Updated | The CIA officer sitting across from me at the Silver Diner in McLean, Virginia, seemed nothing like Hollywood’s portrayal of an intelligence agent. It wasn’t so much his appearance—bearded, bald, with glasses and a brown plaid shirt—that belied Ben Bonk’s occupation. Rather, it was the tears in his eyes.
“Maybe if they hadn’t deceived me, I could have done something,” he told me. “Maybe I could have stopped the Iraq War.”
Bonk, a former deputy director of the agency’s Counterterrorist Center and an officer responsible for intelligence on Iraq in the year leading up to the U.S. invasion in 2003, spoke with me on background in June 2010 about events leading to the disastrous war. He died eight months later. Under our agreement, everything he told me is now on the record.
And Bonk’s statements—about deceptions that prevented solid intelligence on Iraq from reaching President George W. Bush, as well as other information kept from the public during the buildup to war—are once again in the news as candidates for the Republican presidential nomination fumble with questions about whether that invasion was a mistake. This has been asked of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio, each time with a qualifier: “Given what we know now…”
But with that parenthetical, reporters are perpetuating one of the greatest falsehoods in history. The real question should be: “Given what we knew then…” Bush hawks knew there was no good intelligence establishing that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). And in what could easily be interpreted as near-treason, they never told the president about the weakness of the intelligence, several former high-ranking officials from the administration have told me.
“The Iraq war began sixteen years ago tomorrow. There is a myth about the war that I have been meaning to set straight for years. After no WMDs were found, the left claimed ‘Bush lied. People died.’ This accusation itself is a lie. It’s time to put it to rest.”
— Former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer, in a Twitter thread, March 19, 2019
“Sixteen years after the Iraq War started, the White House press spokesman at the time sought to rebut a claim he called a “liberal myth” — that George W. Bush lied about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to launch the invasion. (Never mind that the current Republican president also has made this claim, saying in 2016: “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction; there were none.”) . . . . “
Mr. Soufan is a former F.B.I. special agent and the author of “Anatomy of Terror.”
Protesters calling for an overhaul of Iraq’s political system in Baghdad on Friday. Instability in Iraq could open the way for an Islamic State resurgence there.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
“In 2016, Donald Trump, then a candidate for president, described Barack Obama as the “founder of ISIS.” In the end, it may be Mr. Trump who comes to be known not as the terrorist group’s founder, but as its savior.
The Islamic State has been weakened considerably since its peak in 2015, when it controlled a territory the size of Britain, but the Trump administration’s targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani may have poised the group for a comeback. Just as the misguided American invasion of Iraq in 2003 revitalized Al Qaeda, some 17 years later, a return to chaos in the same country may yet do the same for the Islamic State.
Granted, the White House was correct to identify General Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, as an enemy of the United States. Using the militia groups he cultivated and controlled, he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of coalition soldiers in the late 2000s and early 2010s. But war in the Middle East is nothing if not complex; General Suleimani’s proxies also indirectly served American interests by fighting the Islamic State — to great effect.
Still, contrary to the breathless eulogies to him in Iran, he was not some indispensable hero who single-handedly defeated the Islamic State. Other commanders will fill his shoes, if not in star power then at least in strategic expertise. The real boon for the jihadists will be the second-order effects of his death.
Ms. Rice, a contributing opinion writer, was the national security adviser from 2013 to 2017.
A U.S. Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division preparing to leave Fort Bragg, N.C., on Wednesday.Credit…Jonathan Drake/Reuters
“Americans would be wise to brace for war with Iran.
Full-scale conflict is not a certainty, but the probability is higher than at any point in decades. Despite President Trump’s oft-professed desire to avoid war with Iran and withdraw from military entanglements in the Middle East, his decision to order the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s second most important official, as well as Iraqi leaders of an Iranian-backed militia, now locks our two countries in a dangerous escalatory cycle that will likely lead to wider warfare.
How did we get here? What are the consequences of these targeted killings? Can we avoid a worse-case scenario?
The escalatory cycle began in May 2018, when President Trump recklessly ignored the advice of his national security team and the opposition of our allies in unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal — despite Iran’s full adherence to its terms and its efficacy in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. Since then, the Trump administration has had no coherent strategy to constrain Iran’s program or to counter other aspects of its nefarious behavior.
