October 13, 2011 10:48 am ET
A few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, I attended a big holiday dinner with family and friends. Naturally much of the conversation revolved around the terrorist attacks and the rage and sorrow we all felt. There was also considerable discussion about President George W. Bush's handling of the catastrophe and his decision to send troops to Afghanistan in pursuit of the perpetrators and to eliminate the Taliban regime that was hosting them.
Everyone at the table approved of the president's actions and believed that there was no alternative. Moreover, and this was somewhat surprising considering that none of us thought Bush had been legitimately elected, we all believed that he was being honest about the situation the United States faced and the options that were before him.
There was, however, one dissenter. My younger son, then in college, was absolutely opposed to going into Afghanistan. He said that there had to be a better way to respond than rushing into a war that, in his opinion, would likely expand and last "forever." Besides, he added, "I don't believe a word that comes out of Bush's mouth."
Naturally a brouhaha ensued with everyone (including me) telling the kid how utterly wrong and unpatriotic he was. There was a lot of yelling, but he would not back down. He just kept saying "you'll see."
Boy did we. Prodded by his neoconservative advisers and outside cheerleaders eager to pick up where the first Gulf War ended, Bush quickly pivoted from Afghanistan to the calamitous invasion of Iraq. He justified that invasion by insisting that Iraq was implicated in the 9/11 attacks (it wasn't) and that it possessed weapons of mass destruction (it didn't).
Both the Bush administration and its faithful ally, the Tony Blair government in the United Kingdom, famously set out to "fix" the intelligence to deceive the people of both nations into an utterly unnecessary and unjustified war, the main accomplishment of which has been to turn Iraq into, of all things, a strong ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Along the way, of course, hundreds of thousands of Americans, Iraqis, Brits and others have died and Iraq has essentially been destroyed.
It is against this backdrop that I view the Iranian plot that was announced earlier this week by the Obama administration. At this point, it is impossible to say how serious the plot was and, more importantly, if it even had anything at all to do with the Iranian government. Are we ready to believe that the cold and calculating people who govern Iran are contracting out assassination plots with Mexican drug traffickers or that they would pick Washington as the best place to attack the Saudi ambassador (knowing that being found responsible for a major explosion in Washington would mean war with the Saudi Arabia and United States)?
This is not to dismiss the plot as phony or contrived. But after the Iraq war experience, it would be awfully stupid of Americans to simply accept without question anything we are told about nefarious Muslim states that must be stopped before a "mushroom cloud" appears over downtown Washington.
The only good news here is that we have past experience to guide us. But for the lies and manufactured evidenced that led us into Iraq we might not have reason to be skeptical about the case the government laid out yesterday and which the usual suspects are already joyously citing as reason to get tough with Iran (as if that country is not under onerous sanctions already). Here is Reuel Mark Gerecht, one of the leading cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq, warning that the supposed plot justifies a U.S. attack on Iran. "The White House needs to respond militarily to this outrage. If we don't, we are asking for it," he writes. (Not very different from what he wrote in 2002 when he said that "if President Bush follows his own logic and compels his administration to follow him against Iraq and Iran, then he will sow the seeds for a new, safer, more liberal order in the Middle East.")
But for the lies and manufactured evidence that led us into Iraq, we might actually accept the idea that the Iran plot is thoroughly genuine and in no way linked to the determination of so many inside our government and out of it who are hell-bent on war with Iran and who would do anything they can to achieve it.
Fortunately, however, and this may be the only fortunate thing about the Iraq war, the Iraq experience taught us to be skeptical, especially of anything and everything championed by the hawks.
So let's go slowly here. If the plot turns out to be both real and sanctioned by powerful people in Tehran, a strong response of some kind is warranted. But first let's make sure. The neocons' "drop bombs now and ask questions later" approach has been thoroughly discredited. How stupid would we have to be, then, to allow the same gang to lead us into yet another reckless war, one that would be infinitely more deadly?
Count me among the skeptics.
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