Anatomy of a Media War Machine: Do Talks of War with Iran Mirror Iraq in 2003?

Anatomy of a Media War Machine: Do Talks of War with Iran Mirror Iraq in 2003?
Anatomy of a Media War Machine: Do Talks of War with Iran Mirror Iraq in 2003?
Published May 30th, 2019 - 06:46 GMT

No matter how terribly costly a never-ending war can be, drumming up support for one is a relatively straightforward process. 



A potential war between the U.S. and Iran has long been teased and remained a subject of speculation for over a decade.

George W. Bush declared Iran to be part of his trademark ‘Axis of Evil,’ along with Iraq. The U.S. appeared to only narrowly avoid a conflict under Obama when it signed a nuclear deal with Tehran, but the U.S.’ subsequent withdrawal from the deal and escalating rhetoric from Trump’s administration has many analysts questioning: is the U.S. seriously gearing itself up for war against Iran, as it did against Iraq in 2001-03?

“Trump is edging toward a disastrous war with Iran,” an op-ed from USA Today warns. “Is the US media beating the drums of war on Iran?” Al Jazeera wonders, recalling previous conflicts where major media outlets reliably came to the aid of the U.S. government seeking a popular mandate for their war efforts. “Trump’s Iran rhetoric sparks warning of Iraq war redux,” argues Politico. Middle East Monitor, meanwhile said “By attacking Iran, US in danger of repeating mistakes of 2003 Iraq War.”

There’s a strong case to be made that the perceived war-mongering against Iran mirrors the U.S.’ mobilization against Iraq.

Trump’s current National Security Adviser, John Bolton, was one of the most-vocal hawks in Bush’s administration. His entire political career seems to consist of convincing presidents that wars in the Middle East are always in the U.S.’ best interest. 

And the unverified intelligence reports regarding supposed Iranian attacks on the oil tankers and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad are reminiscent of the questionable claims that Iraq’s strongman Saddam Hussein was stockpiling uranium, building links with al-Qaeda and maintaining hundreds of tiny facilities making weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

Nevertheless, there are key differences that should put these concerns to rest.

 

The U.S. does not appear to have consolidated a war machine against Iran yet as it did with Iraq. But a deepdive into the U.S.’ post 9/11 media landscape elicits a prescient lesson regarding the current tensions against Iran.

 

While John Bolton maintains a sizeable presence in Trump’s cabinet, he’s one of the few Iran hawks dictating U.S. foreign policy. Trump is not sold on the war, and indeed appears increasingly disenchanted with Bolton’s war-mongering. 

On top of that, left, center and right-wing media outlets all appear hesitant or staunchly opposed to a war against Iran; a far cry from the near-universal war fever that saturated the U.S.’ media landscape in 2001-03. 

The U.S. does not appear to have consolidated a war machine against Iran yet as it did with Iraq. But a deepdive into the U.S.’ post 9/11 media landscape elicits a prescient lesson regarding the current tensions against Iran.

It takes years of concise messaging, fabricated information and militant nationalism to develop the pro-war consensus. Once that consensus is made however, the violent momentum that comes with it is nearly impossible to halt.

There’s still time for that to happen against Iran.


Building the Case for War Against Iraq

George W. Bush (AFP/FILE)

The day al-Qaeda hijacked planes and killed over 2,000 U.S. civilians with them, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered his aides to evaluate a plan to “hit SH [Saddam Hussein] @ same time,” as Osama bin Laden.

In the months following 9/11, then-president George W. Bush, along with several members of his cabinet, sought to leverage the trauma and fear into a case for war in Iraq.

Despite intelligence reports discrediting a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, Bush physically cornered then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Nov 2001 and demanded an action plan to enact regime change in Iraq. 

"What have you got in terms of plans for Iraq? What is the status of the war plan?” He asked. 

“I want you to get on it. I want you to keep it secret.”

Rumsfeld obliged and within the month, a page-long memo outlined a potential invasion of Iraq, including a detailed account of how to begin the process.

Shortly thereafter, the Bush administration created independent intelligence entities that sifted through unvetted and often unreliable information, searching for anything that could justify a war. 

