The Road from Damascus: Cal Thomas’s Campaign for War with Iran

Cal Thomas’s musings on the current Syrian crisis feature two recurring themes. The first, expressed as a simplistic, repetitive chorus that will no doubt resonate within the deepest fibers of Republican bodies, is criticism of President Obama’s leadership. Ignoring what might appear to more objective observers as overwhelming evidence that Barack Obama is effectively Bush III, leaving in his wake a shredded Constitution and countless shredded bodies, Thomas accuses the current warmonger-in-chief of being weak and indecisive. If only Obama were more like his predecessor – The Decider! But in between this predictable (and perhaps commercially necessary) chorus is a strident, portentous, and positively perilous call for America to destroy Iran on behalf of Thomas’s Israeli friends. This Muezzin-like wailing, summoning ill-informed Americans to support imperialistic violence that is neither in the national interest nor compatible with the Christian principles the right professes to respect, is nothing new for Thomas. But the intensity of the production seems to have placed this professional propagandist into a hysterical state in which previously bedrock positions on Middle-Eastern matters have decayed into nothing more than shifting sands. In urging his readers to heed history’s warnings, Thomas has garbled not only U.S. history, but his own.

For the Iraq War Before He Was Against It: Cal Thomas’s John Kerry Moment

The most astonishing aspect of Thomas’s column, published by the Leesburg Daily Commercial on 9/11/13 but released the day before, was his explicit repudiation of George W. Bush’s case for war against Iraq. Desperate to paint Barack Obama’s proposed intervention in Syria as a disaster in the making, Thomas indulged in the most spectacularly hypocritical Monday-morning quarterbacking one could imagine.

In 2003, President George W. Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction. Remember the Iraqi refugee codenamed “Curveball”? He was the main provider of “intelligence” that Saddam was pursuing WMDs. No WMDs were ever found. In 2004, “Curveball” was officially classified as a “fabricator” by the CIA; too late for those thousands of Americans who died or were wounded. Now, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry say we can trust the intelligence on Syria. Do you?

If the Israelis want an effective salesman for their machinations in the Middle East, one might have thought that they could find someone less slime-ridden than this disgusting little worm. Cal Thomas was a major cheerleader for George Bush’s war against Iraq, yet now expects to be taken seriously as he tries to surf the current Tea Party wave of non-interventionism by claiming the war was a bad idea.

As the Catholic scholar, Dr. Christopher Manion, explains in a fascinating analysis of our turning worm, Thomas’s support for the Iraq War was “truly indispensable” in bringing the religious right on board:

During the Bush years, Thomas served as a critical intellectual intermediary between the president and American Evangelicals, especially the Dispensationalists. This curious group supported war not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East.

Why? Because Dispensationalists thought that war would bring on Armageddon, and thus the Second Coming, in their lifetimes — allowing them to rule over all the Earth with Jesus Christ for a thousand years in the Millennium.

Dispensationalists number in the tens of millions. Their most prominent preacher, John Hagee, who leads “Christians United For Israel,” enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame when John McCain desperately sought his endorsement during the 2008 primaries, won it, and then renounced it when he discovered Hagee’s long history of virulent anti-Catholicism.

Thomas’s syndicated columns are lovingly cataloged by his friends at the Jewish World Review, alongside the products of such great thinkers as Ann Coulter and Betsy Hart. It is not difficult to find numerous examples of this hawk’s squawking for war with Iraq. The extract below is from a column in December, 2002, but it is worth noting that Thomas was still waxing lyrical about the “liberating strife” of the Iraqi conflict as recently as 2011.

A Washington Post editorial correctly recommends that instead of compromising whatever intelligence it has, the United States should appeal to intelligence agencies from other nations that have some of the same data. This has the added benefit of broadening the indictments against Iraq beyond one country.

One place to begin, notes the Post editorial, is the United Nations’ own evidence, including the official report of the last inspection mission. That report cited 360 tons of chemical warfare agents, 3,000 tons of precursor chemicals, growth media sufficient to produce more than 25,000 liters of anthrax and 30,000 munitions for the delivery of chemical and biological agents that Iraq failed to account for before 1999. As the editorial says, “If this weekend’s report does not cover those materials, then the Security Council’s resolution has been breached.”

