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.