From biochemical weapons, to nukes, to harboring al Qaeda and secret purchases of yellowcake from Niger, unvetted and fabricated intelligence filled the cherry-picked policy briefs of key members of Bush’s administration and leaked to journalists unwittingly banging the drums of war.

Then-Under-Secretary of Arms Control John Bolton established his own intelligence gathering outfit from his office, which he then used to forward unvetted information to other senior administration figures and the press.

Bolton later admitted to sweeping up vast amounts of raw intelligence. “I found that there was lots of stuff that I wasn’t getting and that the INR [State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research] analysts weren’t including,” he told the New Yorker. “I didn’t want it filtered. I wanted to see everything—to be fully informed. If that puts someone’s nose out of joint, sorry about that.”

For Greg Thielmann, INR’s liaison assigned to Bolton, he perceived the situation differently: “Bolton seemed to be troubled because INR was not telling him what he wanted to hear,” he said.

 

"What have you got in terms of plans for Iraq? What is the status of the war plan?”

 

The largest and most effective of these new intelligence clearing houses was called the Office of Special Planning (OSP), and it played a central role in drumming up support for the war among decision makers and the public. 

Rumsfeld (left) with Bush (right) (AFP/FILE)

According to an anonymous Pentagon advisor, the OSP “was created in order to find evidence of what [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true—that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States.” 

In other words, the OSP’s main goal was to cherry-pick information it found and validate the conclusion that the Bush administration was pushing.

In the context of other intelligence groups, the OSP postured itself in opposition to others, especially the CIA. “There’s a high degree of paranoia. They’ve convinced themselves that they’re on the side of angels, and everybody else in the government is a fool,” a former CIA official said of the group.

A 2003 investigation of the OSP by The Guardian found that the OSP “functioned like a shadow government, much of it off the official payroll and beyond congressional oversight. But it proved powerful enough to prevail in a struggle with the State Department and the CIA by establishing a justification for war.”

One of the OSP’s most prolific sources of information was a little-known Iraqi engineer named Rafid Ahmed al-Janabi who went by the codename of Curveball. 

Defecting from Iraq in 1999, Curveball sought asylum in Germany and began telling fantastical tales of state-of-the-art bioweapon chemicals under the control of Saddam Hussein that could be synthesized in mobile factories.

Though German intelligence balked at the claims and found Curveball’s own personal biography to be questionable, the OSP found the claims compelling to their case. Soon after they got ahold of his testimony, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a speech to the U.N. where he said


"We have first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels.”

"The source was an eyewitness — an Iraqi chemical engineer who supervised one of these facilities. He was present during biological agent production runs.” Curveball’s story became a sticking point in the U.S.’ cause for war, even though he later admitted he fabricated his allegations as a way to topple Saddam.

 

“There’s a high degree of paranoia. They’ve convinced themselves that they’re on the side of angels, and everybody else in the government is a fool."

 

A major source of information for the OSP was a network of Iraqi defectors called the Iraqi National Congress (INC). Its founder, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi, weaved narratives together that Saddam is stockpiling WMDs and nuclear weapons.

“There was considerable skepticism throughout the intelligence community about the reliability of Chalabi’s sources, but the defector reports were coming all the time,” Greg Thielmann of the INR explained. “Knock one down and another comes along. Meanwhile, the garbage was being shoved straight to the President.””

Another source, a former scientist under Saddam named Khidir Hamza, convinced journalists and policy makers alike that secret, underground nuclear facilities could be found all over Saddam’s Iraq, and it was only a matter of time before he became a global existential threat.

One particularly outlandish claim was that Saddam was seeking uranium concentrate power, also called yellowcake, from Niger. If used, yellowcake can be used to accelerate nuclear weapons development, and Saddam’s alleged purchase of the material would have indicated he is restarting his nuclear weapons development program secretly. 

A short, unvetted document from Italian intelligence detailing the claim was deemed unfounded by the CIA, but it was nevertheless featured in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Former Senator Bob Kerrey commented in 2003 that the hawks pushing for war in Iraq “understood that to get the American people on their side they needed to come up with something more to say than ‘We’ve liberated Iraq and got rid of a tyrant.’ So they had to find some ties to weapons of mass destruction and were willing to allow a majority of Americans to incorrectly conclude that the invasion of Iraq had something to do with the World Trade Center. Overemphasizing the national-security threat made it more difficult to get the rest of the world on our side. It was the weakest and most misleading argument we could use.” 


