Peter Beinart observes that Iraq rarely features in the debate over the nuclear deal:
I’m not saying that everyone who supported the Iraq War must feel as I do. I’m simply saying this: In most televised discussions of Iran, the word “Iraq” never comes up, and that’s insane.
Beinart is right that Iraq war supporters tend to get away with opposing the nuclear deal without having to answer for their past misjudgment on the most important foreign policy issue in the region in a generation. That’s an unfortunate side effect of the complete lack of accountability in our foreign policy debates, and the same might be said of Iraq war supporters’ participation in debates on intervention in Libya and Syria. The public should be reminded that the loudest detractors of the Vienna agreement were also among the most vehement supporters for a war waged ostensibly for the sake of counter-proliferation against a regime whose nuclear program had long since been dismantled. They refused to accept that Iraq had no nuclear program (and top Bush administration officials falsely claimed that it had been “reconstituted”), they rejected containment, and insisted on invasion and regime change. In that case, hawks refused to recognize success for what it was and demanded a more hard-line policy that gained the U.S. nothing and cost it a great deal, which is what many of them would have the U.S. do again today.
One of the things that has struck me most about the Iran debate over the last two years is that the hawks are now certain that Iranian influence has been on the rise and will continue to increase, but they were oblivious to the dangers that Hussein’s overthrow would benefit Iran and jihadist groups. They are most confident about Iran’s “march of conquest” when it isn’t happening, and they were heedless of Iranian gains when they were most likely to occur. That makes them uniquely ill-qualified to sound the alarm about how Iran will benefit from the deal.
Every prediction Iraq war supporters made about what would happen in the region proved false. Contrary to their expectations, there was no wave of political reform inspired by regime change, Iranian influence expanded greatly, jihadist groups flourished and continue to flourish today, and Iraq suffered from the evils of sectarian civil war. Opponents of the invasion anticipated and warned about most, if not all, of these possible dangers. Over a decade later, Iran hawks are now claiming that the deal will greatly empower Iran and its proxies and thus contribute to greater regional instability, but in order to support this argument they are compelled to misrepresent Iran’s setbacks as proof of its growing power. J. Dana Shuter and John Bradshaw refuted the argument that Iran is “on the march” last week:
In retrospect, that moment [in 2010] may represent the zenith of Iran’s power in the Middle East. Since then, Iran has been fighting a rearguard action at great political, financial and military cost to preserve the influence it took for granted just five years ago.
More to the point, because of Iran’s backing for the Syrian government it has made itself a particularly hated regime throughout most of the rest of the region, so there is little chance that Iran will be able to regain the influence it has lost over the last several years. Iranian influence did expand considerably in the previous decade with the help of the invasion of Iraq, but it has now been waning significantly. At present, Iran is stuck shoring up two faltering governments in Syria and Iraq and frittering away resources in conflicts it can’t afford. Iran isn’t “on the march,” and anyone who claims otherwise is indulging in simple alarmism.