"The arguments for an attack on Iran are almost exactly the same as the arguments that were made for an attack on Iraq," the chief foreign affairs columnist of London's Financial Times, Gideon Rachman, pointed out in a piece posted late Monday. -- "The people making the case have not changed either." -- Rachman effectively juxtaposes then-and-now quotes from James Woolsey, Richard Perle, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, and William Kristol, and concludes: "In most professions, a record of failure counts against you. Architects whose buildings fall down and doctors who maim their patients tend to suffer some sort of consequence. The same rules should apply to people who advocate disastrous wars. Take a look at the people who are arguing for an attack on Iran, consider their records — and run a mile in the opposite direction." ...
FROM THE GUYS WHO GAVE YOU THE IRAQ WAR, ANOTHER FINE IDEA
By Gideon Rachman
Financial Times (UK)
February 26, 2007
The country is developing weapons of mass destruction; its leader is a new Hitler; he has connections with terrorists; time is running out; containment has failed; we must strike before it is too late.
If you think you have heard it all before, you have. The arguments for an attack on Iran are almost exactly the same as the arguments that were made for an attack on Iraq. The people making the case have not changed either.
Here is James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA, speaking at a conference last month about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, and his talk of wiping Israel off the map: “Hitler meant it when he said he wanted to exterminate the Jews. It was spelt out in *Mein Kampf*. We need to take seriously what people like Ahmadinejad and others say to their own followers. They are not lying; they are stating their true objectives.” And here is Mr. Woolsey, speaking on American television in January 2003: “Saddam sounds very much, with respect to the 250m people or so in the Arab world, as Hitler sounded before World War Two, with respect to Europe. The Ba’athist parties really are fascist parties . . . they’re anti-Semitic like them; they’re fascist.”
And here is the official summary of comments made at the same conference in Israel last month by Richard Perle, a former Pentagon official: “In possession of nuclear weapons, Iran is capable of using their terrorist networks to enable damage . . . The issue is one of timing and intelligence. You can’t afford to wait for all the evidence.” Once again, this is a reprise of a favorite tune. Appearing on American television in February 2003, Mr. Perle argued: “Let us just agree that Saddam Hussein had those weapons and he is perfectly capable of transferring them to al-Qaeda.” Mr. Perle emphasized the urgency of the problem: “There is a threat and I believe it is imminent.”
Newt Gingrich, a likely candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency next year and a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, argued only last month that “the U.S. should have as an explicit goal, regime change in Iran” because Iran is “the leading supporter of terrorism in the world.” In 2002, Mr. Gingrich wrote: “The question is not should we replace Saddam? The question is should we wait until Saddam gives biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons to terrorists.”
The people arguing for an attack on Iran allege that containment is failing. They said the same thing about Iraq. As early as 1997, William Kristol, the editor of the *Weekly Standard*, was arguing that: “Rather than try to contain Saddam, a strategy that has failed, our policy should now aim to remove him from power.” Nine years later, Mr. Kristol was urging a military strike against Iranian facilities and demanding: “Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained?”
Dick Cheney, the U.S. vice president, was one of the most enthusiastic advocates for an attack on Iraq and is also a leading hawk on Iran. In 2002 he told America’s Veterans of Foreign Wars that “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction” and linked Saddam to terrorism. This month, he was warning that a nuclear Iran would be particularly dangerous because of the country’s “history of sponsorship of terrorist organizations.”
Of course, just because somebody has been catastrophically wrong in the past does not mean that he will always be wrong in the future. Even the boy who cried “Wolf!” was ultimately vindicated.
As it happens, the evidence that Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction is much stronger than it ever was in the case of Iraq. Colin Powell’s feeble presentation to the United Nations about Saddam’s WMD program was an embarrassment. By contrast, Iran undoubtedly does have an active nuclear program -- the U.N. has just reported that it plans to have a large-scale uranium enrichment facility ready by May. From that point on, estimates for the length of time it could take Iran to develop the bomb vary from 18 months to 10 years. By sponsoring Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, Iran is clearly also stirring up trouble in the Middle East -- much more actively, in fact, than Saddam was in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Advocates of a strike on Iran could also point out that nobody, this time, is arguing for a full-scale ground invasion or a long-term occupation. The idea would be to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities through air power -- although any bombing campaign could last several weeks.
It might be possible to make a convincing case for an air strike on Iran if you could somehow erase the memory of the disaster of Iraq. But such amnesia is neither possible nor desirable. There are valuable lessons to be learnt from Iraq. “Intelligence” is often highly unreliable. Talking about a “new Hitler” is a shopworn rhetorical trick that should be banned. Military actions that look straightforward when they are launched have a nasty habit of developing in unexpected ways. (The very fact that American and allied troops are on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan increases the possibility of unpredictable escalation.) And America and its allies pay a huge price in political capital around the world every time they resort to force -- particularly if the use of military power is “pre-emptive.”
The fact that the neo-conservatives and their allies are unabashed by their failure in Iraq does not mean that the rest of the world should be so forgiving. After all, these people positively begged to be judged by the results of the Iraq war.
In a notably smug editorial written on the eve of the war with Iraq, the editors of the Weekly Standard wrote: “The war itself will clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction.” Well, indeed. And they ended with a flourish: “History and reality are about to weigh in and we are inclined simply to let them render their verdicts.” Well, the verdict’s coming in, chaps -- and it is not looking good.
In most professions, a record of failure counts against you. Architects whose buildings fall down and doctors who maim their patients tend to suffer some sort of consequence. The same rules should apply to people who advocate disastrous wars. Take a look at the people who are arguing for an attack on Iran, consider their records -- and run a mile in the opposite direction.
--[From Rachman's blog on the Financial Times web site: "I have been the FT's chief foreign affairs columnist since July 2006, after spending 15 years at the Economist. This blog covers a wide range of topics, from U.S. foreign policy to the European Union and the 'war on terror.'"]