Saddam Hussen (AFP/FILE)

Simultaneous to the concerted effort to link Saddam to al-Qaeda, another, vaguer effort was championed: the war on terror.

Rather than designating specific actors to be threatening to immediate U.S. interests or assets, the mentality built into the ‘war on terror’ was that amorphous evils were always, by nature, plotting against or subverting American ideals. To this end, it didn’t matter that rumors on Saddam’s supposed collaboration with al-Qaeda turns out to be false: the simple fact that they are both deemed evil makes them viable targets for the war on terror.

“You can’t distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror,” Bush said in Sep 2002, reiterating that both are equally as bad and evil in their antagonism to the U.S.

 

“Fuck Saddam,” Bush told his aides in March 2002. “We’re taking him out.”

 

These stories and narratives were fast-tracked into decision makers’ speeches, policy briefs and news stories selling the case for war against Saddam Hussein, even if subsequent vetting by the CIA found them all to be unreliable or fabricated.

By design of the OSP and others inside the administration, the fabrications became public knowledge, while the debunks wasted away inside confidential reports locked away in file cabinets.

The fabrications then became the reality Americans lived in, and Iraq became the world’s biggest threat. The mentality of the ‘war on terror’ took hold in a U.S. still coping with the tragedy of 9/11.

“Fuck Saddam,” Bush told his aides in March 2002. “We’re taking him out.”

 

A War Consensus Builds 

Bush with U.S. troops (supplied)

Fabricated stories of Saddam’s WMDs and secret network of nuclear facilities began seeping into widely read and watched mainstream media outlets.

Often, this was because journalists were reaching out to officials and fabricators like Curveball for their scoops. Other times, security analysts deemed serious and reputable faithfully repeated the fabrications themselves, lending them newfound credibility. The analysts benefited by siding with the government’s war efforts: the more dramatic, dead-serious take supporting the war, the more clout that analyst would have with administration officials and like-minded neoconservative think tanks. Drumming up support for the war became a career accelerant.

A veritable ecosystem was created between media outlets, journalists, columnists and Bush administration officials, who all collectively collaborated to market the WMDs stories and push the U.S. into war.

For example, an unverified account of a nuclear weapons facility would be described by an authoritative-sounding source, then an administration official would cite that article as proof the nuclear facility was real. Suddenly, the nuclear facility became real. From there, major media outlets would produce yet more stories describing the nuclear facility and quote security analysts and experts in speculating about the threat it poses. These assessments would then be utilized by both the administration and media outlets to claim the only answer to ensure Americans’ safety was a war.

Every step was driven by myth, conflation of threats and exaggeration.

This example, which gives a blueprint for building a media and popular consensus for war, actually happened many times over.

The newspaper of record, the New York Times, featured multiple, front-page stories featuring fabricated stories about Saddam’s machinations. One such story’s headline was “U.S. Says Hussein Intensified Quest for A-Bomb Parts,” a spread over the first page of the newspaper on Sep 8, 2002.

The story, written by then-NYT journalist Judith Miller, alleged that Saddam Hussein was seeking aluminum tubes that were surmised to be constituent parts of a nuclear weapon.

“More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today,” the article read.

An anonymous U.S. official used the information to justify Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, saying “The first sign of a ‘smoking gun may be a mushroom cloud.” 

A handful of hours after this account was released in NYT, Dick Cheney quoted Miller to the press to prove his administration's claims about Saddam’s stockpile of nuclear material.

Later, when the war began, Miller embedded herself with U.S. forces and toured Iraq with Curveball. While in the desert, Curveball apparently “pointed to several spots in the sand where he said chemical precursors and other weapons material were buried,” as Miller herself wrote.

As war-rhetoric ratched up and the American public began believing the link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, two influential public figures, Lawrence Kaplan and William ‘Bill’ Kristol, released a well-timed book re-upping the government's claims on Jan 1, 2003. 

Entitled “The War Over Iraq: Saddam's Tyranny and America's Mission,” Kaplan and Kristol argued that Iraq was most certainly hiding nukes from the world, citing Iraqi defector Khidir Hamza, who had yet been discredited. “But as U.N. officials began their work, all signs were that Saddam would pick up where he left off in 1998, playing what defector Khidir Hamza calls the same old game of hide and seek,’ they write.


Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush (AFP/FILE)

“Whatever U.N. inspectors do or do not find, the fact remains that Saddamʼs WMD arsenal has gone unmonitored since 1998,” they add, later claiming that Saddam maintains 10 tons of uranium and 1 ton of lightly enriched uranium with the ability to develop nuclear weapons by 2005.

The book also presumes Saddam had been harboring al-Qaeda to make the case for war.

In justifying the war on terror from the position of America’s unique, exceptional ability to be a virtuous actor, neoconservative columnist Max Boot urged that there is “no need to run away from the label,” of American Empire.

In a column for the now-defunct hawkish paper, The Weekly Standard, Boot saw Europe’s rejection of the U.S.’ mobilization in Iraq and scoffed: “ In the case of Iraq, they just can't seem to accept that we might be acting for, say, the general safety and security of the world,” he wrote indignantly.

“America's destiny is to police the world,” Boot also said.

 

“This is going to be a two-month war, not a year war.”

 

Editorial standards fell by the wayside, with major publications profited off the atmosphere of war with cheap article like CNN’s Sep 2002 “Experts: Iraq has tons of chemical weapons.”

Inside the article, a flagrant claim by Jon Wolfsthal, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, that "Iraq continues to possess several tons of chemical weapons agents, enough to kill thousands and thousands of civilians or soldiers," drove the piece’s central contention home. Expounding upon false details Saddam’s nuclear capabilities, experts easily made headlines by speculating how many people could die under the hand of Saddam.

As the drive for war reached a fever pitch, the New York Times began publishing opinion pieces from members of Bush’s cabinet to justify a pre-emptive strike on Iraq, despite ongoing fights inside the intelligence community revolving around the veracity of the WMDs claims.

“By both its actions and its inactions, Iraq is proving not that it is a nation bent on disarmament, but that it is a nation with something to hide,” then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice wrote in the NYT on Jan 23, 2003, a few months before the invasion began.

“Iraq is still treating inspections as a game. It should know that time is running out.”  

Another op-ed by NYT columnist William Safire claimed that “Iraq, of course, is the most immediate target [of the U.S.]. Because Saddam Hussein has dispersed his nuclear facilities and placed his germ warfare plants in such places as the basement of the Baghdad hospital, airstrikes alone won't meet the threat.” Even as no evidence could be found backing up his claims, Safire insisted later that “freed [Iraqi] scientists will lead us to caches no inspectors could find.”

Once it became clear a war was going to happen, officials and journalists insisted it would be won quickly and painlessly.

On Feb 27, 2003, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told a congressional hearing that Iraq’s people would love an invasion. “I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators,” before saying that the U.S. wouldn’t need than many troops to get the job done. Dick Cheney affirmed that sentiment with more confidence: “We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators,” he said on March 16, 2003.
 

Bush declares victory over Iraq (AFP/FILE)

“This is going to be a two-month war, not a year war,” neoconservative commentator Bill Kristol declared on CSPAN. Davud Frum, another neocon pundit, said in a Feb 24, 2003 issue of the conservative National Review newspaper, that “the Iraq fight itself is probably going to go very, very fast. The shooting should be over within just a very few days from when it starts.”

The years-long effort by administration officials, aided by a sea of experts, journalists and news outlets, to sell a war in Iraq succeeded. 

A Feb 2003 CNN-TIME poll found that 76 percent of surveyed Americans felt Saddam was assisting al Qaeda. Another found 72 percent of surveyed Americans thought it very likely or somewhat likely that Saddam was personally involved in 9/11. A Gallup poll released in March found that 72 percent of surveyed Americans supported the invasion in Iraq, and 71 percent approved of Bush’s performance as president.

Most Americans simply believed the war was just and noble, and the Saddam had likely attacked America. 

On March 19, 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam while dismantling his regime. It then established a weak puppet government, and has since spent 16 years attempting to rebuild what was destroyed

In that time, over half a million Iraqis were killed, most of them civilians, about 5,000 U.S. soldiers have died, a political vacuum opened that ISIS filled briefly, and political chaos has reigned.

