oppose war with Iran, and they should do so now to have maximum effect.”

    “There’s one segment of the establishment we’d really like to hear from now: the thinkers/writers/analysts/politicians who were wrong about the Iraq war.”

    I can’t figure out the rhetorical pose of this post—are we supposed to take it literally or is it an attempt at irony? As irony it fails. If meant literally, and it seems to be, it is just bizarre, on a level with Phil’s admission that he thought until recently Tom Friedman was on a path to becoming an anti-Zionist. Why? And in a sane world why would anyone give a crap what Friedman says about anything except as evidence of the sociopathy of our pundit class? I read Friedman for that— the man has no filter and over the years he simply blurts out things which express how our foreign policy elite actually thinks. The others are just as bad, with the exception of Beinart, who really does write honest pieces sometimes about Israeli crimes. I have in the past linked to an article of his debunking various hasbara myths about Gaza.

    Now having said that, it would be helpful if this collection of hacks came out against the Iran War, in case someone does take them seriously as something other than indicators of what our oligarchs believe, but does this really have to be expressed in faux moralist accounting terms? They won’t be clearing their account and if they do oppose war it won’t be because they are anti-imperialist. They will continue to be in favor of all the standard tools of US policy— brutal sanctions, arms for insurgents and dictators and even US military action so long as they think the costs for us are low. We shouldn’t be talking about these people as though they deserve their megaphones. Since they have whatever influence they possess, it would be nice if they used it for antiwar purposes, but if they did that consistently then they wouldn’t be where they are now. They would be writing for some obscure blog that no politician or high ranking government official ever reads.

    • Citizen on May 10, 2019, 12:49 pm

      Thanks for perfectly capturing how I felt when reading the subject article, Donald. There’s nothing at all to indicate that the subject pundits will suddenly change their stripes merely because of facts past and present. They certainly won’t bother to read and contemplate this content on Mondoweiss, which is known to them as “that anti-Semitic hate site.” Plimespo agrees, I see.

      • Donald on May 10, 2019, 6:21 pm

        Yeah, Phil has this weirdly naive view of people in the mainstream press. An prowar idiot like Friedman has a megaphone precisely because he is a prowar idiot. There are no antiwar leftists or for that matter antiwar conservatives like Andrew Bacevich or Daniel Larison writing opinion pieces at the NYT. They have prowar types and flakes hardly worth reading at all. At best people might oppose a war because they don’t think we can win, but there are no principled antiwar voices. This isn’t an accident.

      • Citizen on May 10, 2019, 9:35 pm

        Agreed.

      • Mooser on May 14, 2019, 4:09 pm

        “antiwar conservatives”

        You mean those who think foreign entanglements will interfere with the real struggle America faces, that of returning to the 19th or 18th century legally?

        They might very well be right, too.

  7. plimespo on May 10, 2019, 9:47 am

    You’re right, the pundits should admit their mistakes, but they never will. Accountability, including admission of mistakes is not part of their ethic or game plan. Intellectual honesty and integrity is not either.

    As to all of the culprits mentioned, they’re part of the Israel Lobby, other lobbying groups and advocates for large multinational corporations, and a foreign policy elite (with special mainstream status, recognition and something to gain from media, think tank and university connections and special favors to foreign countries and their leaders) that control both houses of Congress, the Executive branch, the Courts (thanks to the appointment of right wing ideologues to the Federal bench), and the mainstream media (e.g., New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Fox, CBS, CNN).

    They’ve had many years when the adverse impacts of their policies have been plain to see, but they have denied, obfuscated and indulged in “polemical foulness” to keep advocating for neoconservative and neoliberal international hegemony, and globalism, including support of Israel and opposition to Iran, which poses little threat to anyone in the Middle East, much less the U.S. But threat inflation is only one arrow in their quiver.

