John Richard Cookson
Security, Middle East
Iran today has uncanny echoes of the Iraq War’s beginning.
Why did the United States invade Iraq in 2003? The stock answer is because of a lie- the drummed-up belief that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). After all, everyone knows that no such weapons were ever found. However, the claim that the U.S. invaded Iran solely because of WMDs is also a lie. On its own, the WMD explanation is false because it was not the first or determining reason why America went to war. It is a concision of history that is as misleading as attributing the inevitability of World War I to Gavrilo Princip being a crack shot. That’s is not a sufficient or complete explanation and is at best a lie of omission that dumbs down the causes of the war.
The lie of why America invaded Iraq must be torn down now, though, before history is repeated. Political seismologists are even now noticing similar rumblings around Iran to those that occurred before the Iraq War. As Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of the National Interest, recently wrote, “the spirit of George W. Bush has once more begun to inhabit the White House.” National security adviser John Bolton, Heilbrunn said, “is busy urging Trump to revive the regime change policies that seemed to be discredited after the 2003 Iraq War, but are now making a comeback.”
Such policies should remain discredited, and so it is necessary, if not to discard the WMD lie entirely, then to situate it in a more accurate context. The WMD narrative is not unique to Iraq and serves as a useful warning today. It is also necessary to acknowledge that the United States set against Baghdad well before Secretary of State Colin Powell shook a vial of anthrax at the United Nations, dramatically making the case that Iraq had WMDs. The fact is that the case for invasion was made up of three components largely separate from Saddam’s supposed WMDs.