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Iran Hawks and the Iraq War

Peter Beinart observes [1] 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 [2] 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.

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11 Comments To "Iran Hawks and the Iraq War"

#1 Comment By a spencer On July 23, 2015 @ 3:35 pm

Iran immediately announced that fixing its civilian aviation sector was the first order of business. I can’t imagine it will go back to subsidizing fuel the way it used to. The war hawks had a freakout when the Germans showed up the next day to sign business deals. And, of course, there’s already talk of a McDonalds – despite the fact that Iranian children are facing their own obesity problems from fast food; Roxana Saberi wrote about this a few years ago.

Maybe its wishful thinking, but you know how, when you’re watching a fire die out, the last few embers will flare up one more time before extinguishing? Is it possible that is what we’re seeing from the war hawks?

#2 Comment By Randal On July 23, 2015 @ 5:26 pm

The same lies from the same kinds of people and for the same kinds of reasons, as those who falsely portray Russia as an aggressive global menace, when in reality it is a weak country accounting for only around 3% of global gdp, which has been in strategic retreat for three decades in the face of an aggressive enemy power whose military bloc outspends it militarily by well over ten times, engaged in a desperate attempt to halt that retreat.

There’s something in American culture that leads Americans to habitually grossly exaggerate the strength of those they intend to attack, or are attacking, presumably in order to make themselves feel more noble, or to dishonestly justify their actions as desperately defensive.

Most countries, I think, tend to do the opposite – inflate their own strength and downplay that of their enemies. It might be that the US habit (which I think is to some extent shared by the British) stems from the cultural effects of generations of power and strategic security, and having the unusual luxury of being able to interfere in other peoples’ wars at little real risk to themselves.

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 23, 2015 @ 6:43 pm

“My point is merely this: These people should be required to offer those explanations. If a politician or pundit demanded the deregulation of Wall Street. . .”


allow me be clear. My opposition with the Iraq War was based on:

1. there was not any evidence to support the governmants case.

2. It was a clear violation of international law.

3. Wholly insufficient force to do the job demanded.

4. It was a play motivated by revenge and conveniently used to accomplish a myriad of tasks all of hich were unneccessary.

5. While the weapons issue, nothing weighed more heavily that inspectors were in country and doing the job, regardless of the expected gameship, that should have been expected, inspections and all that came with it had fundamentally removed Iraq as a threat.

6. Establishing a Kurdish state, in Iraq proper, is unwarranted, illegal and is going to create more problems than it will ever solve. And anyone who supports, should completely shut their mouths about Vietnam, which was already functioning as independent state.

I didn’t need a bachelor’s, a master’s , nor did one need a Ph.D.. Either the US had the evidence on 9/11 involvement or it did not, either there was evidence of Iraq as immediate danger (clear and present) or there was not. Minus such evidence — no case for war. The girations that are constantly made to complicate those simple facets of making a case are irritating, tiresome and disingenuous.

Once in Iraq, we should have moved against Iran’s involvement in any manner. One of many strategic blunders. The veracity of of attempting to voluntarily get them to extricate themselves from the country via some deal with so noted partners was salmon eggs, swimming upstream.

And for the record, despite not being a pundit, there have been several of us who have made that Iran-Iraq situation a matter of concern, apparently, those opposed and those for the deal have not.

A little late to be crying fowl.

It is not required that leadership be in agreement, but one would hope they have the skills to teach how and why a certain policy should be a certain way. This far, the leading edcational skills have been void from almost all current politicians in play.

#4 Comment By Ken Hoop On July 23, 2015 @ 7:13 pm

Rand Paul last I heard supported the US assisting in establishing a Kurdish state, another reason not to
shed any tears when he doesn’t get the nomination.

You had me with you until your moving against Iranian influence in Iraq once we were there.
That alone could be used by the hawks to keep myriad US troops in Iraq in a failing venture.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 23, 2015 @ 9:16 pm

“That alone could be used by the hawks to keep myriad US troops in Iraq in a failing venture.”

I opposed the iraq war. But I do think we permitted Iranin influence to our peril. Unless we seek a do over and it would have to a complete redo in everyway including a massive use of force, there is not much we can do about the deep links being forged between Iranian ad Iraqi leaders.

Will, Iran take over Iraq? Doubtful, the Iraqis will be Iraqis, but the alliance if forged will a problem for US leadership in the region.

Maintaining troops will have little impact on that. I had no impact on ensuring safety for the Sunnis or Christians and others.

