Don't let Netanyahu talk America into yet another Middle East war

Don't let Netanyahu talk America into yet another Middle East war
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It’s been a while since I watched any of the Congressional hearings that led up to the Iraq War. It is still painful to think about how much American blood and treasure has been lost in that war of choice. In advance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent press conference, clips from one of those hearings made its way into my inbox.   

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The clips were drawn from the 2002 testimony of Netanyahu before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Watching the video, I remembered that day and was immediately reminded of why Netanyahu should not be considered a credible source for information on weapons of mass destruction programs. It was clear then and now that then-Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) seemed only too happy to advance the George W. Bush administration’s pitch for a misguided U.S. invasion of Iraq and welcomed Netanyahu’s help to do it.

Throughout the hearing, Netanyahu spoke of an incontrovertible reality of a Saddam Hussein nuclear program and the need for the United States to destroy it. From the outset, he postured that “There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing toward the development of nuclear weapons, no question whatsoever.” (Dead wrong, of course.) He asserted that the United States must destroy the Saddam regime because, “make no mistake about it, if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror network will have  nuclear weapons.” He said there was “no question (Saddam) hadn’t given up on his nuclear program” and that the Iraqi leader was “hell-bent on achieving an atomic bomb, atomic capabilities.” (Of course, wrong again.)

Even then, Netanyahu had a flair for the dramatic. My fellow members and I were treated to one metaphor, adage and allegory after another. The most ridiculous was one in which the former and current Israeli prime minister likened our society to a person following a suspect. The suspect, he said, closes the door only to leave us looking through a keyhole. He said that through that keyhole:

“You see him grasping the throat of this person, raising the knife, and then the light goes out, and the next thing you know is a body is found. And you can say, well, I did not actually see him in flagrante, in the act, if you will.”

While we didn’t see the act, we should assume the suspect we followed was, in fact, the murderer.

Netanyahu then links his tale back to Iraq’s nuclear ambitions, contending that despite the lack of direct evidence, it was “simply not reflecting the reality to assume that Saddam is not feverishly working to develop nuclear weapons as we speak.” (Repetitive, I know, but wrong again!) 

Netanyahu went on to paint military engagement as the necessary and seemingly straightforward approach to dealing with the supposed threat. Noting that “location, location, location” was the most important principle in real estate, he said “winning, winning, winning” was the most important principle for defeating terrorism. “The more victories you amass,” he said, “the easier the next victory becomes — the first victory in Afghanistan makes the second victory in Iraq easier, and the second victory in Iraq makes the next that much easier.” How foolish does that sound now?

Netanyahu’s press briefing Monday was a replay of previous performances, complete with theatrics and props. It was not news, it was just another set of misleading charges against the Iran Deal.

His presentation was based on old data about the Iranian program and served to outline exactly why we needed the Iran deal in the first place. The agreement has the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated. It lets us verify and monitor the Iranian nuclear program, so we can have real information and analysis to inform our decisions. Under the deal, Iran has no viable path to a nuclear weapon. It has drastically limited its own ability to enrich uranium and eliminated 97 percent of its uranium stockpile. Iran also destroyed its heavy-water reactor, making the production of weapons-grade plutonium impossible. Without the deal, all of these measures disappear and we are right back at the edge of disaster.

Despite the constant threats from President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE, parties to the Iran deal and an overwhelming number of diplomats, national security experts, military officials, and intelligence analysts in the United States and around the world (including Israel) believe staying in the agreement is the best policy for U.S. and international security.  The only exceptions seem to be President Trump and the people who supported the Iraq War, like National Security Advisor John Bolton — and, of course, Netanyahu.

As we stare at the abyss of another possible war in the Middle East, Netanyahu’s breathless 2002 testimony should serve as a reminder to avoid advice from the congenitally wrong, no matter how certain they may seem. He was wrong then and he is wrong now.  

It is my hope that Congress and the media will be more vigilant in checking facts and motivations than they were in 2002 and 2003. I was proud to be one of the 133 members of the House of Representatives and 23 Senators that voted against the Iraq War. Make no mistake that I will be asking my former colleagues considering next steps with Iran to remember a famous Bush-ism – “fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.”

Former Rep. John F. Tierney is the Executive Director for the Council for a Livable World. As a Democratic representative from Massachusetts, he was chairman of the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee from 2006 to 2010.