Why I am becoming more fearful of yet another useless Middle East war

Is it just me or is it starting to feel like ‘deja vu all over again’, to quote the great New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra? Did I tumble down a time wormhole only to find myself back in 2003? Are we on the cusp of going to war in the Middle East – again? Will we see the rise of more terrorism as a result? Are there more questions I can rhetorically pose?

The possible war I am referring to of course is US-Iran. The Trump Administration is making all kinds of bellicose noises and carrying out a military build-up in the region that sure strikes me as a precursor to some kind of offensive action. First was the decision to abandon the JCOPA – the ‘joint comprehensive plan of action’ on Iran – that sought to sideline that country’s nuclear program and which, by all accounts was working. Then there was the listing of the IRGC – the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – as a terrorist entity. Mix in the courting of the cult MeK (former) terrorist group as a ‘replacement’ for the Iranian regime (see my blog on this) and recent reports of the ‘sabotage’ of Saudi tankers in the Persian Gulf by, one assumes, Iran despite the unfortunate fact that satellite photos show no such thing, and you have the recipe for war.

This is bad. But it is the not the first time we have been here. Anyone remember 2002-3? Does ‘bad intelligence’ and Saddam Hussein/WMD/Al Qaeda ring any bells? I was at CSIS at the time and it was already pretty obvious that the case for linking the former Iraqi dictator and CBW/terrorism was weak. Furthermore, and this is important, as a New York Times Book Review last weekend of Leap of Faith made abundantly clear, “a decision to overthrow Saddam had been essentially sealed in cognitive amber” (I gotta start using the phrase ‘cognitive amber’!!). Are we seeing the same scenario?

I really fear this is exactly what is transpiring. As The Economist front page says it “Collision course: America, Iran and the threat of war“. This is not good folks. Wars in the Middle East have a nasty habit of not ending well, despite claims of ‘Mission Accomplished’. Lest we forget, Islamic State (IS) would not have come to be if it had not been for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. A war with Iran would most likely be no different and no one knows what hounds of hell will be unleashed as a consequence.

As for Iran I was not born yesterday. The Islamic Republic is a pain in the ass for many reasons although I have maintained that even if it is a state sponsor of terrorism it pales in comparison to what Saudi Arabia is doing and what Saudi-inspired jihadi groups are doing. There has to be a better way to engage Iran in diplomacy and dialogue and avoid another conflict at all costs.

Winston Churchill famously said ‘jaw-jaw is better than war-war’. We need more jaw-jaw now even if those ‘responsible’ in the US are not exactly the best ones to do this (yes, I am talking about you John Bolton and Mike Pompeo). Here’s hoping we can step back from the precipice of destruction. I cannot say that I am confident given who is in the White House but hope does spring eternal, and at least in my part of Canada it is still spring – ish.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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