Republican members of Congress say they are eagerly waiting to hear directly from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on why the nuclear deal being negotiated between the United States and its P5+1 partners (including its three closest NATO allies) and Iran is so dangerous. “At this time, Congress must unequivocally demonstrate to Israel’s enemies that there is no daylight between the United States and its embattled friend and ally,” wrote Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) in a letter signed by 47 of his House Republican colleagues in support of Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Bibi last week. “It is necessary now for Congress to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu, and welcome his expertise on Iran’s regional designs.”
Which, of course, brings to mind once again Netanyahu’s demonstrated regional expertise in his enthusiastic promotion of the invasion of Iraq in testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on September 12, 2002. His appearance was transparently part of the Bush administration’s (and the neoconservatives’) campaign to persuade Congress to approve the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq—which it did one month later, on October 16, 2002.
Bibi’s timing was superb; he spoke on the day after the first anniversary of 9/11 and five days after Vice President Dick Cheney told “Meet the Press” that, “We do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.” On that same day, Bush’s then-chief of staff told The New York Times in reference to the administration’s orchestrated push for a war resolution on Iraq, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t roll out new products in August.” Bibi subsequently drew heavily on his testimony in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal’s neocon editorial page on September 20, 2002.
When, in September 2012, I first posted the excerpts that follow below, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid noted the similarities between his 2002 testimony and Bibi’s speech before the UN General Assembly, which focused almost exclusively on the threat posed by Iran, 10 years later.
A video clip from the 2002 hearing has been making the rounds of the Internet over the past few days, after it was posted by American blogger Jim Lobe at almost the same time as Netanyahu was addressing the United Nations General Assembly last week.
Netanyahu’s remarks during the 2002 congressional hearing sounded very similar to his UN speech. The arguments are the same, the intonation is the same, even the advisers are the same – Netanyahu’s current diplomatic adviser, Ron Dermer [see him sitting right behind Bibi in the above photo], who wrote the prime minister’s UN address, can be seen in the 10-year-old video sitting behind Netanyahu in the congressional hall.
Aside from the fact that both Dermer and Netanyahu look 10 years younger, the primary difference between the two videos is one word: 2002’s Iraq has been replaced by Iran in 2012.
So now, two-and-a-half years later, and with Dermer, a former Republican activist, installed as ambassador at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, the obvious question is: Why should we “welcome [Netanyahu’s] expertise” on anything having to do with the region? As the excerpts below demonstrate, Netanyahu’s “expertise” on Iraq contributed to the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. foreign policy, at least since Vietnam. Why is there any reason to believe that his assessments of “Iran’s regional designs” in 2015 are any more accurate than his assessments about Iraq and the regional implications of regime change there than those he offered in his testimony in 2002? Especially when Israeli national-security officials believe that he is grossly exaggerating the alleged threat posed by Iran.
So, take a walk down memory lane and think of just how disastrous was the “expertise” he shared with Congress 12-and-a-half years ago.
On why invading Iraq — instead of pursuing al-Qaeda — was the top priority:
I think the first question is, do you want to merely avenge September 11th or do you want to win the war on terror? If you want to stop with September 11th, go after al Qaeda.
…[T]here is no international terrorism of any kind — al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, you name them, all of them — there is no international terrorism if you take away the support of sovereign states. And the sovereign states are few. If you want to win this war, you just have to neutralize these states. In neutralizing them, you have two options. It’s like when kamikaze fighters are coming at you and bombing you. You can shoot one; you can shoot the other. But if you really want to stop it, you have to shoot down the aircraft carriers. There are only a handful of aircraft carriers. …So, I think if you want to win the broader war on terror, you have to get rid of these regimes.
And the question of time [for taking preemptive action], I think the sooner the better. But now the question is when you choose a target, I think Iraq brings two things, a confluence of two things. One, it is sufficiently important in this network to have a tremendous effect. If it collapses, it will have a beneficial seismic effect…
And today the United States must destroy the same regime because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of our entire world at risk. And make no mistake about it — if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, it is only a matter of time before those weapons will be used.
If a preemptive action will be supported by a broad coalition of free countries in the United Nations, all the better. But if such support is not forthcoming, then the United States must be prepared to act without it. [Emphasis added.]
On Saddam’s (presumed) nuclear program, Netanyahu had no doubts whatsoever:
Two decades ago, it was possible to thwart Saddam’s nuclear ambitions by bombing a single installation. But today, nothing less than dismantling his regime will do, because Saddam’s nuclear program has fundamentally changed in those two decades. He no longer needs one large reactor to produce the deadly material necessary for atomic bombs. He can produce it in centrifuges the size of washing machines that can be hidden throughout the country. And I want to remind you that Iraq is a very big country. It is not the size of Monte Carlo. It is a big country. And I believe that even free and unfettered inspections will not uncover these portable manufacturing sites of death.
