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Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran

Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran
© Aaron Schwartz

The Iraq War is casting a long shadow over the debate on Capitol Hill about what to do with Iran.

Democrats point to the nearly nine-year war as a warning sign of what the administration should avoid as it engages in saber-rattling with Tehran.

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Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSenate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push This week: Senate set for voting rights fight Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations committees, said he saw “significant parallels” between the lead-up to the Iraq War and the current back-and-forth with Iran, including ignoring findings from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“We got into the Iraq War because an administration lied to us about [how] there was a nuclear weapons program and there wasn’t. We didn’t accept the IAEA saying there wasn’t a nuclear program,” Kaine said. “Here, we had a deal that limited Iran’s nuclear program. ... The IAEA said it was working, [President TrumpDonald TrumpWhat blue wave? A close look at Texas today tells of a different story Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin Trump's former bodyguard investigated in NY prosectors' probe: report MORE] said no it wasn’t. This is an eerie parallel.”

U.S.-Iran tensions have spilled over during the past two weeks, with the State Department pulling most U.S. personnel from Iraq and The New York Times reporting that the Pentagon had presented a plan to deploy 120,000 troops to the region, a report that Trump shot down.

Tensions between the U.S. and its allies were a notable aspect of the Iraq War buildup.

In an echo of those tensions, a British general who is a deputy commander in the U.S.-led fight against ISIS said there was “no increased threat” from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq or Syria, contradicting U.S. claims.  The statement prompted an unusual public rebuke from U.S. Central Command.

And one notable character appears in both storylines: Trump’s national security adviser, John BoltonJohn BoltonUS drops lawsuit, closes probe over Bolton book John Bolton: Biden-Putin meeting 'premature' Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process MORE.

Bolton championed the Iraq War when he worked in the State Department and served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration.

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He’s now seen as the main driver of the administration’s aggressive response to Iran, which has included the recent deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and a request that acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanSenators introducing bill to penalize Pentagon for failed audits Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee Biden Pentagon pick could make up to .7M from leaving Raytheon MORE come up with a plan on deploying troops.

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said: “I’ve seen this movie before; I don’t like the ending.”

“I was one of the 23 senators that voted against the invasion of Iraq, when we were so fearful of imaginary weapons,” Durbin said. “I think that John Bolton has made it clear long before he became part of this administration, he wants a confrontation with Iran.”

Not all senators see the comparison. Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCongress barrels toward debt cliff End the practice of hitting children in public schools Public option fades with little outcry from progressives MORE (D-Conn.), a frequent critic of the Trump administration, characterized the situations as different.

“I think that White House was gunning for war with Iraq and was going to find a way to get there. I still don’t think this is where Trump wants to end up, but he’s put us on a path to get there by mistake,” he said.

Trump ran against the GOP foreign policy establishment during his 2016 presidential campaign, saying he opposed interventions in the Middle East and declared himself “totally against” the Iraq War.

“By the time the war started, I was against it. And shortly thereafter, I was really against it,” Trump said during a CNN town hall in 2016.

Trump opposed the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and pulled the United States from the agreement after he became president. That act has escalated tensions and raised new questions about whether Iran will move forward with its nuclear program.

Republicans are downplaying the prospect of another military conflict in the Middle East. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Schumer unloads on GOP over elections bill: 'How despicable of a man is Donald Trump?' This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters on Tuesday that “nobody’s talking about a military solution to the current friction with the Iranians.”

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Defense: Senate panel delays Iraq war powers repeal | Study IDs Fort Hood as least-safe base for female soldiers | Pentagon loosens some COVID-19 restrictions Senate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push Eliminate family and child poverty: Richard Nixon may help in today's debate MORE (R-Utah) added during an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump “made it very clear that he thinks the greatest foreign policy mistake probably in the modern age was the decision by President Bush to go into Iraq. The idea that he would follow the same path by going after Iran, a more difficult enemy, if you will, militarily, that’s just not going to happen.”

But Trump has publicly lashed out at Iran, including a tweet over the weekend that “if Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again.”

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE aligned himself with Trump’s comment during an interview Tuesday with radio host Hugh Hewitt, saying the United States would respond to Iran in an “aggressive way” if American interests are attacked by Iran or Iranian proxy forces.

Pompeo was one of several administration officials who briefed lawmakers about the threat from Iran on Tuesday after lawmakers publicly kvetched about being in the dark amid reports of growing tensions.

Shanahan appeared to try to lower the temperature after the Senate briefing, telling reporters that the United States does “not want the situation to escalate. This is about deterrence, not about war.”

But that’s done little to immediately tamp down concerns — or comparisons to Iraq.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population Overnight Health Care: Medicaid enrollment reaches new high | White House gives allocation plan for 55M doses | Schumer backs dental, vision, hearing in Medicare Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare MORE (I-Vt.) referenced the Iraq War as he spoke to reporters after the briefing, arguing that lawmakers were “lied to in terms of Iraq supposedly having weapons of mass destruction.”

“I believe that a war with Iran would be an absolute disaster far worse than the war with Iraq,” Sanders, who is running for president, said. “I hope that the American people tell this administration that we will not go to war in Iran.”