One of the many unfortunate trends in today’s American politics is that being wrong on significant matters seems to carry little penalty, while being right on significant matters seems to carry little reward.

Consider those who told us that the invasion of Iraq was going to be a “cakewalk,” with American troops being greeted as “liberators” and the war paying for itself because of Iraq’s oil wealth. Now, after the loss of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of American dollars, we should know better. But too many of us don’t, because those who peddled the Iraq War are now beginning to peddle a war with Iran, and many Republican presidential candidates appear to be listening. Indeed, Bill Kristol’s son-in-law, Matthew Continetti, has recently written an article denouncing Jeb Bush adviser (and former Secretary of State) James Baker for being insufficiently deferential to Bibi Netanyahu and stating, “It’s W’s advice Jeb Bush should be listening to, not James Baker’s.”

Allan Brownfeld has written a powerful piece on this phenomenon. Brownfeld notes that John Bolton, Joshua Muravchik, and Bill Kristol have all advocated attacking Iran, just as they advocated attacking Iraq. Of course, Iraq used to act as a counterweight to Iran, until we overthrew Saddam Hussein. Now, Iraq’s Shiite dominated government is essentially allied with Iran.

Brownfeld also notes that the neocons have a long record of exaggerating Iran’s aggressiveness, reminding us that one of the favorite gurus of the Bush Administration, Bernard Lewis, predicted in 2006 that an Iranian attack on Israel was imminent. 

The neocons also have a long record of exaggerating Iran’s military capability. By contrast, Brownfeld quotes eminent Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld as stating that, far from being a budding superpower, Iran is a “Third World country” whose defense budget is “a little more than half of Israel’s and less than 2 percent of America’s. Iran, in fact, spends a smaller percentage of its resources on defense than any of its neighbors except the United Arab Emirates.”

Brownfeld correctly locates the neocons’ bellicosity in their rejection of traditional conservatism. In fact, the neocons’ ultimate intellectual roots are Trotskyite. George W. Bush’s administration ended in failure because he accepted the unwise counsel of the neocons. Any Republican president who follows Bush in his choice of advisers will meet the same fate, assuming he can even convince a war-weary electorate to put him in the White House.