    Check out the indictments. The culprits are in their by name:

    Andrew Bacevich, “Twilight of the American Century” (2018)

    John Judis, “The Nationalist Revolution: Trade, Immigration and the Revolt Against Globalism” (2018)

    Stephen Walt, “The Hell of Good Intentions: American’s Foreign Place Elite and the Decline of American Primacy” (2018)

  8. klm90046 on May 10, 2019, 3:44 pm

    North and Weiss, you refer to the atrocity of the Iraq war as “error” and “mistake.” Yeah, the murder of at least one million children, women and men is a mere mistake. Reminds me of another murderer, architect of the Vietnam war, calling his brainchild a mistake.

    You sure choose your words carefully, don’t you? Shame on you.

    • echinococcus on May 11, 2019, 12:12 am

      Thank you, KLM, for this much-needed note! For believers, conscious or unconscious, in American exceptionalism, the central crime of aggression is not the highest crime against humanity but a “mistake”; the crime of our rulers isn’t seen as the worst hanging crime, as in the eyes of civilized nations, but just as “misleading the American public”. Intervention abroad is not the unthinkable supreme crime but something one can take or leave, opposing the murder of Iraq, supporting the rape of Libya but again opposing the invasion of Palestine or Iran…

      [“C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute” (Worse than a felony, it’s a mistake) was the cry of Talleyrand (or Fouché, or Boulay) for a transgression by Napoleon –but he sure was an exceptionalist above international law, too]

  9. James Canning on May 10, 2019, 4:43 pm

    Is Michael Doran an idiot? Cheering on a foolish US attack on Iran is as dangerous as it is stupid.

  10. Keith on May 10, 2019, 5:03 pm

    JAMES & PHIL- “There’s one segment of the establishment we’d really like to hear from now: the thinkers/writers/analysts/politicians who were wrong about the Iraq war.”

    From their perspective, they were not wrong. Iraq was but a part of our permanent war strategy for global hegemony in a neofeudal global economy. The empire is on a rampage which is intentional and accelerating. Diplomacy is out, full spectrum dominance is in. The current philosophy was well expressed by Richard Perle.

    “If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now.” (Richard Perle) https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/richard_perle_183952

    • eljay on May 10, 2019, 6:23 pm

      “If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now.” (Richard Perle)

      Hitler and his boyz seem to have suffered from similar “inspiration”.

  11. lonely rico on May 10, 2019, 10:29 pm

    We have yet to see any major U.S. newspaper or television channel reminding Americans that back in 1988, a U.S. warship in the Persian Gulf accidentally shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing all 290 people on board.

    Iran Air Flight 655, a scheduled passenger flight was shot down on 3 July 1988 by a surface-to-air missile fired from USS Vincennes, a guided missile cruiser of the United States Navy. All 290 people on board, including 66 children, were killed. The plane was hit while flying over Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, along the flight’s usual route.
    Some analysts blamed the captain of Vincennes, William C. Rogers III, for overly-aggressive behaviour in a tense and dangerous environment.

    In 1990, Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit
    “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer.”

    Brave fellow!

  12. JWalters on May 11, 2019, 3:41 am

    “This is a moment of crisis in the Middle East.”

    It makes sense to me to at least try to induce pro-Iraq war pundits to desert the war profiteers this time, and come over to the side of sanity. There’s some liklihood that some percentage of these pundits will be having pangs of conscience. These might be nudged internally toward a more humanely rational view, and maybe even snap into a different view with a flash of insight. So it must be written in a way that invites a response. Some degree of atonement is a sensible motive. Invitations must be in the mix of our attempts to bridge the divide.

    If they don’t respond, it’s still a way of calling them out, and a warning about similar punditry regarding war with Iran. It’s another angle by which a conversation can be started about this looming war, which could be on us almost before we know it.

    • echinococcus on May 11, 2019, 10:18 am

      Walters,

      Your good intentions would be admirable if they had no side effects. “Pangs of conscience”? What conscience? These people are the imperialist mass murderer’s well-fed elite attack dogs, and they’re not so stupid as to ignore which side their bread is buttered on.

      If you know how to deny them their bread and butter, by all means do so.

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