Tell the truth (lessons from Iran and Iraq)
By early 1980, the US had decided that Iran was a much greater threat to world peace than Iraq. That proved to be a very costly mistake.
Later in 1980, Iraq invaded Iran in one of the clearest cases of naked aggression since WWII. The goal was to annex some territory in the southwest of Iran, although there is some dispute as to how much. Later events suggest that Saddam wanted the oil rich Khuzestan province, which contains most of Iran’s vast oil reserves. In a shameful act of “realpolitik”, the US supported the aggressor in the war.
Advocates of realpolitik like to portray their critics as fuzzy-headed idealists that don’t understand the realities of national security. In fact, it was the realists who ended up undermining US interests in the Middle East. We thought that Iran’s leader was the Hitler of the Middle East, whereas the 1980 invasion showed that it was Saddam Hussein that more closely resembled that famous aggressor. As a result, the US did nothing to verbally discourage Saddam from later invading Kuwait, and this passivity led to the Gulf War of 1991 and the far more costly Iraq War of 2003.
The long sad history of our policies toward Iraq and Iran have important lessons for today. Imagine the US is confronted by two great powers. Our foreign policy establishment insists that the larger of the two countries is the biggest threat to world peace. Later events prove this not to be the case, as the leader of the smaller of the two great powers proves himself to be the “new Saddam Hussein”, a militarist that invades one neighbor after another, with grandiose dreams of annexing territory to enlarge his country.
One would hope that our foreign policy establishment had learned the lessons of Iraq and Iran, and understood the need to update their beliefs as new information came in. One would hope that they’d respond to evidence as to which power was the greater threat to world peace. Alas, that does not seem to be the case.
The US has decided to support Ukraine with military aid. We’ve also decided (wisely in my view) not to go to war with nuclear armed Russia. Unfortunately, President Biden has made it abundantly clear that the US does intend go to war with nuclear armed China if a war breaks out between China and Taiwan. And the entire US foreign policy establishment seems on board with this project. China is viewed as “the real enemy.”
Make no mistake, in a US-China war the US would likely be the aggressor. China has no interest in attacking the US. And China has enough nuclear weapons to destroy all of our major cities. While a nuclear war is unlikely, once two nuclear-armed countries go to war there is a danger of escalation getting out of control, especially if the country that is attacked ends up on the losing side of a conventional war.
A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be a morally unjustified action. Nonetheless, China is only a threat to Taiwan (which the US and most other countries officially regard as a part of a unified China.) Russia is a threat to many countries throughout Eastern Europe, which are internationally recognized as sovereign, independent nations. There is simply no comparison between the two cases.
When a US administration can only defend its foreign policy with a series of blatantly misleading statements, it is clear that there is something wrong with the policy. A country that is doing the right thing ought to be able to tell the truth.