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.
Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Senate passes bill to undo tax increase on Gold Star military families The Hill’s Morning Report – White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget 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 TrumpTrump rips Dems’ demands, impeachment talk: ‘Witch Hunt continues!’ Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill’s Morning Report – Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push 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 BoltonIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds Trump officials say US efforts to deter Iran have worked 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.
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 ShanahanThe Hill’s Morning Report – Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds MORE come up with a plan on deploying troops.
Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Muslim lawmakers host Ramadan iftar to break fast at Capitol Let’s stop treating student borrowers like second-class citizens 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 MurphyIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Trump officials say US efforts to deter Iran have worked Connecticut radio station rebrands itself ‘Trump 103.3’ 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 McConnellThe Hill’s Morning Report – Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests 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 RomneyIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Alabama state senator introduces bill to repeal state’s abortion ban Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — McConnell, Kaine offer bill to raise tobacco buying age to 21 | Measles outbreak spreads to 24 states | Pro-ObamaCare group launches ad blitz to protect Dems 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 PompeoThe Hill’s Morning Report – Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds 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 SandersIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Iowa Democrats brace for caucus turnout surge 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.”