Mr. Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” to impose ever more debilitating economic sanctions did not force Iran to capitulate; instead, predictably, it induced Tehran to lash out with a series of increasingly bold military provocations against Sunni Arab and Western targets while restarting important aspects of its nuclear program. Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, notably in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, have only intensified. At the same time, it has conducted a brutal crackdown on its civilian population. None of the Trump administration’s stated objectives have been met; if anything, the United States’ security and strategic positions in the region have weakened.”
Ms. Slavin directs the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.
Demonstrators in Tehran protested after a U.S. airstrike killed Maj. Gen.
“Few tears will be shed in many parts of the world for Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, whose Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps ruthlessly spread Iranian influence and contributed to the deaths of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians, as well as hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq, over the past decade and a half.
But revenge is not a strategy, and the killing of General Suleimani is a major — and incredibly risky — escalation with Iran, a pivotal country of some 80 million people that has been largely estranged from the United States for 40 years. It will cause more instability and the loss of more innocent lives. Any chances for American diplomacy with Iran are dead for the duration of the Trump presidency — if not longer. Instead of one nuclear proliferation crisis, with North Korea, there will most likely now be two, as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal completely collapses. The Sunni fundamentalists who killed Americans in their homeland — something Iran has not done so far — will rejoice. Russia and China will be happy to see the United States mired in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.
It is important to remember who began this spiral. In May 2018, President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement negotiated by his predecessor at a time when Iran was in full compliance with it. When he did so, the Quds Force and its associated militias in Iraq were fighting the Islamic State in indirect coordination with the American military. The Persian Gulf was quiet.
For a year after the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the status quo prevailed. Then in April 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced what amounted to an embargo on the export of Iranian oil. Shortly afterward, Iran moved from “strategic patience” to resistance and retaliation: first against oil tankers, then against an American drone and in September against Saudi oil facilities. In Iraq, Iran-backed militias started lobbing rockets into the Green Zone and other locations where Americans are based. On Dec. 27, rockets killed an American contractor in Kirkuk, and the United States retaliated with strikes that killed two dozen militia members in Iraq and Syria. Iran-backed militias responded with an attempt to break into the American embassy in Baghdad on New Year’s Eve.”
Mr. Stevenson is a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
President Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, right, with Mr. Trump at an Oval Office meeting last month.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times
“The targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and four others in a precision strike by an MQ-9 Reaper drone at Baghdad International Airport was an impressive display of American military prowess. And it liquidated a destabilizing figure: The general was the commander of the Quds Force, which is responsible for Iran’s covert and extraterritorial military operations. In the scheme of things, he had it coming. Yet killing him made little strategic sense for the United States. In some ways, the most significant thing about his death is what it shows about the breakdown of American foreign policymaking.
President Trump ordered the strike directly, prompted by the death of an American contractor on Dec. 27 in a rocket attack by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-sponsored Iraqi Shia militia. Mr. Trump did not bother to consult congressional leaders. As with his other displays of martial fiat, his immediate impulse was probably to shock the liberal domestic audience, vicariously make himself feel tough, and assert raw executive power by going around the normal channels of decision making.
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had considered taking out General Suleimani but rejected it — not for lack of nerve, but for fear of undue escalation and an unnecessary war with Iran. The fundamental facts on the ground have not changed, and in the kind of robust interagency, national security decision-making process that the National Security Council staff is supposed to supervise, such concerns would have been systematically raised, dissected and discussed, and a consensus reached to inform presidential action. No such process seems to have occurred here.
The Pentagon has claimed, facilely, that General Suleimani was hit because the Revolutionary Guard was planning attacks on American targets in the region. But in a proper interagency review, the intelligence community could have pointed out that “decapitation” is a patently unreliable means of pre-emption — particularly when the organization in question is the Revolutionary Guard, an integral part of a well-honed security state with considerable depth of command talent.”
This is possibly the best of three very good pieces on Qassim Suleimani’s Killing from the NYT which I have posted at my blog InconvenientNews.net
After the first piece, by Thomas Friedman, I wrote an ugly comment, wondering if Trump is trying to help the Russians, since he is certainly weakening the US. The comments section of each op-ed offers more darkness and sadness. One of the most salient issues, is that Iran was off to making peace with the US, until Trump walked away from the denuclearization deal, and started raising old and new sanctions. Suleimani was our ally against ISIS, and only turned his forces against us after we pulled out of the denuclearization deal and reimposed sanctions.
“One day they may name a street after President Trump in Tehran. Why? Because Trump just ordered the assassination of possibly the dumbest man in Iran and the most overrated strategist in the Middle East: Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.
