Many were surprised Monday night when, responding to Netanyahu’s presentation digging up old details of Iran’s nuclear program, the White House issued a statement claiming the details verified what the U.S. has long known: that “Iran HAS a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people.”
However, Iran signed a nuclear deal in 2015 that ensures that Iran does NOT have an active nuclear weapons program, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified repeatedly since the deal went into place in January 2016. The White House quickly backtracked, correcting the statement to say that Iran “had” a nuclear weapons program and describing the error as a “typo.” Unfortunately, there is strong evidence that it was not a typo, but instead exactly what Trump’s national security advisers want the public to believe and are telling the President behind closed doors. The end result is likely to be the unraveling of a working nonproliferation agreement and an escalation toward another disastrous war of choice in the Middle East.
The word choice was likely that of John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor who has repeatedly and unabashedly called for bombing Iran, discounting basic facts about the nuclear accord in the process. Bolton, of course, believes that Iran HAS an active nuclear weapons program. In January, a few months before his appointment to the White House, he wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “there is no evidence Iran’s intention to obtain deliverable nuclear weapons has wavered.” To arrive at that assertion, one must discount the facts that Iran ripped out 13,000 of its centrifuges, halted uranium enrichment at the deeply buried Fordow nuclear facility, destroyed the core of its reactor at Arak and invited nuclear inspectors in to inspect its entire nuclear cycle. Yet, Bolton did so just before arriving in the White House.
Perhaps you think Bolton miswrote in the Wall Street Journal? Think again. In October, when detailing a plan to withdraw from the nuclear deal and prepare for war and regime change in Iran, Bolton stated that the deal shields Iran’s “ongoing efforts to develop deliverable nuclear weapons.” There are 159 pages of the Iran nuclear deal, not to mention countless IAEA reports, that could be entered into evidence to disprove Bolton’s notion. You could also go back further. Bolton addressed the cult-like Mujahedin-e-Khalq in July, which was designated as a terrorist organization until 2011 and still seeks the violent overthrow of the Iranian regime, stating contrary to any evidence that Iran continues to “work with North Korea on nuclear weapons.”
Current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has also called for bombing Iran and overthrowing the regime, has been shrewder in his remarks. He affirmed during his confirmation hearing that he has seen “no evidence” that Iran is not in compliance with its nuclear commitments today. Yet, Pompeo too was quoted when he was CIA director discounting intelligence confirming Iran is complying with the deal, saying “we know they’re cheating anyway—we’re just not seeing it.”
Ideally, fact checkers in the White House would notice such an error before a critical national security statement is sent out. However, because they didn’t we once again have confirmation that Bolton and other Trump advisers believe – contrary to the evidence – that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program and are planning to discard an agreement that ensures that Iran does not. Just like the George W. Bush administration cherry-picked intelligence to hype fears of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program in order to sell a war, the Trump administration is letting their pre-determined biases discount all evidence proving that Iran’s nuclear program is contained.
Now is the time to take the administration’s word seriously. In Bolton’s October memo advocating an exit from the deal, he urged that “A thorough review and declassification strategy, including both U.S. and foreign intelligence in our possession should be initiated to ensure that the public has as much information as possible about Iranian behavior that is currently classified.” We’ve seen this already, with Netanyahu – shortly after a visit from Pompeo – releasing troves of intelligence documenting Iran’s prior nuclear activities on Monday. The audience was not policymakers who have followed the Iran nuclear debate and were familiar with the details – but one man, Trump, who has not and holds the power to exit the deal and start a war.
Once the U.S. exits the deal, Bolton fully intends to complete his plan for war and regime change. As he told the MEK during his speech in July, “The declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran. The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change and, therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself. And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!”
Unless policymakers take action to halt Bolton’s playbook for war and regime change, the U.S. will soon be leading yet another disastrous war of choice that would further devastate a region still reeling from the aftershocks of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
John Bolton’s July speech: