As Yogi Berra was wont to say, I had a feeling of déjà vu all over again.
The occasion was reading the speech that UN Ambassador Nikki Haley gave recently at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), that bastion of Dick Cheney and the neo-conservatives who supported him.
But I was not imagining the setting at AEI. No, I had this eerie feeling that I was back at the UN Security Council in February 2003. I was listening to Colin Powell give the presentation I had helped CIA Director George Tenet and his nefarious deputy, John McLaughlin, prepare for Powell. The torrent of lies, half-truths, and carefully-designed fabrications came rushing out.
Only this time, it was Haley’s speech.
Only Haley did not possess the gravitas, the serious believability, nor the exceptional experience of Colin Powell. As one observer commented, Haley had only learned how to pronounce “foreign policy” the week before. Powell, on the other hand, had poll ratings with the American people and around the world that were second only to Mother Teresa and had been at the side of four presidents.
But the script was the same: provide enough specious intelligence, misreading of the facts, combined with just enough fear-mongering and distortions of reality, to convince a majority of the American people that eventual regime change in Iran was essential. But don’t say that explicitly.
No, just forecast that soon the Trump Administration—and its lackey with regard to Iran, most of the Republican and some of the Democratic Congress—will announce in accordance with the too-clever-by-half Corker plan either Iranian non-compliance with the nuclear agreement, or will devise an equally clever way to transfer the burden of decision-making to the Congress, as it just did with the Dreamers Act, and let the chips fall where they might. Where they will fall, of course, is preordained because recent Congresses never met a diplomatic deal they did not want to scuttle at first opportunity.
Just look back on the Agreed Framework with North Korea (and now, of course, the North is a nuclear weapon state).
And in Haley’s remarks, unlike Powell’s, there was no real attempt to address international concerns “in a post 9/11 world”; in fact, there was an incredible disregard for such concerns—all in line with President Trump’s objective of “America first, second, and last”.
In keeping with her recent utter disregard for fifty-plus years of US security policy with respect to Europe, Haley’s words reinforced again and again the concept that America is now alone in the world in its expectations of security and for whom it is important. No other country rates our concern.
My second reaction to Haley’s speech was to shrug my shoulders and mutter to myself that one could not expect more from such a novice—and such a novice apparently enthralled by the Trump agenda and so covetous of the secretariat at State. But what if she gets it!
The inexperienced ExxonMobil CEO has been bad enough; Haley would be an utter disaster.
But there seems little one can do about either of these developments, first, the inevitable march to war with Iran—because that is precisely what abrogation of the JCPOA will bring—and, second, the just as inevitable rise of this incredibly Trump-enthralled but inept woman to a position of more power. Indeed, the two just might be inextricably connected.
Colin Powell had the redeeming grace of having been lied to by the Vice President of the United States, by the Director of Central Intelligence and his deputy, and by two key analysts at the CIA. Moreover, Powell was doing no more than what most of the US Congress had done, what the majority of the US intelligence community had agreed to in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, and what several other allied states’ intelligence assets had allegedly confirmed.
Haley, on the other hand, was a force unto herself at AEI—most notably in the clearly evident absence of any confirmation from any part of the US intelligence community, or any other country’s for that matter, that what she was asserting about Iran was accurate. And overwhelming evidence that what she was claiming with regard to the nuclear agreement signified that she had not even read it.
Yes, there is clear evidence that Iran needs ballistic missiles to defend itself and thus keeps working on perfecting them. Even a summary glance at the brutal Iraq-Iran War confirms it. Yes, there is ample evidence that Iran supports Hezbollah, that Hezbollah has helped turn the tide for Assad in Syria, and that Hezbollah has gained new traction vis a vis its main enemy, Israel. But there is also clear evidence that these gains are as much a result of US incompetence in Syria and Israeli efforts to spread the chaos in the region as to anything Iran has done. And, yes, Iran is involved in Yemen—and on a more legitimate side than the US.
Haley’s recitation of all Iran’s actions that she reports as adverse to US interests also conveniently omitted a similar review of all the US actions that have been inimical to Iran’s interests, from the overthrow of Iran’s elected leader in 1953, to taking Saddam Hussein’s side in the Iraq-Iran War, to shooting down an Iranian civilian airliner with 290 people on board, to selling massive amounts of arms to the dictatorship in Riyadh.
In short, Haley’s audition for Secretary of State scared the bejeesus out of me.