Editor’s Note: Peter Eisner, former deputy foreign editor of The Washington Post, is co-author with Michael D’Antonio of “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Faced as we are with the possibility that the United States might be drawn into an unprovoked war with Iran, Americans should examine the past behavior of national security adviser John Robert Bolton, the would-be architect of such a war.
Bolton is not only a longtime proponent of regime change in Iran, he was also a key player prior to the 2003 Iraq War in the production of trumped-up charges that Saddam Hussein was preparing to produce nuclear weapons.
Even 16 years after the start of the war, some manage to preserve the false narrative that the CIA was the source of bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In fact, as my colleague Knut Royce and I found in our book, “The Italian Letter,” the CIA and other US intelligence analysts had cast doubt on the notion promoted by Bolton, then Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the administration that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake uranium from the African nation of Niger – an assertion made in intelligence provided to the US that was later found to have been falsified. Nevertheless, with the connivance of Cheney and Bolton, President George W. Bush and his administration frightened Americans about the dangers of a mushroom cloud if no action was taken.
A generation later, Bolton is wielding cynical and questionable rhetoric against Iran, which he has had in his sights along with Iraq. He told Israeli officials in 2003 that the US would also confront threats from Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Earlier this month, Bolton announced that an aircraft carrier and a bomber task force were en route to the Middle East because of unspecified “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” that Iran was considering offensive action against the United States. The warning was greeted with skepticism, as a Democratic congressman accused a Republican senator of hyping it up.
That was also the case in 2003 when Bolton, as undersecretary for arms control and international security at the State Department, disputed Iraq’s 12,000-page declaration to the UN that it had no weapons of mass destruction.
He ordered up a one-page response to Iraq, released less than two weeks later, which said “that Iraq’s declaration ‘ignores efforts to procure uranium from Niger,’” as quoted in a letter written by former House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Henry Waxman, D-California. In fact, Iraq had not tried to obtain uranium and the charge was later revealed to have been based on forged documents.
Charges of exaggeration have not stopped Bolton before. He has advocated regime change in Tehran for years and is on the record as being willing to lie if he decides for himself that the national interest is at stake. “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 told Judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox News in 2010.
Napolitano, no liberal himself, was incredulous.
“You would lie in order to preserve the truth?” he asked Bolton.
“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 better believe it.”
Unfairly, the CIA and other US intelligence agencies still take blame for a civilian-political cabal to force the US into a disastrous, unjustified war in 2003, which Bolton and Cheney led. There are many similarities today. Iraq was not building nuclear weapons in 2003; in 2019, Iran does not appear to be planning a war against the US. Since the outset of the Trump administration, the US has been the aggressor.
“The intelligence community has no evidence of Iran’s plans to threaten U.S. interests in the greater Middle East, let alone provoke a conflict,” writes Melvin Goodman, a former CIA analyst. “Ever since John Bolton was named national security adviser a year ago, the Trump administration has gone overboard with sanctions and propaganda to provoke the government in Tehran.”
Back then, the Bush administration was using Niger as a Tonkin Gulf moment that would justify the US invasion that eventually came – to the cost of tens of thousands of deaths, many more injuries and expenditures estimated at more than $2 trillion. Bolton was a lower-ranking official back then, but now he seems to have his hands on the controls. The only question is whether President Trump, at least as inexperienced and unqualified in foreign policy as was George W. Bush, will go along with Bolton’s machinations.