As Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman clamor for a war against Iran, they seem to have forgotten the destruction and mayhem wrought by the American invasion of Iraq 16 years ago.
They are underestimating the potential negative consequences of the war and overestimating the Iranian people’s dislike of their theocratic regime. They are confusing Iranians’ dislike of the Ayatollahs with their potential embrace of a foreign invader.
On the eve of the Iraq war, former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed the Iraqi invasion aimed at “liberating” the country from the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.
Developments unfolded during the past 16 years have shown that the “liberation” claims were bogus. The decision to de-Ba’athify Iraq and dissolve the Iraqi military created a dangerous vacuum that was quickly filled by pro-Iranian militias, al-Qaeda, and later the Islamic State.
The massive destruction of Iraq will be child’s play compared to what could happen if Trump and his Israeli and Saudi allies decide to attack Iran. Unlike Iraq – which the British cobbled together after World War I out of the Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds under a minority Sunni rule – Iran has been in existence for centuries with a vast territory and a huge population. A war against Iran could easily see the entire region could go up in flames.
The Bush administration was not willing to address the “morning after” questions regarding the post-Saddam Iraq. Senior officials arrogantly claimed the U.S. military and civilian administration would be able to control the situation in Iraq. Their hubris led to a total breakdown of Iraqi society following Saddam’s fall.
The Trump administration seems to be equally arrogant and ignorant about Iran. It has displayed a similar disregard for strategic thinking about the future of Iran beyond the clerical regime.
Instead of relying on expert-based analysis, Secretary of State Pompeo’s recent trips to the region involved bullying, threats and biblical mischaracterizations. In a conversation with Christian broadcasters in Jerusalem, Pompeo discussed God’s presumed divine plan designating Trump as a possible savior of the “Jewish people” from the perceived modern-day Persian “Hamans.”
American foreign policy is in serious trouble if Pompeo truly believes that Trump could be the 21st Century version of Queen Esther and that this religious vision could chart the path to a grand strategy in the Middle East. When warped religious interpretations are offered as a substitute for rationally debated policy, democratic governments should fear for their future. Invoking the divine as a justification for violence against another country is a return to the barbarism of previous epochs.
For the sake of whipping up regional hatred toward Iran and preparing the ground for a war against the “Persian menace,” Pompeo in effect has told Arab autocrats that if they stand up against Iran, Washington will ignore their despicable human rights record and the suppression of their people.
Managing Iran’s malign behavior through the Iran nuclear deal was a stroke of diplomatic genius, which the Obama administration negotiated. The previous administration placed Iran’s objectionable behavior in two baskets – a nuclear basket, which it addressed through the Iran deal, and a non-nuclear one, which was to be dealt with once the nuclear inspection became operational. Most experts judged Iran to be in compliance with the conditions of the nuclear deal, but unfortunately President Trump decided not to recertify the agreement.
Trump’s decision contradicted the judgment of most nuclear and intelligence experts about Iran’s behavior. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for example, affirmed Iran’s compliance in more than a dozen of its successive quarterly reports and as recently as last month.
Fifty plus retired American generals and diplomats, in a statement published in March, urged the Trump the administration to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and work on resolving outstanding concerns with Iran diplomatically. They advised against a war because they saw no good outcome.
Coming from these military and policy realists, who are dedicated to the security of this country, Israel and America’s allies, this advice is grounded in sane strategic analysis, not in theological whimsy.
Emile Nakhleh is research professor and director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at UNM and a former senior intelligence service officer at the CIA. A longer version of this article was published on LobeLog.