If the United States is to retain credibility in its war against terrorism, there needs to be a final declaration that Saddam Hussein must go because he is a menace to civilized society and peace. That declaration must be followed immediately by the liberation of Iraq – and the world – from the danger posed by Saddam Hussein. Otherwise, the conclusion is that the United States and United Nations are powerless patsies. That will invite other rogue regimes to further undermine world stability, defy the United Nations and reveal our country to be a paper tiger. Such a scenario would guarantee new threats and put the United States and the Middle East in even greater peril.

Just as Thomas hoped, other nations duly answered the call to provide their own intelligence on Iraqi WMDs. Our old friends from great battles past, now reduced to the status of mewling lapdogs, produced a timely report. Since Thomas spends his summers in the U.K. and reads the right-wing press over there, he is probably familiar with the Daily Telegraph report that British intelligence fell for Curveball’s lies (and ignored other sources who said that Saddam had no WMDs). But can the UN’s own findings, to which Thomas gave so much weight in 2002, also be dismissed as based on the words of a “fabricator”? Don’t the American people have a right to know that Saddam’s stockpile of chemical weapons was built up with American assistance in order to help him fight Revolutionary Iran; that the United States resisted UN efforts to condemn Saddam’s use of chemical weapons; and that those weapons were subsequently used against American troops in the Gulf War? Of course not. On 9/11 of all days, no thought must ever be placed in Americans’ minds that their own country did so much to create the monsters it proposes to slay.

Iraqi Victims of Extrajudicial Killing

Iraqi Children shot by U.S. forces in an “extrajudicial killing” documented by the UN and Wiklieaks. (Image links to detailed account.)

As a member of a privileged class of professional pontificators, Thomas is apparently under no obligation to explain to his readers why he was wrong. His implication seems to be that he – despite all his schmoozing in the Oval Office that once welcomed him – was duped just like the little people who never set foot within the Beltway. Thus, Thomas feels no need to apologize to the nation for participating in the sales process of a bloodbath. With as many as a million Iraqi people dead as a result of an unjust war of choice, Cal Thomas simply shrugs his shoulders and moves on to the next sales pitch, a shining example for a country wondering what exactly conservatives mean by “personal responsibility.”1

And what about all that talk of “credibility” and “rogue regimes,” those bellicose snorts that echo down the ages? Why was Thomas so convinced that one alleged owner of WMDs had to be forcibly removed but now seems so timid? Has he lost his balls as well as his memory and his shame? Or is he simply trying to be “truly indispensable” in the next campaign for war?

A Bloody Peacock Feather in His Cap

It is telling that Cal Thomas began a column that was ostensibly about Syria with an immediate reference to Iran, for that is clearly the topic on which he wishes us to focus. Even before readers are exposed to his volte face on Iraq, Thomas’s credibility – a small corpus of which may initially be granted to every writer by good-natured readers – evaporates as soon as he leaves the gate. Castigating the nation for historical illiteracy, he proceeds to demonstrate a hideous historical failure of his own.

Perhaps if America had a successful track record in the Middle East, President Obama’s appeal for a “limited” attack on Syria might carry more weight. But because our attention span in the region increasingly resembles that of a fidgety 4-year-old, an examination of recent history is in order.

Consider Iran. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter supported toppling the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Whatever the shah’s shortcomings, who believes the theocratic government of the ayatollahs, which replaced him, was better than the one we helped overthrow? At least the shah was not pursuing nuclear weapons or fighting proxy wars like Syria.

Obviously, the first problem here is that Thomas expects the country to swallow his assertions that Iran is pursuing the ultimate weapon of mass destruction despite telling us that President Bush’s case for war against Iran’s neighbor – based on allegations of WMD development – was fabricated, and arguing similarly that President Obama’s case for war against Syria can also not be trusted. Readers may be forgiven for wondering if Mr. Thomas is destined to someday change his mind about Iran as well, should he need to reposition himself in the twinkling firmament of the American pundit class. For now, it seems, he has decided that this curious double-standard is tenable in the marketplace of ideas – a decision which demands strict scrutiny.

