The Slatest

The New York Times’ First Op-Ed About War With Iran Is by a Guy Who Said There Were No Downsides to Invading Iraq

A crowd, seen from above, watches as American soldiers pull a statue of Saddam Hussein off its pedestal with a rope and a chain.
A statue of Saddam Hussein is pulled down in Baghdad on April 9, 2003. Mission accomplished. Patrick Baz/AFP via Getty Images

At 10 a.m. EST on Friday, the New York Times published its first op-ed about the United States airstrike that killed Iranian paramilitary commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, an attack that effectively constitutes a declaration of war against Iran. (Soleimani supervised Iran-backed militia forces that have attacked U.S. personnel in Iraq.) The piece describes Soleimani’s assassination as “long overdue,” asserting that his death will “make Iran much weaker” and create “hope” among Iranian dissidents and anti-Iranian factions in Iraq and Lebanon.

The author of the op-ed is Michael Doran, who self-identifies within as “a former senior official in the White House and the Defense Department.” Doran worked at the National Security Council and Pentagon during the presidency of George W. Bush. And as it just so happens, Bush also launched a war by promising that an operation against a Middle Eastern leader would eliminate threats to the the United States and create a domino effect of democratic reform. One of the threats Bush cited, Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, turned out not to exist. Another, al-Qaida, never had a connection to Saddam in the first place, although his downfall cleared the way for a branch of the group to begin attacking U.S. forces in Iraq. That branch eventually became ISIS. Democracy did not spread through the Middle East.

Doran didn’t join the W. Bush administration until 2005, two years after the Iraq invasion. But as journalist Carlos Maza points out, his support for it was clear it at the time, when he made arguments advancing the Bush-Cheney party line in a January/February 2003 Foreign Affairs op-ed and a May 2003 Council on Foreign Relations debate.

In the former, Doran dismissed the “chorus of voices” from “European and Arab capitals” that argued that deposing Saddam would trigger a regional backlash that could “wreak havoc on American interests.” In fact, he wrote, by “thwarting Saddam’s ambitions and continuing to root out [Osama] bin Laden’s henchmen and associates,” the U.S. would “demonstrate forcefully that challenges to its authority in the region will be defeated.” This, he said, would deter other Middle Eastern groups considering attacks against American interests. In the Council on Foreign Relations debate, Doran complained that “no amount of rational argument” could persuade “conspiracy theorists” to accept that Hussein was developing WMDs, and discussed “independent verification of Saddam’s illegal programs” as if their existence were a foregone conclusion.

Doran’s Foreign Affairs piece about why invading Iraq would not create a regional backlash against the United States was reprinted contemporaneously in the New York Times, which has now printed his new piece celebrating military action against one of the regional powers that was drawn to Iraq to attack U.S. forces after the invasion.

Space is presumably already reserved for his next article, in 2037, which will justify the invasion of Lebanon.