Tom Friedman’s Hapless Fear-Mongering

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.

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Kerry Makes Weak Excuses for Biden’s Iraq War Vote

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

John Kerry supports Biden for the Democratic nomination, and he has been acting as a campaign surrogate to defend Biden’s vote for the Iraq war authorization in 2002. Kerry also voted for the 2002 AUMF, so he has his own reason for wanting to spin Biden’s record as something other than what it was. NBC News quoted Kerry as saying this:

“It was a mistake to have trusted them, I guess, and we paid a high price for it,” Kerry added. “But that was not voting for the war.”

Kerry appeared on Face the Nation today to defend Biden against Bernie Sanders’ criticism of the former vice president’s support for the war:

Kerry’s argument is ridiculous. He and other hawkish Democratic senators that voted for the 2002 AUMF want to spin their votes as voting for “leverage,” but in fact they were voting to give the president the authority to order attacks on the Iraqi government. That is voting for war, and there is nothing else that it could be. Biden’s public statements about the war show that he didn’t turn against it after the invasion happened, because in the end he wasn’t opposed to Bush’s decision to invade. Months after the invasion, Biden said, “I, for one, thought we should have gone in Iraq.” This isn’t something the Sanders campaign is making up. This is Biden’s record, and Kerry’s weak spin just compounds the problem.

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Trump’s Awful, Dishonest Iran Speech

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Trump’s remarks this morning show that his Iran policy remains as blinkered and reckless as ever. Following the Iranian retaliation last night that caused no casualties, the president does not appear to be escalating the conflict further for the moment. Then again, there would have been no conflict at all were it not for the president’s excessive and illegal actions over the last week. Trump’s remarks were representative of his Iran policy: dishonest and blinkered.

The speech began with his bizarre statement that “Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” but then there is currently no danger that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon. The main reason for that is still the JCPOA that he has worked overtime to destroy. This first line sets tone for the propaganda that follows. The president’s Iran policy is founded on a lie that one of the most successful nonproliferation agreements of all time is “defective,” and that misinforms and warps everything else. It is not possible for a policy to be effective or sound when it is based on such a ridiculous falsehood.’

Trump’s justification for assassinating Soleimani leans heavily on describing him as a terrorist, but this ignores that he was a state actor serving in a branch of the Iranian military. This erases the very important distinction between targeting non-state terrorists and members of another country’s military, and choosing to ignore that distinction is what so dangerously escalated tensions with Iran over the last few days. The president doesn’t even attempt to offer a legal justification for what he did, because it was plainly illegal and the president obviously couldn’t care less about the law in any case.

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The Backfiring Iran Obsession and the Baghdad Embassy Protests

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

The growing Iraqi backlash to the recent U.S. airstrikes escalated significantly with a massive protest that broke into the American embassy in Baghdad. Kelley Vlahos has already discussed this on our State of the Union blog:

Protesters have stormed the US embassy in Baghdad and reportedly set fire to the main entrance area, shouting “Death to America” and “Down, Down, USA”.

The protesters are made up of members of the Popular Mobilization Forces, and they are demanding the expulsion of US forces from Iraq. Far from “restoring deterrence,” the airstrikes have provoked a massive and hostile reaction that puts US forces in greater jeopardy and completely undermines whatever influence the US still had in Iraq. I said yesterday that this was Trump’s big Iraq blunder, and that may have understated how significant it was. The New York Times reports on the protests:

Protesters broke into the heavily guarded compound of the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday and lit fires inside to express their anger over American airstrikes that killed 24 members of an Iranian-backed militia over the weekend.

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Remembering the Invasion of Panama

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Panama marked the 30th anniversary of the U.S. invasion with an official day of mourning for the first time this year:

Panama declared a day of national mourning for Friday, the 30th anniversary of the US invasion that ousted dictator Manuel Noriega and resulted in hundreds of deaths in the Central American nation.

The measure approved Wednesday by members of President Laurentino Cortizo’s Cabinet, a first for the country, has been a main demand of relatives of those killed in the military operation, who see it as a symbolic step toward justice for the deaths of Panamanian civilians and soldiers.

The invasion of Panama was the first regime change war of the last thirty years. No one realized it at the time, but it marked the start of an era of hyperactive militarism that has not ended yet. It is the first US war that I can remember, and it is sobering to consider that the US has been engaged in hostilities somewhere in the world almost every year since then. President Bush had questionable legal authority to launch the invasion, and Congress certainly never had time to debate or authorize it. Because the war was short and has been overshadowed by larger military interventions since then, it has faded into obscurity, but we should remember it for the damage that it did and for the precedent of arbitrary presidential warmaking that it set. It was the first in a series of wars against small, outmatched countries that posed no threat to the United States.

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The Lies That Keep America at War

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

An extensive investigation by The Washington Post into a trove of confidential documents has found that the government has been deliberately misleading the public about the war in Afghanistan with dishonest claims of progress senior officials knew to be untrue:

Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul – and at the White House – to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to US military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

John Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged to The Post that the documents show “the American people have constantly been lied to.” [bold mine-DL]

The interviews are the byproduct of a project led by Sopko’s agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Known as SIGAR, the agency was created by Congress in 2008 to investigate waste and fraud in the war zone.

The revelations in the report show that our political and military leadership that has been constantly violating the public’s trust for the sake of perpetuating a futile war. Their efforts to distort and conceal the evidence of the war’s failure have served to warp the debate over US policy in Afghanistan to the detriment of US interests and at the cost of American and Afghan lives. Instead of telling the public the truth that the war was unwinnable, our political and military leaders have worked to keep Americans in the dark about the conflict as much as possible.

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