$SPY: US-Iran 2020 feels like US-Iraq 2002/03 | Jan 2020


1. Some people I respect think it’s melodramatic or overly political to compare what’s happening now to the run up to the Iraq War. Until the last couple of days I completely agreed. but my view has changed. So let me try to explain the similarities I see. 

2. It starts with the overall mentality in this administration and the Bush administration. In the weeks after 9/11 many around Bush became convinced that Iraq was the key to all the problems in the Middle East. Indeed they had held that view for years 

3. Similarly from day one there has been an Iran obsession in this administration with Pence and Pompeo (see Cheney and Rumsfeld) convinced from the start that Iran was the source of all of the region’s problems 

4. That didn’t make war with Iraq inevitable in 2001 and it doesn’t make war with Iran inevitable today. On Iraq. the view was that the first priority had to be Afghanistan where AQ was. In the first years of the Trump administration the priority has been finishing the ISIS fight 

5. But in the Bush case, Iraq always lurked in the background. And from the start it’s been the same with Iran in the Trump administration. 

6. Bush moved on to Iraq quickly neglecting Afghanistan which became a huge mistake. Sounds familiar today as the counter IsIS mission is suspended and the Iraqi parliament votes to toss us out. 

7. In the case of Iraq there were a number of justifications. Saddam has WMD. He supported 9/11. He is a terrible guy and getting rid of him will bring democracy. All kinda of different motivations that ultimately created a consensus for war. 

8. In the case of Iran we also have that consensus in the Trump administration. It’s about the nuclear program. It’s about Iran’s support for terrorism. We need regime change. All different motivations but ultimately consensus. 

9. In the case of Iraq the justification that was chosen because it made for the strongest argument for the public was WMD and based on dubious intel a slam dunk case was built. There were many professionals at the time who warned the intel was thin. They were ignored 

10. Today the case seems to be starting with the intel inflation of the past few months on Iranian targeting of US assets in the Middle East. Since May when these reports started you’ve seen intel officials consistently telling journalists that the administration is hyping intel. 

11. The Soleimani strike is the most extreme example. It seems quite obvious there was no imminent threat based on all the reporting from intel sources. Just the usual threats in the Mideast stuff that can be made to sounds super scary. Just like the intel around Saddam WMDs. 

12. You can see pretty clearly how we can build from where we are today through an escalatory cycle that eventually gets us to an all our war. I’ve written more about that here.

13. Seems eerily similar to the back and forth in the months leading up to the Iraq war in the fall of 2002 into spring of 2003. There wasn’t a kenetic tit for tat, but diplomatic escalation and military build up that eventually took us to war. 

14. you can say the good news is that the Iranian regime doesn’t want war and will be smart enough not to go there. Neither did Saddam. He was scared enough to destroy all of his WMDs. But it didn’t matter because we miscalculated and were so convinced of his malevolence 

15. You can make the case Trump is different then Bush. He campaigned on getting out of wars in the Middle East. But actually so did Bush. His foreign policy platform in the 2000 campaign was to get back to great power comeption and stop fighting all these small unnecessary wars. 16. Perhaps the biggest difference is that after 9/11 the public was traumatized and ready to support a major war. Today they aren’t. That is a genuine difference. And good news. 

17. But Trump doesn’t need the public. His 40% will support him no matter what. He can easily sell them on a war. And if he think the rally behind the flag effect can get him another 5-10% and distract from impeachment that might be enough. 

18. I disagreed with Bush, but at least the man had principles. Trump does not. And so starting a war for his own political benefit is absolutely on the table and it thinks it can get him that small nudge he needs watch out. 

19. And so I hope I am wrong and in a year from now this will seem alarmist. There is still a reasonable chance we can avoid an all out conflict. 

20. But the combination of ideologues obsessed with a problem + willingness to inflate intel + miscalculation on both sides + a political environment that makes this possible, should make us all very worried. 

21. History does not repeat itself but it often rhymes. And 2020 is starting to sound a little too much like 2002/3. ENd 

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