The CIA report also showed that some U.S. and U.N. actions led Iraq’s leaders to believe the goal was to change the ruling regime rather than just halt Baghdad’s WMD program. Two steps were noted: one was when U.N. inspectors began to look into Iraq’s security apparatus and concealment apparatus; the other was when the U.S. Congress in 1998 approved the Iraq Liberation Act, which provided funds to Iraqi exile groups.
The Obama administration halted the Bush policy of regime change for Iran, but many Republicans still favor it. Some Iranian officials see a pattern in IAEA inspectors seeking to add additional sites for visits that can only end with regime change. They also weigh presidential and congressional campaign statements for signs that regime change is still a U.S. goal.
The report reviews Hussein’s misjudgment that the United States would not invade and at worst would only bomb suspected WMD sites, as it had done in 1998. He and his leadership “believed the United States did not have the forces to invade Iraq and press reports that said Washington was not willing to sacrifice U.S. lives.”
Iran may face threats of military action by the United States and Israel, but neither country appears prepared at this time to contemplate an invasion.
One other cautionary note from the study: When, in fact, Iraq provided its report that said it had destroyed its WMD arms and ended its WMD programs, “past Iraqi deceptions led to suspicion of Iraq’s motives” and its leaders “would have had to take specific steps with [U.N. inspectors] to overcome perceptions of dishonesty.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, repeated on Aug. 30 assurances that Iran wants only to pursue peaceful uses of atomic energy and is not seeking a nuclear weapon. As early as 2006, he issued a religious fatwa that said the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons was forbidden under Islam.
Some current and former U.S. officials believe that this tie to Islamic law provides Khamenei with a means to strike a deal with the West to limit enrichment to low levels. But the broader reaction is that Iran could forget about Islamic law if domestic or foreign events lead to a decision to build a bomb.
George Santayana’s warning is relevant: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage.