Fool Me Twice

Remember the old line, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me," the point being that after you are conned once you should never again be so gullible as to be taken in a second time? Well, by that standard the American public and media should be ashamed of themselves as they are about to be fooled again. It is hard to ignore the fact that Washington is marching towards a confrontation with Iran that will surely lead to war that is being orchestrated by the same players that brought about Iraq. 

Consider for a moment how the argument to use military force against Iran is being shaped in a way that is very similar to the arguments that were used to prepare for war with Iraq.  First of all, Iran is regularly vilified as being led by a homicidal and genocidal maniac in the form of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Ahmadinejad is described as a threat to world peace and he is alleged to be intent on establishing Iranian hegemony over the entire Persian Gulf region.  Ahmadinejad has repeatedly been compared to Hitler by the US and Israeli media.

Back in 2002-2003 the narrative was similar.  Saddam Hussein was likewise described as a homicidal and genocidal maniac threatening world peace and seeking to establish Iraqi hegemony over the Persian Gulf.  He also was compared to Hitler.

But the reality in both cases was and is quite different. Saddam’s army was, after 1991, an empty shell and his country was crippled by sanctions.  Ahmadinejad does not control his own country’s armed forces and does not have the authority to start a war even if he wanted to do so.  Ahmadinejad has never personally threatened to attack anyone except in retaliation and Iran has not started a war of aggression since 1747.  Neither Ahmadinejad nor Saddam Hussein have anything in common with Hitler, who led a major world military and industrial power, apart from flights of hyperbole on the part of some journalists and politicians.

And then there are the nuclear weapons.  Saddam was alleged to be developing them, threatening a "mushroom cloud" over American cities, and the same claims are being made about Iran.  The fact is that Saddam had no nuclear weapons program when the US attacked him and Iran doesn’t currently have a program either.  Iran insists on its right to peaceful nuclear energy supervised by UN inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a right that all countries that are signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) enjoy.  The United States admits that Iran has a right to electricity generation but agrees with Israel that Tehran should not be able to control the uranium enrichment process.  Meanwhile Israel, Pakistan, and India, all American "friends" and non-signatories of the NPT, are free to enrich uranium and use it to make bombs without so much as a harsh word from Washington. 

In 2002 the Bush administration asserted that Iraq was virtually a nation on a war footing with a major clandestine weapons industry that included conventional weapons, chemical and biological weapons, and delivery systems to include pilotless drones that could cross the Atlantic.  Photos were displayed in the UN "proving" Washington’s assertions.  It is now alleged by many of the same experts that Iran is building itself up into a regional superpower with missiles that can one day strike Europe. 

Again, the facts contradict the propaganda.  Saddam had none of the weapons attributed to him.  The UN, the US, and other western intelligence agencies knew that Iraq had been effectively disarmed and had not reconstituted its capabilities but chose to ignore the facts that did not fit the agenda.  Iran is being tarred with the same brush in spite of its having a military budget equivalent to only 1% of that of the US and less also than that of its nuclear armed neighbor Israel.  Its army is large but poorly trained and equipped and cannot even think of invading any of its neighbors, let alone strike the US.  Its navy is capable only of patrolling its coastal waters and would be overwhelmed if it were to confront even a small portion of the US Navy. Its air force would be destroyed by the first day of fighting with the US or with any of its better armed neighbors and its missile program is reported to be more bluster than reality, beset with technical problems and lack of funding.

In 2002 it was widely reported, based on fabricated evidence, that Saddam would likely turn his weapons of mass destruction over to terrorists to use.  Currently, it is being claimed that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon and then provide it to radical groups to detonate somewhere in the world.  The fact is that the terrorist scenario is a fiction, highly implausible unless one assumes that both Saddam’s Iraq and today’s Iran are intent on suicide.  The detonation of a nuclear device is not an anonymous act.  It has a technical signature that tells what kind of weapon it was and, from that information, it can be determined who made it. A nuclear attack by a radical group would face tremendous logistical problems in moving the heavy device to a target and making it work, but even if it could be done it would immediately be traced to Iran and Iran would be obliterated on the following day by either the United States or Israel. 

