Allies Are Aghast: Is John Bolton Replaying His Iraq War Playbook with Iran?
“Everyone feels the shadow of 2002–2003. The administration seems determined to find a cause for conflict.” — Former US official
(May 15, 2019) — With the Trump administration slipping onto war footing with Iran, there are growing fears inside Washington that John Bolton, the president’s hawkish national-security adviser, is plagiarizing his own Iraq war playbook.
“Everyone feels the shadow of 2002–2003: The administration seems determined to find a cause for conflict; allies are aghast; the public seems disengaged,” a former senior US official told me, shortly after The New York Times reported that administration officials had begun drawing up plans to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East.
“It’s hard for anyone to fathom why [Donald Trump] would think a war of choice is a good idea, given what he’s said in the past about Iraq and Afghanistan.”
And yet, having outsourced his Iran policy to the architects of America’s forever wars, Trump may be stumbling toward another. Earlier this month, Bolton announced the deployment of a carrier strike group to the region, in order to send a “clear and unmistakable message” that the US was “fully prepared” to retaliate against some unspecified Iranian threat.
An administration official now claims the military has detected “a number of preparations for possible attack” on American troops—British authorities are skeptical—and are blaming Tehran for the recent sabotage of four oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered all “non-emergency US government employees” to leave Iraq, raising fears that some kind of military action is imminent.
It’s unclear whether Trump has been fully briefed on the Bolton-led plan—or, indeed, if any concrete plan exists. Asked on Monday whether he was planning on sending 120,000 troops to the region, the president called the reported proposal “fake news” before apparently endorsing it.
“Would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that,” Trump said. “And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
Experts worry that Bolton, who has long advocated for regime change in Iran, is trying to engineer a confrontation that would draw his more dovish boss into a military conflict.
“To name names, there is a concern that if John Bolton got his way, would he lead the United States into war?” said Cornelius Adebahr, a nonresident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The perception is that John Bolton hasn’t changed. He is the same John Bolton that advocated bombing Iran as little as three years ago.”
(“The president has been clear, the United States does not seek military conflict with Iran, and he is open to talks with Iranian leadership,” Garrett Marquis, a National Security Council spokesman, told the Times. “However, Iran’s default option for 40 years has been violence, and we are ready to defend US personnel and interests in the region.”)
Bolton, of course, has a history of abusing US intelligence to justify his foreign-policy goals. Perhaps most notorious was a May 2002 speech at the Heritage Foundation, in which Bolton, then the State Department’s undersecretary for arms-control issues, accused Cuba of developing biological weapons—an assertion American officials at the time said overstated US intelligence, and which Bolton subsequently tried to repeat to Congress.
“They Lied: There Were No Weapons of Mass Destruction.” —Presidential Candidate Donald Trump in 2016
Later, as the Bush administration made the case for invading Iraq, Bolton helped sell the lie that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons. “We saw a pattern of Mr. Bolton trying to manipulate intelligence to justify his views,” former deputy secretary of state Tony Blinken recently told The New Yorker when discussing Bolton’s failure to secure Senate confirmation when he was appointed as US ambassador to the UN.
“If it had happened once, maybe. But it came up multiple times, and always it was the same underlying issue: he would stake out a position, and then, if the intelligence didn’t support it, he would try to exaggerate the intelligence and marginalize the officials who had produced it.”
Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, agreed that Bolton is a “repeat offender of intelligence manipulation.” But she fears that the Trump administration’s latest moves—bolstering its military presence in the Middle East, escalating rhetoric—will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, goading Iran into responding in kind, and giving Bolton and other hard-liners the justification they need to launch another war.
“No matter what you think is happening, the one thing that we know for sure is that tensions and hostilities are coming to a boiling point,” she said. “And for me, my greatest worry is a military conflict that occurs due to a miscalculation.”
In the event of a miscalculation, DiMaggio fears, “Trump doesn’t have the judgment or the skill needed to manage a conflict before it spirals out of control.” With the Iran nuclear deal, President Barack Obama helped institutionalize a set of incentives for Iran to behave—and for future US administrations to negotiate with Iran’s government in good faith. By withdrawing from that multi-national framework, Trump put the United States at odds with its European allies—which were proponents of keeping the nuclear deal intact—and on a collision course with Iran that was arguably bound to end in conflict.
For Bolton, it may all be by design. “Bolton has figured out how to get his way—in Venezuela, now in Iran, simply moving ahead on what certainly looks like a revival of neocon policy,” the former senior US official told me. “And for whatever reason, Trump is on board or perhaps doesn’t care. Or doesn’t notice.”
Abigail Tracy is a staff news writer for the Hive covering foreign policy and national security.
That Time John Bolton Said It’s Good To Lie About War
“We are in the game of using covert means against the Iranians. We could get nastier at that.” — Patrick Clawson
(May 16, 2019) — Journalist Whitney Webb recently tweeted a 2010 video clip I’d never seen before featuring US National Security Advisor John Bolton defending the use of deception in advancing military agendas, which highlights something we should all be paying attention to as Trump administration foreign policy becomes increasingly Boltonized.