 

Iran in 2019

The current tensions with Iran, which some argue amounts to a march to war, has a few striking similarities to the buildup to Iraq in 2003.

First, there were strong suggestions that Iran had violated the terms of the nuclear deal and was secretly restarting its nuclear weapons development program, much like Iraq was accused of doing.

On May 8, 2018, Trump announced that he would withdraw from the deal, hinting that Iran was developing nukes. “In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons,” he claimed. “Therefore I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.”

A few months later, Israel backed up Trump’s assertions. In late August, 2018, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of hiding its nuclear weapons development, slyly mixing timelines and carefully choosing his words to insinuate that Iran was no longer complying with the 2015 nuclear deal.


Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presenting historical evidence on Iran’s nuclear program (AFP/FILE)

“Iran lied, big time,” he said, showing of a trove of documents he claimed were recovered by Israeli secret agents, which the world “new and conclusive proof” that Iran had, in fact, maintained a nuclear weapons program at one point. “Even after the deal, Iran continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons programme for future use,” he claimed.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international nuclear watchdog assigned to monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities, said they had seen those documents as early as 2005 and many were made public in 2011. They just weren’t new.

Though the documents only showed what the world had already known, that Iran had a nuclear program in the past, Trump was convinced it signaled a clear and present danger to the world. 

“I’ve been saying it’s happening” Trump said from the White House. “They’re not sitting back idly.”

The withdraw and amped-up rhetoric from Israel and Trump was a sign to many that the U.S. was abandoning diplomacy with Iran in favor of military threats; a perception heightened once Trump appointed John Bolton, of Iraq war infamy, to be his national security advisor in April 2018. Before that, Bolton was making grand speeches, declaring that the U.S. was force a regime change in Iran and would be greeted as liberators in Tehran. 

“The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran,” he said in late 2017. “And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!”

The breaking news which drove many to warn the U.S. was blindwalking into a war with Iran came in May 2019.

Unverified reports surfaced that Iranian forces were hitting oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz and launched a missile into the Green Zone of Baghdad, striking an area near to the U.S. Embassy. These reports struck many to be similar to the questionable intelligence regarding Saddam’s supposed WMD stockpiles.

The oil tanker claim was initially made by Saudi Arabia, and an anonymous U.S. official accompanied a few stories claiming an initial assessment found Iran to blame. Outlets were quick to point out that the assessment had not been made public and no subsequent evidence showed Iran to be at fault.

After a quick investigation by the Associated Press revealed satellite images of the oil tankers to have no visible damage to them, the claims that Iranian forces were sabotaging oil tankers subsided, but explicit war-mongering by politicians mounted.

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, a career-long Iran hawk, claimed the U.S. could easily win a war with Iran, and predicted the conflict would consist of two strikes: “the first strike and the last strike,” mimicking the childhood taunt of “two hits, I hit you, you hit the ground.”

Then on May 18, a few days after the oil tankers were allegedly hit, a missile was fired into the Green Zone of Baghdad. Trump immediately blamed Iran and tweeted, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

By now, media hype about a looming war with the U.S. and Iran had been escalating since Trump’s first threats to Iran shortly after his inauguration.

But the substance of the media hype has been entirely different than the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.


A Weary United States

Shutterstock

Pundits, analysts and politicians have been vocal in their opposition to the war-hype and insistent that a war would be catastrophic. Rather than a revolving door of news outlets and officials jointly ramping up the rhetoric, news cycles involve more heated debate.

The tensions are rising, but the media war machine that existed in 2001-2003 has not materialized in 2019. Unverified intelligence reports are not being endlessly recirculated or threats wildly exaggerated amidst a context of a general, global climate of abject fear. 

Skepticism and fatigue are overriding nationalist fervor.

David Frum, famed believer in the cause to oust Saddam, came out and wrote, “Take It From an Iraq War Supporter—War With Iran Would Be a Disaster.”

Rather than theorizing on how to most effectively deliver freedom to Iraq, opinion columns are filled with calls to “Stop the Iran war before it starts” and guides on “How to Stop the March to War With Iran."

Popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson came out against the war. “How is a war with Iran in America’s interest in any way?” he pondered on-air in a segment entitled “Endless Wars.”

