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 KaineWarren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Almost three-quarters say minimum age to buy tobacco should be 21: Gallup Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador 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 John TrumpWarren unveils Native American policy plan Live-action 'Mulan' star spurs calls for boycott with support of Hong Kong police Don't let other countries unfairly tax America's most innovative companies 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 Robert BoltonTrump to meet with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan Live-action 'Mulan' star spurs calls for boycott with support of Hong Kong police A US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account 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 ShanahanWhy Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary Five questions for Trump's new defense secretary on first major tour Trump says media is part of vetting his nominees: 'We save a lot of money that way' MORE come up with a plan on deploying troops.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinHouse panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks Five proposals Congress is eyeing after mass shootings 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 MurphyOvernight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces White House eyes September action plan for gun proposals Trump phoned Democratic senator to talk gun control 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 McConnellSocial media never intended to be in the news business — but just wait till AI takes over Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Two-thirds of Americans support assault weapons ban: Fox News poll 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 RomneyA US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces 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 PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump to meet with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan Japan's Hormuz dilemma The Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? 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 SandersPoll: Support for Sanders among college students reaches highest level since April The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment 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.”