President Carter and the Shah of IranThe companion problem, however, is Thomas’s deliberately deceptive conception of “recent history,” and in this case we refer to the larger sense rather than his own. 1979 may be a convenient starting point for Cal Thomas’s history, partly because it permits an intellectually pathetic stab at another Democratic president,2 but it is not the beginning of America’s dealings with Iran, and it forecloses cognizance of vitally important issues. If Cal Thomas were genuinely interested in educating the American public instead of in manipulating them, he would stretch his own attention span back to 1953. That was the year in which the Eisenhower Administration became actively involved in a British plot to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mossadeq, who had implemented a range of progressive reforms including the nationalization of the oil industry. Using a variety of dirty tricks, including bribery and misleading propaganda, the CIA orchestrated a coup that ushered in a new Iranian regime under a restored Peacock Throne.

Over time, the Shah’s Iran turned away from its former colonial exploiters, the British, and cemented its ties with the new kid on the block, the United States. From a purely realist point of view, it could be argued (though this would weaken Thomas’s case against intervention in the region) that Operation Ajax, as the coup was known, was highly successful, channeling oil revenues back to the United States where the capitalists’ God always intended them to accumulate, and providing a handy vantage point from which to monitor Soviet nuclear tests. From a moral point of view, however, it was deplorable, not just because of the affront to democracy and another country’s sovereignty, but because of the assistance America gave to the Shah’s vicious secret police, the SAVAK, who tortured and murdered thousands of Iranian people. (After the Revolution, the Iranians found CIA tapes instructing the SAVAK on how to torture women. Those of us who know what General Pinochet’s thugs did to women in Chile have a good idea what sort of techniques were being taught.) Thus, when Cal Thomas, the selective historian, asks who believes the ayatollahs were better than the Shah, he ignores the glaring answer to his own question: the Iranian people themselves.

As a “Christian” conservative with painfully obvious Israeli sympathies, Cal Thomas has no interest in reminding the American people that the Iranians have very good reasons to, at a minimum, distrust the United States. Instead, American newspaper readers are fed anti-Iranian swill directly from the Israeli trough:

Former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger wrote to me in an email: “The Syrian threat to vital U.S. interests… is a derivative of Iran’s regional and global megalomaniac aspirations. The focus must be on the source and not on the derivative! Shifting attention from Iran to Syria provides Iran with extra time to develop nuclear capabilities.”

Exactly.

When Iran invades Canada and causes the deaths of a million people, and then threatens to bomb Mexico, we will believe that the ayatollahs have “global megalomaniac aspirations.” Until then, any adult with an objective mind should be able to recognize that the only global megalomaniac in the world is the United States of America. But in order to fend off such dangerous cognitive tendencies, Cal Thomas alleges that radical Islamists “have already infiltrated America, Great Britain, and other parts of Europe.” The source of this hyperbolic nonsense – the Gatestone Institute – is described by Thomas as a “nonpartisan, not-for-profit international policy council,” which makes it sound eminently neutral and respectable. In fact, Gatestone is the plaything of multi-millionaire “philanthropist” Nina Rosenwald, a Sears Roebuck heiress and former AIPAC board member, who bankrolls various efforts to build allegiances between the Israel lobby and Islamophobes. Thomas’s misrepresentation of Gatestone betrays his utter contempt for the American people almost as eloquently as his Damascene conversion into a retrospective skeptic of the Iraq War he helped to sell. And his high-fidelity parroting of Israeli propaganda displays the same failure of intelligence for which he cynically denounces the interviewers of Curveball in the run-up to the destruction of Iraq.

