Memo: Trump’s Iran Policy Evokes Iraq War Lead-up

It is increasingly clear the Trump Administration is taking the U.S. down a dangerous path with Iran that is reminiscent of the propaganda campaign that preceded the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq.

President Trump’s latest decisions appear aimed at bating Iran into halting its compliance with the JCPOA in an apparent move to hasten the path to war. This is most likely the goal of Administration hawks like John Bolton, who has advocated for war both outside the administration and in the White House. A senior Trump official has also set the stage, telling the New Yorker that if Iran were to leave the JCPOA, U.S. military options will be “back on the table.”

Members of Congress must challenge the administration’s dangerous misinformation campaign and take steps to ensure that the Trump administration cannot lead the U.S. into an unauthorized and disastrous war against Iran.

Politicizing Intelligence on Iran’s Nuclear Program

A recent State Department report on international nuclear compliance raised strong concerns that the White House is politicizing assessments of Iran’s nuclear program.

  • The report strikingly makes no mention of continued Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, but instead uses a hypothetical to argue that Iran is at risk of violating the NPT. Last year, the same report both noted Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA and that its steps had resolved prior findings of NPT violations on the part of Iran.

  • “It’s piling inference upon inference here to try to create a scary picture,” a Congressional aide told Reuters about the report. A State Department source added: “There is significant concern that the entire sort of purpose … was to help build a case for military intervention in Iran in a way that seems very familiar.”

In January, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel confirmed that U.S. intelligence “continues to assess that Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.”

  • Trump afterwards attacked the intelligence community, summoning Coats and Haspel for contradicting him and stating that “the Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran.”
     
  • Since that time, Sec. Pompeo refused to answer a question from Rep. Abigail Spanberger on whether Iran was adhering to its commitments under the JCPOA. Moreover, this month Pompeo warned Iran to “[e]nd your pursuit of nuclear weapons,” while in February Bolton claimed “Iran continues to seek nuclear weapons.”

The IAEA has consistently confirmed Iranian compliance with the JCPOA in 14 consecutive reports since the deal was implemented in 2016.

  • The JCPOA’s Joint Commission, comprised of the EU, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, also “welcomed and acknowledged Iran’s continued implementation of its nuclear-related commitments” at their most recent meeting in March.

Iran, al-Qaeda and the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force

The Trump administration has falsely asserted that there are strong ties between Iran and Al-Qaeda, echoing the George W. Bush White House’s false allegations that Saddam Hussein had close ties to the terrorist organization.

  • There is a well-established track record of hostility between Iran and al-Qaeda. Ironically, Iran was accommodating towards the 2001 U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan and, according to U.S. officials, played an active and constructive role in the Bonn process that created a new central government in Kabul.
     
  • Nevertheless, The Washington Times reported in February that “the administration is focusing increasingly on the unlikely alliance between Iran and al Qaeda, with what some sources say is an eye toward establishing a potential legal justification for military strikes against Iran or its proxies.”
     
  • Secretary of State Pompeo declined to answer questioning from Sen. Rand Paul on whether the 2001 authorization to use military force (AUMF) enables the President to attack Iran in recent Congressional testimony, while alleging that there is “no doubt there’s a connection” between Iran and Al Qaeda.
     
  • Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and spokesman, said that the Al-Qaeda claim may be part of a wider campaign by the Trump administration to establish “a rationale for regime change” in Tehran. He underscored that the CIA has had a “longstanding understanding of the consistently tense, and occasionally openly hostile, relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda.”

Trump’s Escalatory Moves Risk Breaking the Nuclear Deal

Iran’s continued adherence amid sanctions pressure cannot be counted upon indefinitely, and unprecedented moves like seeking to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero create an increasingly intolerable situation for Iran that may compel it to leave the JCPOA.

  • On May 2nd, the Trump administration will have to decide to renew waivers to continue international efforts to remove significant proliferation risks at Iran’s Arak reactor and deeply-buried Fordow facility. Failure to issue these waivers would be a departure from denying Iran benefits from the deal to outright obstruction of the nonproliferation benefits of the agreement.
     
  • The designation of Iran’s IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization – the first ever for a foreign state’s conscripted military service – raises significant concern that the rules of engagement with the IRGC have been altered. When questioned on whether the head of the IRGC Quds Force – Qassem Soleimani – would be treated the same as ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Pompeo responded affirmatively.

Congress Must Act to Constrain Trump’s War Powers

Amid the administration’s dangerous escalation against Iran, Congress must act to prevent an unconstitutional war whose consequences for the U.S. and global peace and stability would dwarf the costs of the Iraq War.

  • The Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act (S. 1039/H.R. 2354), introduced by Sens. Udall, Paul and Durbin and Reps. Eshoo and Thompson, would prohibit the Trump administration from using funds to launch a war against Iran without Congressional approval.
     
  • The Repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force bill (H.R. 1274) from Rep. Barbara Lee would repeal the 2001 AUMF and prevent the Trump administration from using it as legal justification to attack Iran 17 years after it was introduced.

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