A case for war with Iran began early in the Bush Administration. In January 29, 2002 State of the Union, Iran was added into Bush’s new Axis of Evil as something of an afterthought:
Iran aggressively pursues these weapons [WMD] and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom. States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.
The argument waxed and waned over the years, often in reaction to developments real or perceived in Iran’s nuclear program but also to other events. In July-August 2006, Iran was blamed for its support of Hezbollah during Israel’s bombing of Lebanon and then in 2007 for its much more tangential backing of Hamas against Fatah in the Palestinian civil war. In this country in 2007, the Iran blame game developed 3 well defined prongs: in the White House, the Congress, and the media.
Bush at an October 17, 2007 news conference on the nuclear aspect:
I believe that the Iranian — if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace. But this — we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.
And Cheney before Washington Institute for Near East Peace (WINEP) on October 21, 2007:
The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
Then there was the Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP) story of Iranians supplying Shia militias with especially lethal IEDs which the military and intelligence community pitched to credulous journalists. On February 10, 2007, Michael Gordon came out with the first of several pieces at the New York Times which were notable for their anonymous sourcing and unsubstantiated claims. These articles were heavily criticized in the blogosphere but it didn’t stop Gordon from revisiting the subject on March 27, 2007 and August 8, 2007 and recycling many of the previous charges.
In Gordon’s original piece the accusation was made that the smuggling of EFPs into Iraq was “approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei and carried out by the Quds Force.” This claim quickly fell apart but it did not stop Bush without any additional evidence from asserting in a February 14, 2007 Valentine’s Day presser:
I can say with certainty that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated I.E.D.’s that have harmed our troops . . . And I’d like to repeat, I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of the government. But my point is, what’s worse, them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and its happening?
Blaming the Iranians for American deaths in Iraq provided a useful excuse for Bush’s failures there and helped gin up the case for a future conflict with Iran.
Bush’s bellicosity toward Iran worried some in Congress. Representative Peter Defazio (D-OR) on January 16, 2007 sponsored a resolution (H. Con. Res. 33) calling for an explicit Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) before any attack on Iran. The Democratic leadership essentially killed it by referring it to committee. Walter Jones (R-NC) had done proposed something similar (H.J. Res 14) on January 12, 2007. His effort met a similar fate. Both came just days after Bush officially announced his plan for the “surge” on January 10, 2007.
On March 12, 2007, Pelosi stripped out similar language requiring Congressional authorization for an attack on Iran from the Iraq supplemental bill (H.R. 2206). The next day she addressed AIPAC’s annual conference. A coincidence I’m sure.
On June 20, 2007, H. Con. Res. 21 a resolution sponsored by Steven Rothman (D-NJ) called for the UN to take action against Iran for its nuclear program and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for violating the UN Convention on Genocide for his remarks (which Middle East expert Juan Cole said were mistranslated and misconstrued) calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map”. It passed 411-2.
On July 11, 2007, the Senate passed a resolution (S. Amdt. 2073) introduced by Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) 97-0. It repeated most of the charges made in the press against Iran but actually only required reports on Iran’s activities.
Back in the House H.R.1400 the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007 sponsored by Tom Lantos (D-CA) passed 397-16 on September 25, 2007. It increased nuclear and financial sanctions and sought to “place the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRG] on the list of specially designated global terrorists, and place the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on the list of weapons of mass destruction proliferators and their supporters.”
The next day on September 26, 2007, the Senate passed the Kyl-Lieberman (S.Amdt. 3017 as modified) 76-22. Like the Lantos bill, the original text asked that the IRG be put on the list of specially designated global terrorists but contained two more disturbing paragraphs:
(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies;
(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies
The Congressional actions should be seen as a continuum moving from a demand for an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) as was done with Iraq, to a laundry list of charges against Iran, to sanctions, and finally to a call for military action. The final text of Kyl-Lieberman took a step back allowing military action against Iran but only in Iraq:
(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to stop inside Iraq the violent activities and destabilizing influence of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies.
(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States National power inside Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments in support of the policy with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.
The resolutions keep coming. On May 22, 2008, Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY) introduced H.Con.Res.362. As of July 2008, it had 220 cosponsors. It calls for sanctions and
declares that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, through all appropriate economic, political, and diplomatic means, is vital to the national security interests of the United States and must be dealt with urgently
And ends with the injunction to “make clear to the Government of Iran that the United States will protect America’s vital national security interests in the Middle East.” On June 2, 2008, Evan Bayh (D-IN) introduced a very similar resolution S.Res.580. It currently has 32 sponsors. It adds one caveat which the House version lacks:
asserts that nothing in this resolution shall be construed to authorize the use of force against Iran
Good luck with that. It is unclear if there will be a conflict with Iran. Cheney and the neocons want it. The media are complicit, and the Democrats complacent. The costs and repercussions, however, would be great and not easily controlled. Such a conflict would be far worse than Iraq, and that is what is so troubling. Bush’s Iran policy is deeply reminiscent of the stumbling, ill-considered lurch that took us into Iraq. We seem to have learned nothing.
On December 3, 2007, the summary of the November 2007 NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) was released (despite DNI Mike McConnell saying he wasn’t going to do this anymore). It stated that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in Fall 2003 (blowing the Cheney backed case for war to pieces and raising questions why it was pushed for as long as it was). It further stated that even if Iran revived its program it was unlikely to have sufficient enriched uranium for a bomb by 2009, that it might have the capability to build a bomb in the 2010-2015 time range but that it probably would be after 2013 and possibly after 2015.
The Administration sat on this NIE for a year due to its content (November 2006). The original push for a change came from notes obtained in the summer of 2006 exchanged among Iranian officials complaining about the shutting down of the nuclear weapons program. In the subsequent months, the case only became stronger with the defection of a Revolutionary Guard General Ali Reza Asghari to Turkey in February 2007 and old communication intercepts the government came across in July 2007.
After months of disagreements with the Bush-Cheney warmongering on Iran, Admiral William Fallon who became CENTCOM commander overseeing operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq on March 16, 2007 announced his resignation and retirement on March 11, 2008 to become effective March 31. Fallon was reported to have told a source at the time of his confirmation in February 2007 that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.” With his departure, the chances of a US (or a US sanctioned Israeli) attack on Iran have greatly increased.