Thursday, March 07, 2013

Ten years since the Iraq invasion, many more years with Iranian threat inflation

James Fallows thinks about the ten year anniversary of the Iraq invasion. He says he'd like to hear from the liberal war hawks and what they've learned.  I don't quite fit that category - not always a liberal for one thing, and was undecided rather than a supporter of the war.  I did believe the WMD stories, and that getting rid of an entrenched dictator could be enormously valuable (I've lived in two dictatorships and had a taste of them).

On the latter issue of overthrowing dictatorship, I think I've learned a distaste for putting American boots on the ground absent clear popular support, which is why I opposed the Afghanistan war expansion but supported doing what we did in Libya, and doing something and not the nothing we've done so far in Syria.

On the former issue of WMDs, Fallows makes an excellent point about "threat inflation", that threats are almost always portrayed as far worse and more imminent than is actually true, and gives some examples.  I've been thinking about Iran's nuclear threat, and it turns out in 2011, Christian Science Monitor had a good description of that over time.  Here's a condensed version:

1992: Israeli parliamentarian Benjamin Netanyahu tells his colleagues that Iran is 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon – and that the threat had to be "uprooted by an international front headed by the US."

1992: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres tells French TV that Iran was set to have nuclear warheads by 1999. "Iran is the greatest threat and greatest problem in the Middle East," Peres warned, "because it seeks the nuclear option while holding a highly dangerous stance of extreme religious militancy."

1995: The New York Times conveys the fears of senior US and Israeli officials that "Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than previously thought" – about five years away – and that Iran’s nuclear bomb is “at the top of the list” of dangers in the coming decade.

1998: The same week, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reports to Congress that Iran could build an intercontinental ballistic missile – one that could hit the US – within five years. The CIA gave a timeframe of 12 years.
I think we should forever rename Netanyahu as Bibi "Iran Will Have Nukes in 1997" Netanyahu, and never again take seriously anything he says.  As Kevin Drum says, we're also far better off to discount significantly any claimed threat elsewhere.

UPDATE:  thought I'd add that the new Republican willingness to cut the defense budget may be complicating budget negotiations, but otherwise it's a good thing and might lead to less adventurism.


eveningperson said...

I'd like to know why people believed in WMDs, apart from the desire to believe things (which I think is the driving force behind climate denial).

The evidence was strong that it was lies: the obvious fakery (like the 'dodgy dossier' in the UK and the uranium cake), the physical implausibility (45 minutes) and the work of the inspectors on the ground.

And why Saddam? The west has favoured dictators: the Saudi regime, Bahrain, Uzbekistan. These are as bad as or worse than Saddam, but they don't get the bad press.

Oil, of course is the key, and the press demonised Chavez, even calling him a dictator although he wasn't.

John said...

There are two classes of dictators, those who are allowed to (viciously) flourish by obeying US orders and those who get destroyed for being dictators.

Bush didn't send weapons inspectors to Iraq with the possibility of NOT invading but only to be sure that no "complications" would arise in the accomplishment of his criminal mission.

John Puma

Anonymous said...

John Puma, Bush didn't send weapons inspectors to Iraq. Period. He had already decided there would be an invasion. UNMOVIC was, in fact, a problem for Bush because it contradicted the claims of the US government.


Gator said...

I never believed the WMD argument. It seemed clear to me that Sadam had at one time had things like chemical weapons, but that they had been destroyed. I remember reading an article in Physics Today (I think) about the physical evidence for WMDs, and concluding it was near impossible for Iraq to have substantial quantities. I.e., you need x tons of this, and y tons of that, which produce z tons of waste. There was just no evidence for large inputs and outputs to support mass quantities of WMDs.

Bush clearly wanted to invade Iraq from the moment he took office. If you read the Bob Woodward books, he documents that the Bush administration started preparations for invasion from the moment he took office. You don't just send 100k soldiers, equipment, fuel, food, communications equipment etc on a whim.

This all seemed so obvious to me, I really could not understand the liberal warhawks I saw around me. I think Bush was masterful in using the 9/11 attacks and combining Sadam and Bin Laden into one demon to get people to support the invasion.

This was a shameful period in the history of the Democratic party -- they just rolled over and let Bush push the country into a wasteful war.

dhogaza said...

"Oil, of course is the key, and the press demonised Chavez, even calling him a dictator although he wasn't."

I haven't noticed the press, at least the press I pay attention to, call him a dictator. I have seen him accused of having "autocratic tendencies" and that seems fair.

After all, he did try to change the constitution so that he could be re-elected indefinitely.

What would we say here if a sitting President tried to get the amendment limiting Presidents to two terms repealed, so that sitting President could run for a third term?

One can appreciate the positive benefits to the lives of poor Venzuelans brought about by Chavez while not turning one's back on the fact that his devotion to democratic institutions might've been a bit ... limited in extent.

ligne said...

pfft, Chavez was a loser. he spunked Venezuela's oil monies on health and education, when he could have better spent it on skyscrapers built with slave labour:

"Chavez invested Venezuela's oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world's tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi." --

dhogaza said...

Today's NYTimes included discussion of Chavez's government providing funding for latino social services NGOs in ... The Bronx.