Originally appeared at The American Conservative.
Tom Friedman’s latest column obviously wasn’t fact-checked before it was published:
And then, a few weeks later, Trump ordered the killing of Suleimani, an action that required him to shift more troops into the region and tell Iraqis that we’re not leaving their territory, even though their Parliament voted to evict us. It also prompted Iran to restart its nuclear weapons program [bold mine-DL], which could well necessitate U.S. military action.
Friedman’s claim that Iran restarted a “nuclear weapons program” is completely false. That isn’t what the Iranian government did, and it is irresponsible to say this when it is clearly untrue. Iran has no nuclear weapons program, and it hasn’t had anything like that for more than sixteen years. The Iranian government took another step in reducing its compliance with the JCPOA in the days following the assassination, but contrary to other misleading headlines their government did not abandon the nuclear deal. Iran has not repudiated its commitment to keep its nuclear program peaceful, and it doesn’t help in reducing tensions to suggest that they have. Trump’s recent actions are reckless and dangerous, but it is wrong to say that those actions have caused Iran to start up a nuclear weapons program. That isn’t the case, and engaging in more threat inflation when tensions are already so high is foolish. Friedman is not the only one to make this blunder, but it is the sort of sloppy mistake we expect from him.
If this were just another error from Friedman, it would be annoying but it wouldn’t matter very much. This has to do with the nature of our debate over Iran policy and the nuclear issue in particular. This matters because there is a great deal of confusion in this country about Iran’s nuclear program that the Trump administration has deliberately encouraged. They have promoted dishonest claims about the JCPOA and made unfounded claims about Iran’s so-called “nuclear ambitions” in order to make it seem as if the Iranian government is trying to acquire nuclear weapons. They have done this to justify their hard-line policies and to lay the groundwork for pursuing regime change and war. Every time that someone repeats false claims about a non-existent “nuclear weapons program” in Iran, it creates unnecessary fear and plays into the administration’s hands. The administration is already working overtime to propagandize the public and scare Americans into supporting aggressive and destructive policies against Iran, and no one should be giving them extra help.
The second part of Friedman’s sentence is also quite dangerous, because it encourages his readers to think that the US would somehow be justified in attacking Iran in the unlikely event that they started developing a nuclear weapon. He suggests that an Iranian nuclear weapons program might “necessitate” military action, but any attack on Iran under those circumstances would be illegal and a war of choice just like the invasion of Iraq that Friedman supported almost 17 years ago. Even when Friedman seems to be skeptical of something that the government has done, he can’t help but indulge in threat inflation and lend support to the idea of preventive war.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.