On a December 2010 episode of Fox News’ Freedom Watch, Bolton and the show’s host Andrew Napolitano were debating about recent WikiLeaks publications, and naturally the subject of government secrecy came up.
“Now I want to make the case for secrecy in government when it comes to the conduct of national security affairs, and possibly for deception where that’s appropriate,” Bolton said. “You know Winston Churchill said during World War Two that in wartime truth is so important it should be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.”
“Do you really believe that?” asked an incredulous Napolitano.
“Absolutely,” Bolton replied.
“You would lie in order to preserve the truth?”
“If I had to say something I knew was false to protect American national security, I would do it,” Bolton answered.
“I don’t think we’re often faced with that difficulty, but would I lie about where the D-Day invasion was going to take place to deceive the Germans, you’d better believe it,” Bolton continued.
“Why do people in the government think that the laws of society or the rules don’t apply to them?” Napolitano asked.
“Because they are not dealing in the civil society we live in under the Constitution,” Bolton replied. “They are dealing in the anarchic environment internationally where different rules apply.”
“But you took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and the Constitution mandates certain openness and certain fairness,” Napolitano protested. “You’re willing to do away with that in order to attain a temporary military goal?”
“I think as Justice Jackson said in a famous decision, the Constitution is not a suicide pact,” Bolton said. “And I think defending the United States from foreign threats does require actions that in a normal business environment in the United States we would find unprofessional. I don’t make any apology for it.”
So that’s a thing. And it’s important for us to know it’s a thing because of the way things are heating up in Iran right now, since Bolton’s fingerprints are all over it.
Bolton has long been calling for war with Iran and in a paid speech in July 2017 told his pro-regime change MEK terror cult audience that they would be celebrating the successful overthrow of the Iranian government together before 2019.
Now we’re seeing threat alarms being elevated and fearmongering about Iranian missiles being circulated, with reports being leaked to the press of possible plans to send 120,000 US troops to the region.
This is an environment that is ripe for deceptions of all sorts, and, given what Bolton said on live television nearly a decade ago, we would all do very well to remain very, very skeptical of any and all news we hear about Iran going forward.
If, for example, you hear that within this environment of escalated tensions and military posturing Iran or one of its “proxies” has attacked the United States in some way, your immediate response should be one of intense skepticism about what the mass media talking heads are telling you to believe.
Back in 2012 at a forum for the Washington Institute Of Near East Policy think tank, the group’s Director of Research Patrick Clawson openly talked about the possibility of using a false flag to provoke a war with Iran, citing the various ways the US has done exactly that with its previous wars.
“I frankly think that crisis initiation is really tough, and it’s very hard for me to see how the United States president can get us to war with Iran,” Clawson began.
(Can I just pause here to note what a bizarre series of words that is? “Get us to war with Iran?” Get us to the thing that every sane human being wants to avoid with every fiber of their being? You want to “get us to” there? This is not the kind of thing normal humans say. You only hear this kind of insanity in the DC swamp where creatures like John Bolton have their roots.)
“Which leads me to conclude that if in fact compromise is not coming, that the traditional way that America gets to war is what would be best for US interests,” Clawson added.
“Some people might think that Mr. Roosevelt wanted to get us into the war… you may recall we had to wait for Pearl Harbor.
“Some people might think that Mr. Wilson wanted to get us into World War One; you may recall we had to wait for the Lusitania episode. “Some people might think that Mr. Johnson wanted to get us into Vietnam; you may recall we had to wait for the Gulf of Tonkin episode. “We didn’t go to war with Spain until the USS Maine exploded.
“And may I point out that Mr. Lincoln did not feel that he could call out the Army until Fort Sumter was attacked, which is why he ordered the commander at Fort Sumter to do exactly that thing which the South Carolinians said would cause an attack.
“So if, in fact, the Iranians aren’t going to compromise, it would be best if somebody else started the war,” Clawson continued. “One can combine other means of pressure with sanctions. I mentioned that explosion on August 17th. We could step up the pressure. I mean look, people, Iranian submarines periodically go down. Some day, one of them might not come up. Who would know why?
“We can do a variety of things, if we wish to increase the pressure (I’m not advocating that) but I’m just suggesting that this is not an either/or proposition — just sanctions have to succeed or other things. We are in the game of using covert means against the Iranians. We could get nastier at that.”
So these are ideas that have been in circulation for many years. That gun is loaded and ready to fire.
Bolton trussed up his 2010 confession using an example that most people would agree with: that it was reasonable for the Allied forces to deliberately deceive the Nazis about the nature of the D-Day invasion. But we know John Bolton better than that by now. This PNAC director and architect of the Iraq war once threatened to murder a foreign official’s children because his successful diplomatic efforts were putting a damper on the manufacturing of consent for the Iraq invasion. He wasn’t defending the use of deception in crucial military options used to halt tyrants trying to take over the world, he was defending the use of deception in the senseless wars of aggression that he has built his political career on advancing.
Take everything you hear about Iran with a planet-sized grain of salt, dear reader, and everything you hear about Venezuela too while we’re on the subject. There are skillful manipulators who are hell bent on toppling the governments of those nations, and they have absolutely no problem whatsoever with deceiving you in order to facilitate that. And they don’t believe the rules apply to them.
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