Back in 2002-3 it was widely reported that Iraq was a "threat to Israel."  Nowadays Israel repeats the same claim over and over again regarding Iran and is echoed by its minions in the media and the US Congress.  In reality, Iraq’s threat to Israel consisted of Saddam’s regime sending payments to support families of Palestinians who had been killed by the Israelis, which some might actually consider a humanitarian gesture even though it surely delivered a political message.  Today’s Iran has no ability to strike a heavily armed and militarily overwhelming Israel in any serious way and repeated claims that Tehran has threatened to wipe Israel off the map are deliberate mistranslations.  Iran has never threatened to attack anyone while Israel, on the contrary, and the United States have repeatedly asserted their right to take military action against Iran. 

American politicians frequently claimed in 2002 that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was seeking to destabilize its neighbors.  Saddam reportedly had clandestine groups operating in neighboring Kuwait, in Saudi Arabia, and in the Palestinian territories.  The same claims are now made about Iran, that it controls militias in Iraq, is assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan, insurgents in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza. It has been claimed that the Mullahs are "killing our soldiers" in Iraq and Afghanistan by providing weapons to the several insurgencies.  All such claims are either false or overstated.  Saddam, of course, had no international ambitions after his army was largely destroyed in 1991.  Iran understandably has concerns about what is going on along its borders and has relationships of various kinds with political groups and government leaders, but the claim that it controls proxies in many countries is greatly exaggerated.  The allegation that it is supplying weapons to insurgents is largely bogus, based on the capture of a small number of Iranian produced weapons that are marked in English rather than Farsi, suggesting that they come from the international arms market rather than from an Iranian arsenal.  Iran’s ability to destabilize an entire region is greatly exaggerated.  Ironically, it is the United States that is undeniably supporting armed insurgencies inside Iran including Baluchistan separatists and Arabs in the provinces bordering Iraq. 

In 2002-3 the neocons who were behind the Iraq war repeatedly claimed triumphantly that Iraq would be a military cakewalk.  The same claims are being made about Iran, i.e., that the vast US advantage in firepower would end the war quickly, with all of Iran’s known military and nuclear targets knocked out.  But the neocons were wrong about Iraq’s ability to resist unconventionally, resulting in the United States still maintaining a huge military presence in that unhappy land six years later.  Iran is even more formidable than Iraq, being physically larger and having had time and resources to prepare for an expected attack.  Since it holds the geographical center between US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan it is able to dictate events from its interior lines, using irregular forces to strike where it wants to and when it wants to.  It could easily cut the tenuous 344 mile long supply line for US troops in Iraq that snakes up from Kuwait.  It could close the Straits of Hormuz and, in the narrow and shallow waters of the Persian Gulf, it might even get lucky and hit a US aircraft carrier with one of its Chinese silkworm cruise missiles. It could quickly make the US position in both Afghanistan and Iraq untenable and send world oil prices soaring.

Finally, one should recall that the bottom line justification for the war with Iraq was the repeated somewhat generic message that Iraq was a threat to the United States.  That message was deliberately fabricated and was known to be false by the criminals in the Bush Administration and the media who led the march to war.  That same song is being played again regarding Iran.  Iraq’s government in 2003 was in reality a threat to no one but the country’s own people.  Iran, troubled by a poor economy, political dissension, and civil unrest, is in no position to attack anyone.  If anything, its leadership might welcome an attack by Israel or the United States to unite its people against a foreign aggressor.  It would be the ultimate irony if a military attack by Israel or the US or a combination of the two were to accomplish little beyond strengthening Iran’s political conservatives and accelerating the drive to obtain a nuclear weapon for self defense.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.