Nuclear Missile Silo
Credit: Steve Jurvetson/FLICKR

As the story about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election developed, one of the things we heard from both the president as well as some on the left was that we couldn’t trust intelligence sources because they had lied to us about Iraq. But as most of us who actually followed that story knew, it was a bit more complicated than that.

History shows us that neocons like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had been looking for an excuse to invade Iraq long before the tragic events on September 11, 2001. It has been widely reported that the next day, Rumsfeld was talking about using that attack to put those plans into action. Over the course of the next year and a half, they pressured intelligence services in an attempt to promote the lie that Saddam Hussein was in the process of developing nuclear weapons.

I am reminding you of those events because it demonstrates what happens when an administration decides on a course of action (i.e., invading Iraq) and then looks for justifications to do so. That is exactly what Donald Trump is doing on Iran as we speak. Julian Borger explains:

US intelligence officials are under pressure from the White House to produce a justification to declare Iran in violation of a 2015 nuclear agreement, in an echo of the politicisation of intelligence that led up to the Iraq invasion, according to former officials and analysts…

Just as members of the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq and then went in search for evidence to justify the action, Trump has decided he wants to end the Iran nuclear deal and has sent his staff in search of a justification. Here’s what he’s facing:

Unlike the case of Iraq and the Bush administration, where there were deep divisions in the US intelligence community over the evidence for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, there is now a general consensus among US intelligence and foreign intelligence agencies, the state department, the IAEA and the other five countries that signed the JCPOA, as well as the European Union, that there is no significant evidence that Iran has violated its obligations under the deal.

Nevertheless, here is the groundwork the Trump administration is laying to claim that Iran is not in compliance.

The other principal avenue of attack on the JCPOA being pursued by the Trump administration has focused on the question of inspections of Iranian military sites. Under the agreement, the IAEA can present evidence of suspect activity at any site to Iran and ask for an explanation. If the explanation is not accepted by the IAEA, Tehran would have two weeks to negotiate terms of access for the agency inspectors. If the Iranian government refuses, a joint commission of JCPOA signatories could vote to force access, and Iran would have three days to comply.

“There is a mechanism, a very detailed one and one of the issues we spent the most time on in negotiation,” Malley said. But he added: “There are people on the outskirts of the administration, and who are pushing hard on the Iran file, saying they should be allowed to ask for inspection at any sensitive site for no reason whatsoever, in order to test the boundaries of the agreement.

That is precisely why UN Ambassador Nikki Haley was calling for IAEA to inspect Iranian military sites when she was in Vienna last week. Contrary to what the agreement says, the Trump administration is preparing to say that Iran is not in compliance because those inspections are not being allowed.

The president must once again certify to Congress whether or not Iran is in compliance in mid-October. It is difficult to predict how the upcoming September meat grinder will influence what he does. Borger’s sources say that people in intelligence services learned a hard lesson on Iraq and would likely resign if their reports were once again twisted to justify a declaration that Iran is not in compliance. That would only deepen the antipathy people in that community already feel for this president. But it is just the kind of battle with the so-called “deep state” that Trump would relish. The one thing he probably wouldn’t appreciate is people saying that his approach to Iran is just like Bush’s on Iraq…which it is.

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