#6 Comment By SDS On July 24, 2015 @ 1:26 pm

I submit when we pushed an election; the majority Shia would certainly vote in a Shia government and that would make alliance with Iran.
A sectarian government; and civil war; was a fait accompli at that point….
The Sunnis had been effectively sidelined at that point; with the Army de-Baathed, etc….
And the Shia were ready for payback…
Limiting Iranian influence in Iraq was only possible with great finesse in a small window of time; and our government has shown all the skill and finesse of a drunk elephant in Macy’s…Surely nothing to inspire confidence in their grand strategic vision and guidance.

#7 Comment By bacon On July 25, 2015 @ 9:25 am

Iran is a large country with a large, educated population and is rich in natural resources. Like it or not, it is the default regional power. We started down the wrong path with Iran 50+ years ago with support of the Shah, a decision based mainly on our government’s willingness to support any regime willing to publicly side with us against our perceived enemies and, of course, their giant oil reserves. Religious differences aside, left to themselves the Iranian people would be our friends.

Too late for that rosy scenario. So now our exceptionalist leaders will impose our vision of how the world ought to be on Iran. How will that work? Look at smaller, weaker countries geographically much closer to the US – Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia – for a hint.

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 25, 2015 @ 9:42 am

“And the Shia were ready for payback…”

I think what is telling in the scenario you describe is tat Sunnis have not ben the only targets. And While I could not question the strict rules of the game by the Bathists, the game had one overarching rule.

No attemts to overthrow the govenment or undermine its policies.

Policies that applied regardless of faith. Yet under that system, Shias, Sunnis, Christians and various other sects/faiths were allowed to work, play, travel and participate in government. So while, it may be convenient to rest on the payback issue, what is of cpncern to me is the thrust of religious domination subjecting others, and that seems to have no boundaries, imiting payback to the Sunnis.

So if I am looking for a system that will foster some manner of goodwill for all then based on the data and the subsequent acts of the governing bodies, if I must choose a side, it would not be the Shia.

What crushed the Shah of Iran was not just his paranoia, perhaps well founded in these societies, but sanctions which utterly stagnated the economy, and his response to the what would normal reactions of the population was far too extreme. Out of that was kindled the flames for a return to religious extremism, and that leadership made the Shah, look like a choir boy.

It’s not Shia or Sunni, it who is going best ensure the tranquility of the US first and then the rest of the world.

I have serious concerns about the the current leadership in Iran. I hope what we transpire from this deal will alleviate those concerns, but given the aggressive nature of their beliefs, I have my doubts.


” . . .our friends . . .”

None of the rhetoric coming from Iran since the deal sounds all that friendly.

And of course we would side with those aligned with our cold war “realities” or “fictions.”

Freindly, noninciteful communication should be our measure and caution our shield should the sword be the end game.

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 25, 2015 @ 9:44 am

““That alone could be used by the hawks to keep myriad US troops in Iraq in a failing venture.”

Note: The kurds is the current card.

#10 Comment By Truthful James On July 25, 2015 @ 10:38 am

The roundelay in the Middle East continues.. The next dance is Pollard to Israel while the President hides in Africa.

America is being inundated with propaganda written by Israel and placed at cost in American media, regarding Iranian terrorism< History tells us different.

Which was the last nation to invade Iran, overthrow the duly elected government and install a friendly despot? The United States. To protect foreign oil interests it returned the Shah to the peacock throne. Mohammad Mosaddegh, 1953. He nationalized the oil industry and was the last hope for a secular government in Iran. The democratically elected Majlis selected him.

After 1953, the Shah was returned to power, the British Anglo Oil Company got back its wells. Unlike Sunni governed countries where the Imam has the first and last word, Iran's Shi'ite clerics as a matter of faith stayed outside of secular affairs.

It was the Ayatollah Khomeini. returning from forced exile in France who changed the Iranian Shi'a theology to permit, in extremis, the takeover of the government when the people were deeply abused by the ruler. This led to the abdication of the Shah and the passage of the referendum establishing in 1979 an Islamic Republic and the storming of the Tehran embassy in the same year.

Which nation in the Middle East is the only one with nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them as required for its survival? Israel.

Which nation has conducted a first strike against an Iraqi nuclear power plant under construction? Israel.

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 25, 2015 @ 3:33 pm

“Which was the last nation to invade Iran, overthrow the duly elected government and install a friendly despot? The United States.”

Well, before going any further, I think you should get your history correct. Check again on the circumstaces surrounding both the Shah’s arrival and his departure. I think my previous response covers oth of these issues.

Start with where you got your understanding that the US invaded Iran.

I woud agree that Israel should not be our first concern, but our ow intersts, which has in my view never damaged israel’s security.

I am unclear what your point is as to nuclear weapons, that other countries in the regioon should have them because Israel or a press be made to remove Israel’s weapons.