A few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, I attended a big holiday dinner with family and friends. Naturally much of the conversation revolved around the terrorist attacks and the rage and sorrow we all felt.
There was also considerable discussion about President George W. Bush's handling of the catastrophe and his decision to send troops to Afghanistan in pursuit of the perpetrators and to eliminate the Taliban regime that was hosting them.
Everyone at the table approved of the president's actions and believed that there was no alternative. Moreover, and this was somewhat surprising considering that none of us thought Bush had been legitimately elected, we all believed that he was being honest about the situation the United States faced and the options that were before him.
There was, however, one dissenter. My younger son, then in college, was absolutely opposed to going into Afghanistan. He said that there had to be a better way to respond than rushing into a war that, in his opinion, would likely expand and last "forever." Besides, he added, "I don't believe a word that comes out of Bush's mouth."
Naturally a brouhaha ensued with everyone (including me) telling the kid how utterly wrong and unpatriotic he was. There was a lot of yelling but he would not back down. He just kept saying "you'll see."
Boy did we! Prodded by his neoconservative advisers and outside cheerleaders eager to pick up where the first Gulf War ended, Bush quickly pivoted from Afghanistan to the calamitous invasion of Iraq. He justified that invasion by insisting that Iraq was implicated in the 9/11 attacks (although it wasn't) and that it possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (although it didn't).
Both the Bush administration and its faithful ally, the Tony Blair government in the United Kingdom, famously set out to "fix" the intelligence to deceive the peoples of both nations into an utterly unnecessary and unjustified war. It is a war which has, as its main accomplishment, the transformation of Iraq from the Islamic Republic of Iran's worst enemy to its best friend. Along the way, of course, hundreds of thousands of Americans, Iraqis, Brits and others have died and Iraq has essentially been destroyed.
It is against this backdrop that I view the Iranian plot that was announced yesterday by the Obama administration. At this point, it is impossible to say how serious the plot was and, more importantly, if it even had anything at all to do with the Iranian government.
Are we ready to believe that the cold and calculating people who govern Iran were contracting out assassination plots with Mexican drug traffickers or that they would pick Washington as the best place to attack the Saudi ambassador (knowing that being found responsible for bombing Washington would mean war with the United States)? As Seth Meyers likes to say on Saturday Night Live, "Really? Really?"
This is not to dismiss the plot as phony or contrived. It could be real, or fake, or something in-between. But after the Iraq war experience, it would be awfully stupid of Americans to simply accept without question anything we are told about nefarious Muslim states which must be stopped before explosive-laden clouds appear over downtown Washington.
The only good news here is that we have past experience to guide us.
But for the lies and manufactured evidence that led us into Iraq we might not have reason to be skeptical about the case the government laid out yesterday and which the usual suspects are already joyously citing as reason to get tough with Iran (as if that country is not under onerous sanctions already).
But for the lies and manufactured evidence that led us into Iraq, we might actually accept the idea that the Iran plot is thoroughly genuine and, in no way, linked to the determination of so many neocons, inside our government and out who are hell-bent on war with Iran and would do anything they can to achieve it.
Fortunately, however, and this may be the only fortunate thing about the Iraq war, the Iraq experience taught us to be skeptical. Especially about anything neocons cite as pretexts for Middle Eastern wars. We now know that they lie.
So let's go slowly here. If the plot turns out to be both real and sanctioned by powerful people in Tehran, a strong response of some kind is warranted.
But first let's make sure. The neocons' "drop bombs and ask questions later" approach has been thoroughly discredited. Anyone who doubts that should pay a visit to one of our veterans' hospitals or a military cemetery. How stupid would we have to be to allow the same crowd to lead us into yet another war, one that would be infinitely more deadly?
Count me among the skeptics.