There’s no question that [Saddam] had not given up on his nuclear program, not [sic] whatsoever. There is also no question that he was not satisfied with the arsenal of chemical and biological weapons that he had and was trying to perfect them constantly. …So I think, frankly, it is not serious to assume that this man, who 20 years ago was very close to producing an atomic bomb, spent the last 20 years sitting on his hands. He has not. And every indication we have is that he is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. If anyone makes an opposite assumption or cannot draw the lines connecting the dots, that is simply not an objective assessment of what has happened. Saddam is hell-bent on achieving atomic bombs, atomic capabilities, as soon as he can.
…There was a constant upgrading of these weapons, constant upgrading of these weapons, constant efforts to make them more lethal and to expand the reach of the delivery systems to deliver them.
So we have all these dots and we say, well, we don’t know exactly what is happening. You know, it’s like you’re about to see somebody plunge the knife into someone, you’re looking through a keyhole. You followed a murderer. You know that he is suspected that he’s already killed a few people and you see him trailing somebody and you’re trailing him. He shuts the door. You’re looking through the keyhole and you see him grasping the throat of this person, raising the knife and then the light goes out, and the next thing you know a body is found. And you can say, ‘Well, you know, I didn’t actually see him en flagrante, in the act, if you will,’ but I think, Mr. Kucinich, that it is simply not reflecting the reality to assume that Saddam isn’t feverishly working to develop nuclear weapons, as we speak.
There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons — no question whatsoever. And there is no question that once he acquires it, history shifts immediately.
On how regime change in Iraq will have wondrous effects on the region:
…If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.
So what is the next step? I believe that the next step is to choose — it’s not a question of whether you have to take action but what kind of action and against whom. I think of the three [Iraq, Iran and Libya, all “racing to develop nuclear weapons”], Saddam is probably in many ways a linchpin, because it is possible to take out this regime with military action and the reverberations of what happens with the collapse of Saddam’s regime could very well create an implosion in a neighbor regime like Iran for the simple reason that Iran has, I don’t want to say a middle class, but it has a very large population that might bring down the regime, just as has [sic] brought down the shah’s regime. So I think that the choice of going after Iraq is like removing a brick that holds a lot of other bricks and might cause this structure to crumble. It is not guaranteed. The assumption of regime removal in Iraq, an implosion in Iran, an implosion in Libya is an assumption. It is not guaranteed. But if I have to choose should there be military action first against Iraq or first against Iran, I would choose exactly what the president had chosen, to [go] after Iraq.
The three principles of winning the war on terror are the three W’s — winning, winning and winning. The more victories you amass, the easier the next victory becomes. The first victory in Afghanistan makes a second victory in Iraq that much easier. The second victory in Iraq will make the third victory that much easier, too, but it may change the nature of achieving that victory.
Democratization is the answer:
The test and the great opportunity and challenge is not merely to effect the ouster of the regime, but also transform that society and thereby begin too the process of democratizing the Arab world. I think that’s absolutely essential.
…I think the greatest protection ….against the return of another Saddam, another bin Laden, another Mullah Omar …is to ventilate these societies with the winds of freedom. Democracy, or, if I want to be realistic, democratization, coupled with an economic package. I think that should be the step afterwards in Iraq. And I think it would actually stabilize Iraq. It might send a message — I think it will — to neighboring Iran, to neighboring Syria. And the people will wake up and they’ll say, “We can have a real life. We can have a choice. Our children can have a future.” That’s not a bad idea.
On regime change in Iran:
I once said to the …heads of the CIA, when I was prime minister, that if you want to advance regime change in Iran, you don’t have to go through the CIA cloak-and-dagger stuff — what you want to do is take very large, very strong transponders and just beam ‘Melrose Place’ and ‘Beverly Hills 2050′ [sic] and all that into Teheran and into Iran, because that is subversive stuff. …[B]ut it may take a long time.
If Bush strikes Iraq, Saddam will hit Israel:
I want to say that I’m here today as a citizen of a country that is most endangered by a preemptive strike, for it is, I think, clear that in the last gasps of Saddam’s dying regime, he will attempt to launch his remaining missiles, his remaining payloads, including biological and chemical payloads, at the Jewish state.
On the “right direction” in which Bush and the United States are heading (recalling, for a second, Bibi’s boast about the ease with which Washington can be “moved in the right direction” in the 2001 video):
I think, in a similar way, the bombing of September 11th opened the eyes of Americans to see the great conflict and the great danger that faces us. And once opened, then, the overpowering will of the majority of the people of the United States, of the steamroller, is inevitably moving to decide this battle. I think this is — I think this was called by Congressman Lantos “a hinge of history,” and it is exactly that. It is a hinge of history.
And one year later, I can come here and say that history is moving in the right direction; that had America not woken up, had America not mobilized its action, had it not — have — if it had not had the courageous leadership of President Bush, then I wouldn’t be able to say that I’m confident today. But I am saying that I believe that the war on terror is going in the right direction and that I am confident that if we pursue this direction, then we will achieve victory. And victory is victory for America and victory for Israel and victory for Britain, victory for all the democracies, however vacillating and however reluctant their governments are. This is a victory for all free societies, and I’m sure it will be achieved.
All of which raises the question: given his proven powers of analysis and foresight, why are we listening to Bibi Netanyahu on how to deal with Iran?