Think of the miscalculations this guy made. In 2015, the United States and the major European powers agreed to lift virtually all their sanctions on Iran, many dating back to 1979, in return for Iran halting its nuclear weapons program for a mere 15 years, but still maintaining the right to have a peaceful nuclear program. It was a great deal for Iran. Its economy grew by over 12 percent the next year. And what did Suleimani do with that windfall?
He and Iran’s supreme leader launched an aggressive regional imperial project that made Iran and its proxies the de facto controlling power in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana. This freaked out U.S. allies in the Sunni Arab world and Israel — and they pressed the Trump administration to respond. Trump himself was eager to tear up any treaty forged by President Obama, so he exited the nuclear deal and imposed oil sanctions on Iran that have now shrunk the Iranian economy by almost 10 percent and sent unemployment over 16 percent.”
Ouch. I want to support this assassination, because that would be easy. But if Suleimani was so dumb, and so bad for Iran, why did we turn him into a gigantic martyr? Why didn’t the Israelis, who had penetrated his organization, take him out? The awful probable truth, is that Trump is in trouble and he needs a war. The Ayatollah of Iran is in trouble, and he needs a war. Why, with so many issues and questions, did the Pentagon go along with the orange orangutan who is president, and who continually serves the interests of Putin and the Russians? Did any of you reading this, see the exposé in the NYT the other day, about how the Russians and Syrian air force are bombing hospitals and schools in northern Syria? They are bombing our allies, whom we fought with and for. Perhaps the best question, is, why did Putin want this to happen? It will probably go very badly for the United States.
“Iran-backed Shiite militias have been firing missiles at American troops and military contractors in Iraq for six months now, and last week they finally killed one of the Americans. On Sunday, the United States retaliated against the militia responsible with five airstrikes in Syria and Iraq that left 24 people dead and dozens wounded.
Militia commanders vowed vengeance, and thousands of protesters chanting “Death to America” marched through Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone on Tuesday and broke into the compound of the American Embassy. A new spiral of violence between the United States and Iran seemed in the making, although demonstrators ended their siege of the embassy on Wednesday.
This could hardly be what President Trump wants, if he has been sincere in saying he wishes to avoid wars in the Middle East. In June he aborted a retaliatory airstrike after Iran shot down an American drone. This time the administration decided to send a message that killing Americans serving or working in Iraq will not be tolerated.
Whether the airstrikes will serve as a deterrent, however, is doubtful, since it’s likely that the militias were trying to provoke just such a response.”
“Iraq has been caught for years in a tug of war between its two most powerful patrons, the United States and Iran. In recent months, public opinion began to tilt against Iran, with street protests demanding an end to Tehran’s pervasive influence.
But American airstrikes that killed two dozen members of an Iranian-backed militia over the weekend have now made Washington the focus of public hostility, reducing the heat on Tehran and its proxies.
Iraqi leaders accused the United States on Monday of violating Iraq’s sovereignty and expressed fear that increasing tensions between the United States and Iran could escalate into a proxy war on Iraqi soil.
Even the tenor of the street protests has shifted, as anti-Iranian slogans have given way to anti-American ones. Demonstrators and others attacked what they deemed to be America’s disproportionate response — the killing of 24 militiamen on Sunday in retaliation for the death of an American contractor on Friday.”
“BAGHDAD — Protesters broke into the heavily guarded compound of the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday and lit fires inside to express their anger over American airstrikes that killed 24 members of an Iranian-backed militia over the weekend.
The men did not enter the main embassy buildings and later withdrew from the compound, joining thousands of protesters and militia fighters outside who chanted “Death to America,” threw rocks, covered the walls with graffiti and demanded that the United States withdraw its forces from Iraq.
The situation remained combustible, with protesters vowing to camp outside the compound indefinitely. Their ability to storm the most heavily guarded zone in Baghdad suggested that they had received at least tacit permission from Iraqi security officials sympathetic to their demands.”
David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment
Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, translated by Thomas Cleary, that nations should go to war only when all diplomacy, espionage and subterfuge failed. He went on to say, if you are ever such a failure in the arts of war to the point where you have to actually invade another country militarily, it is a primary rule that you have to make the invasion very short lived. If you don’t have limited goals and withdraw quickly, your occupation will turn the people of the occupied country against you, while your extended lines of suppy and the ongoing conflict will reduce and empty your treasury.
Sun Tzu might have been born around 512 BC, and might have lived through 300 years of civil war in China refered to as the Warring States period.
David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion” on 18th century Vietnam, and blogs at InconvenientNews.net.