I Helped Sell the False Choice of War Once. It’s Happening Again.

Fifteen years ago this week, Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, spoke at the United Nations to sell pre-emptive war with Iraq. As his chief of staff, I helped Secretary Powell paint a clear picture that war was the only choice, that when “we confront a regime that harbors ambitions for regional domination, hides weapons of mass destruction and provides haven and active support for terrorists, we are not confronting the past, we are confronting the present. And unless we act, we are confronting an even more frightening future.”.

.. President George W. Bush would have ordered the war even without the United Nations presentation, or if Secretary Powell had failed miserably in giving it. But the secretary’s gravitas was a significant part of the two-year-long effort by the Bush administration to get Americans on the war wagon.

.. the Trump administration is using much the same playbook to create a false impression that war is the only way to address the threats posed by Iran.

.. Nikki Haley, said that the administration had “undeniable” evidence that Iran was not complying with Security Council resolutions regarding its ballistic missile program and Yemen.

.. It’s astonishing how similar that moment was to Mr. Powell’s 2003 presentation on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction — and how the Trump administration’s methods overall match those of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

.. Iran, a country of almost 80 million people whose vast strategic depth and difficult terrain make it a far greater challenge than Iraq, would be 10 to 15 times worse than the Iraq war in terms of casualties and costs.

.. The strategy positions Iran as one of the greatest threats America faces, much the same way President Bush framed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

With China, Russia and North Korea all presenting vastly more formidable challenges to America and its allies than Iran, one has to wonder where the Trump team gets its ideas.

..  a campaign built on the politicization of intelligence and shortsighted policy decisions to make the case for war.

.. It harks back to the C.I.A. director George Tenet’s assurances to Mr. Powell that the connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden was ironclad in the lead-up to his United Nations presentation. Today, we know how terribly wrong Mr. Tenet was.

.. Today, the analysts claiming close ties between Al Qaeda and Iran come from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which vehemently opposes the Iran nuclear deal and unabashedly calls for regime changein Iran.

.. It seems not to matter that 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were Saudis and none were Iranians. Or that, according to the United States intelligence community, of the groups listed as actively hostile to the United States, only one is loosely affiliated with Iran, and Hezbollah doesn’t make the cut.

.. the Foundation for Defense of Democracies seems like the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans that pushed falsehoods in support of waging war with Iraq.

.. these seemingly disconnected events serve to create a narrative in which war with Iran is the only viable policy.

.. it didn’t seem to matter to us that we used shoddy or cherry-picked intelligence; that it was unrealistic to argue that the war would “pay for itself,” rather than cost trillions of dollars; that we might be hopelessly naïve in thinking that the war would lead to democracy instead of pushing the region into a downward spiral.

Tillerson Should Go

If Secretary of State Rex Tillerson resigned, how would anyone know? He has become the nation’s least influential top diplomat in recent memory. His relationship with the president of the United States is strained at best, he has no philosophy or signature initiative, he has barely staffed his own department, and he’s alienated the foreign service. The former CEO of ExxonMobil has taken one of the power positions in the U.S. government and made it an afterthought.

.. Usually establishmentarians have the advantage, if nothing else, of a great store of government experience. Brent Scowcroft devoted most of his adult life to public service; Tillerson devoted most of his adult life to ExxonMobil.

.. Unlike, say, James Mattis advising Trump on defense matters, this is not a professional guiding an amateur; it’s another amateur trying to school an amateur. Is it any wonder that it hasn’t gone well?

..   Recent Republican secretaries of state provide two models.

  1. There’s the Colin Powell approach of attending to the needs of “the building,” i.e., the civil service, and neglecting your relationship with the president.
  2. Then there’s the Condi Rice approach of tending to your relationship with the president and ignoring the building. Tillerson has done neither.

.. Neither of the opposing dispensations in American foreign policy should feel vested in Tillerson. If you’re a liberal internationalist who wants Trump checked, you’d prefer someone better suited to the task. If you’re a Trumpist who wants Trump empowered to transform American foreign policy, you want someone who is in sympathy with that goal.

.. he probably fails a threshold test: Can he reliably be thought to speak for the United States government?

Bannon Calls Comey Firing the Biggest Mistake in ‘Modern Political History’

He cited as an example a request that Mr. McConnell once made of Mr. Trump to stop talking about “draining the swamp.”

.. Mr. Bannon predicted deep division within the Republican Party over Mr. Trump’s recent move to end the program that provided temporary relief from deportation for hundreds of thousands of young people in the United States illegally. The president set a March end date for the program and asked Congress to come up with a solution in the meantime, a task that Mr. Bannon said could split Republicans and cost them their House majority in the 2018 midterm elections.

“If this goes all the way down to its logical conclusion, in February and March it will be a civil war inside the Republican Party,” he said.

.. “The media image, I think, is pretty accurate,” he said. “I’m a street fighter. That’s what I am.”

 .. Mr. Bannon also condemned top officials in the George W. Bush administration, calling them “idiots” friendly to what he termed China’s anti-American economic agenda. He singled out Condoleezza Rice and Colin L. Powell, former secretaries of state, and Brent Scowcroft, an adviser to Mr. Bush and his father, as those most worthy of his scorn, criticizing them for China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization.

“They’ve gotten us in this situation, and they question a good man like Donald Trump,” he said. “I hold these people in contempt, total and complete contempt.”

.. Mr. Bannon also attacked Gary D. Cohn, Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser, who publicly criticized the president’s comments about Charlottesville. “If you don’t like what he’s doing and you don’t agree with it, you have an obligation to resign,” Mr. Bannon said. “You can tell him, ‘Hey, maybe you can do it a better way.’ But if you’re going to break, then resign.”

Colin Powell, the Last Reasonable Man

“You guys are playing his game, you are his oxygen,” Powell wrote. “He outraged us again today with his comments on Paris no-go for police districts. I will watch and pick the timing, not respond to the latest outrage.” In another email, Powell wrote, “To go on and call him an idiot just emboldens him.”

.. mirrors the choice faced by many of those Republicans, from Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush to members of Congress. Do they back a Democrat who they see as flawed and error-prone, and in many cases with whom they have bad blood? Or do they keep quiet and pray that she’s able to beat a “national disgrace” without their help?