Even a U.K. military commander pushed back against U.S. military claims that Iran poses a heightened threat to allied forces in the Middle East. “There’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” British Major General Chris Ghika said.

Powerful politicians in the U.S. are largely against a potential war.  “Let me say that we have to avoid any war with Iran,” House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi said on May 15. Republican Senators have also come out in opposition to any war with Iran in the near-future. Mitt Romney, once the Republican party’s presidential candidate in 2012, expressed skepticism about the usefulness of a war.

The more hawkish Republicans, like Marco Rubio, think the U.S. faces a “potentially imminent threat” from Iran, but they are few and far between compared to 2003. But even he stopped short of threatening war. “This is very different,” than Iraq he told reporters. “No one is proposing a unilateral U.S. offensive against Iran.”

 

“No one is proposing a unilateral U.S. offensive against Iran.”

 

The American public, in stark contrast to their vast, initial support for the war in Iraq, do not appear thrilled to entangle themselves in one against Iran.

A May opinion poll conducted by Reuters showed that 60 percent of surveyed Americans disapproved of a potential war with Iran, even though about half think one will come in the next few years.

Fatigue from the never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be driving forces in contemporary skepticism to a military engagement with Iran.

When it comes to the U.S. and Iraq in 2001-03, a breakdown in trust and reliable lines of deconfliction likely contributed to the invasion. But with Iran and the U.S. now, both sides have a plethora of options for intermediaries to offer backdoor lines of communication in order to ensure no security dilemmas are created. Russia, China, France and Qatar could all offer unique backchannels to engage diplomatically with Iran. Doubtless some is already underway.

And most importantly, Trump himself is not in favor of a war with Iran, whereas Bush was one of the Iraq invasion’s most outspoken advocates.

“I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal and that is very smart of them. That's a possibility to happen also,” Trump said at a joint press conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hosted on May 27, 2019.

“And I'm not looking to hurt Iran at all, I'm looking for Iran to say, ‘no nuclear weapons,’ he added before saying that he thinks Iran has tremendous economic potential.

“I look forward to letting them get back to the stage where they can show that. I think Iran, I know so many people from Iran, these are great people. It has the chance to be a great country -- with the same leadership, we're not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear. We're looking for no nuclear weapons,” he said.

Bolton (left), Pompeo (right) and Trump (front right) (AFP/FILE)

Trump reportedly confronted John Bolton, angry that Bolton oversold the ease of regime change in Venezuela and disillusioned by Bolton’s hard-lined Iran stance.  “If it was up to John, we’d be in four wars now,” Trump joked aloud. 

Though Bolton is still quietly pushing for a more militant response to Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, he lacks the same internal backing he had in the Bush administration, when most agreed with him. After joining the administration, he softened his rhetoric and sided with Trump publicly, stating the U.S. is not seeking regime change in Iran. Though likely betraying his actual beliefs, the gesture indicates Bolton has been tempered somewhat in his public approach.

To rumors that the U.S. was mulling sending 120,000 troops to the Middle East to intimidate Iran or possibly foreshadow an invasion, Trump dismissed the idea as “fake news.” He seems dedicated to continuing the campaign of “maximum pressure” that includes crippling sanctions, but is not entertaining plans that could engulf his presidency in the kind of indefinite war he campaigned against.

On all counts, the media war machine that relied on questionable government claims, circulated fabricated accounts of Saddam’s sci-fi-esque ability to destroy the word and that formed a popular consensus that invading Iraq was the noble move, isn’t there with Iran.

At least not yet.

The re-imposition of sanctions in Iran and the subsequent Iranian withdrawal from aspects of the deal regarding uranium enrichment and stockpiling are worrying signs that continued disagreements may beget heightened responses.

Iran may strategically violate more parts of the deal, eliciting further responses from the Trump administration, which could all spill over into small, proxy engagements in Syria, Iraq or Yemen. Deconfliction channels may not be able to negotiate a stop soon enough.

If this were to happen, it is easy to imagine the media war machine kicking on again, with pundits and analysts who self-style as serious, ‘no-nonsense’ types calling on the U.S. to take decisive action against Iran, even if that ‘decisive action’ is a brutal repetition of the same military quagmires the U.S. has ensnared itself in since WWII. 
 

 


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