Friday, March 15, 2013

Ten years since the Iraq invasion, many more years with Iranian threat inflation

James Fallows thinks about the ten year anniversary of the Iraq invasion. He says he'd like to hear from the liberal war hawks and what they've learned.  I don't quite fit that category - not always a liberal for one thing, and was undecided rather than a supporter of the war.  I did believe the WMD stories, and that getting rid of an entrenched dictator could be enormously valuable (I've lived in two dictatorships and had a taste of them).

On the latter issue of overthrowing dictatorship, I think I've learned a distaste for putting American boots on the ground absent clear popular support, which is why I opposed the Afghanistan war expansion but supported doing what we did in Libya, and doing something and not the nothing we've done so far in Syria.

On the former issue of WMDs, Fallows makes an excellent point about "threat inflation", that threats are almost always portrayed as far worse and more imminent than is actually true, and gives some examples.  I've been thinking about Iran's nuclear threat, and it turns out in 2011, Christian Science Monitor had a good description of that over time.  Here's a condensed version:
1992: Israeli parliamentarian Benjamin Netanyahu tells his colleagues that Iran is 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon – and that the threat had to be "uprooted by an international front headed by the US."

1992: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres tells French TV that Iran was set to have nuclear warheads by 1999. "Iran is the greatest threat and greatest problem in the Middle East," Peres warned, "because it seeks the nuclear option while holding a highly dangerous stance of extreme religious militancy."

1995: The New York Times conveys the fears of senior US and Israeli officials that "Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than previously thought" – about five years away – and that Iran’s nuclear bomb is “at the top of the list” of dangers in the coming decade.

1998: The same week, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reports to Congress that Iran could build an intercontinental ballistic missile – one that could hit the US – within five years. The CIA gave a timeframe of 12 years.
I think we should forever rename Netanyahu as Bibi "Iran Will Have Nukes in 1997" Netanyahu, and never again take seriously anything he says.  As Kevin Drum says, we're also far better off to discount significantly any claimed threat elsewhere.

UPDATE:  thought I'd add that the new Republican willingness to cut the defense budget may be complicating budget negotiations, but otherwise it's a good thing and might lead to less adventurism.