The Road from Damascus is The Road to Hell

Cal Thomas’s next great contribution to America’s international body count, much like his last one, will be based on exploitation of Christian fundamentalist Manichaeism. No opportunity is lost to repeat the mantra that the supposed foe, radical Islam as embodied most particularly by Iran, is evil incarnate. Writing on September 13th, after Russia’s crafty hijacking of the Syrian imroglio made Barack Obama an even easier target, Thomas puffs out his hawk’s chest, and assumes we won’t notice the blood splattered all over his feathers:

Iran, with or without its proxy war in Syria and its arming of Hezbollah, remains the major threat in the region. President Obama, who once said he would consider negotiating with Iran because America had become too “arrogant,” shows that, too, was a meaningless policy proposal. You can’t negotiate with evil. Evil must be defeated.

To make this alleged evil appear more menacing, Thomas misses no opportunity to portray Muslims – all Muslims – as inherently deceptive and irrational. In part, this portrayal requires the deliberate concealment of the Muslim world’s legitimate grievances against the West, as discussed above. Thomas will die before acknowledging that this constitutes an invidious deception of his own. But as if that were not bad enough, Thomas bases his case for “confronting this evil, rather than trying to pacify it,” on explicit demonization. This passage came from his column of the 11th:

The secular West doesn’t fully comprehend the religious motivations of extremists who claim to love death more than life. Getting killed by missiles launched by people they regard as “infidels,” they say, transports them to paradise. How does America deal with that?

Pace the best efforts of Cal Thomas and Nina Rosenwald, one might well ask exactly the same question of America’s home-grown religious extremists. How is a putatively advanced country supposed to deal with tens of millions of people who believe that war in the Middle East will usher in the Second Coming of Christ and allow them to rule the Earth for a thousand years? How can we comprehend a desire to attain paradise through Armageddon? Why is it that this ultimate level of irrationality and extreme disdain for human (and all other forms of) life is not also recognized as an evil that must be confronted?

Cal Thomas has already left a trail of slime and blood across American and Middle-Eastern history. If left unchecked, the insanity of the American evangelical movement, harnessed by aggressive Israeli warmongers, will allow that evil trail to continue to Tehran and thence to Armageddon. The Leesburg Daily Commercial pacifies this evil by continuing to propagate it. Neither they nor Cal Thomas can be expected to apologize for the death and misery that will result.

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  1. Mitt Romney gave that game away with the title of his book, No Apology. No wonder Thomas, who preferred Gingrich over Romney in 2012, now sounds like Russ Sloan in wistfully imagining how presidential Romney would have been today.
  2. Carter inherited an impossible situation. Though he may not have made the best of it – and received awful advice on the thorny issue of admitting the Shah to the U.S., which provoked the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran – the seeds of the Revolution were sown long before Carter arrived on the scene.

2 Comments

  1. Systemic Disorder

    I am sorry to see that Cal Thomas is still on the loose, but you have done a masterful job of dismantling his ignorant rantings. In regards to your summary of U.S. dealings in Iran, I might also add that Thomas is wrong about Jimmy Carter wanting to bring down the shah. In fact, Carter supported the shah to the end, then gave him a haven in the U.S. when he was finally forced to flee.

    And, of course, right-wing opposition to bombing Syria is based solely on the fact that is is Obama planning to do the bombing. If a Republican were in the White House, they’d be falling over themselves demanding an invasion, not just a bombing campaign. At least John (100 Years of War) McCain is consistent – he’ll bomb anybody anytime.

    1. editor

      Thanks for stopping by! Yes, down here in the Bible Belt we get two helpings of Cal every week to make sure we hew to the righteous path.

      You are absolutely right about Carter and the Shah. I probably should have developed that point beyond a mere footnote (and a suggestive image!) as it was another opportunity to correct Cal Thomas. The UNC article by William Daugherty, a political science professor who was one of the hostages in Tehran, to which I linked rather obtusely above, contains a forensic examination of Carter’s agonizing over whether to admit the Shah to the U.S. for medical treatment. Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller were lobbying ferociously on the Shah’s behalf, while U.S. embassy personnel warned that the new regime in Iran would be incensed by a grant of asylum. Carter paid a terrible price for the “loyalty” shown to this friendly dictator. And although Reagan exploited the hostage crisis in his election campaign, can you imagine what the Tea Party of today would have done after all the fuss over Benghazi?

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