6 Reasons the Conflict with Iran is Giving Us Iraq War Flashbacks

The assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by an American drone strike near the Baghdad International Airport last week has brought the U.S. to the precipice of yet another war in the Middle East. 

The Trump administration’s sudden, violent confrontation with Iran stands in contrast to the methodical march to war with Iraq under George W. Bush and his neoconservative cabinet in 2003. But the rhetoric around the two conflicts has been strikingly similar — as has the reliance on “razor thin” evidence of an imminent threat to establish a cause for war. 

As a journalist who cataloged the lies of the last Republican administration that led America into war with Iraq, the Trump administration’s sketchy justifications for the present conflict, foolish predictions of joyous uprising by the Iranian people, and utter disregard for the question of what comes next, are creating flashbacks of the worst order.

Below are five unsettling parallels between the run-up to violence in Iraq in 2003 and Iran in 2020:

Violence as Liberation

THEN: “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.” — Vice President Dick Cheney, 3/16/03



NOW: “I saw last night there was dancing in the streets in parts of Iraq. We have every expectation that people not only in Iraq but in Iran will view the American action last night as giving them freedom.” — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 1/3/20

No Need to Plan For What Comes Next

THEN: “Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, 11/14/02

NOW“I don’t need exit strategies.” — President Donald Trump, 6/25/19, after calling off a retaliatory strike on Iran for downing an American drone at the last moment.

Specious Claims of 9/11 Connections

THEN: “If we’re successful in Iraq, we will have struck a major blow right at the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11.” — Cheney, 11/14/03

NOW: Solemani’s “atrocities” included having “assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.” — Vice President Mike Pence, 1/3/20

Unshakable Confidence in Regime Change

THEN: “I expect that the American role actually will be fairly minimal…. I think fundamentally the recreation of a hopefully democratic Iraqi government — that must rest with the Iraqis. I think they are fully competent to do it.” Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, 11/20/02

NOW: “Congratulations to all involved in eliminating Qassem Soleimani…. Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran.” — former National Security Adviser Bolton, 1/3/2020

Dubious Claims of Imminent Danger

THEN: Saddam “is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time.” — Cheney, 3/24/02

“Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” — President George W. Bush, 10/7/02

NOW: “Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel.” — Trump, 1/3/20

Soleimani “was actively plotting in the region to take actions — the big action, as he described it — that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk. We know it was imminent.” — Pompeo, 1/3/20

War is Peace

THEN: “We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq.” — Bush, 3/8/03. (The war started 12 days later.)

NOW: “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” — Trump, 1/3/20

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