David Wurmser was a longtime advocate of war with Iraq in the Bush administration. Eventually, he got what he wanted, and it was a total disaster. Now, Wurmser again has the ear of a president — this time, Donald Trump — and his sights are set firmly on Iran.
An influential neoconservative in President George W. Bush’s White House who became a significant force behind the push for war with Iraq in 2003, Wurmser has recently been serving as an informal adviser to the Trump administration, according to new reporting from Bloomberg News. In that capacity, Wurmser helped make the case for the recent drone strike that assassinated Iranian Gen. Qassim Suleimani.
David Wurmser again has the ear of a president — this time, Donald Trump — and his sights are set firmly on Iran.
Wurmser wrote several memos to then-national security adviser John Bolton in May and June of 2019. In the documents, according to Bloomberg, Wurmser argued that aggressive action by the U.S. — such as the killing of Suleimani — would, in Wurmser’s words, “rattle the delicate internal balance of forces and the control over them upon which the [Iranian] regime depends for stability and survival.”
The significance of this is two-fold. First, while it was already clear that the neoconservative movement has powerfully influenced the Trump administration, Wurmser’s role on Iran is further evidence of the sway that neoconservatism still holds on the U.S. right — despite the catastrophic invasion of Iraq and Trump’s disavowal of the war. Second, it demonstrates that neoconservatives such as Wurmser still cherish a peculiar theory about Iranian society.
After Bush’s reelection in 2005, the hard-right faction of his administration turned its attention to Iran. These officials had always wanted regime change in the Islamic Republic, but now some of them believed that a full-scale invasion would not be necessary to bring this about. A 2005 article in the New Yorker by Seymour Hersh quoted a government consultant who described the perspective of these officials as being that a bombing campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities would spur a revolution led by “secular nationalists and reformers.” The consultant summarized their view: “The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse.”
Wurmser’s outlook seems not to have changed one bit. In his memos to Bolton, he wrote that the U.S. will not need “boots on the ground” because “Iranians would both be impressed and potentially encouraged by a targeted attack on symbols of repression.”
This theory, so popular among neoconservatives, has always been bizarre: Nations generally become more right-wing when under attack. For instance, after the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, Americans did not demand that Bush be impeached and Dennis Kucinich move into the Oval Office.
We should definitely consider the possibility that the neocons don’t know what they’re talking about. And yet, here we are, with those self-same neocons again helping shape our foreign policy in delusional and dangerous ways.
The continued self-confidence of neoconservatives like Wurmser is particularly odd given how all their beliefs were proven disastrously wrong in Iraq.
Wurmser holds a Ph.D. in international affairs and worked for the AIPAC-spinoff Washington Institute for Near East Policy in the mid-1990s. In 1996, he was one of the main thinkers behind a policy document titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” that was prepared by an Israeli think tank for then-incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in 1996. The paper called for Israel to engage in preemptive attacks on its perceived foes and a “focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”
In 1999, Wurmser wrote a book titled “Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein,” which was pretty much what it sounds like. “Chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons are the pillars of Saddam’s regime,” Wurmser said, adding that “the menace from Saddam’s Iraq will continue to grow” if the U.S. did not remove him from power.
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the purported wishes of the neoconservatives collided with reality, and reality won.
After the September 11 attacks, Wurmser was appointed to a two-man intelligence unit by then-Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith. (Feith is perhaps best known for being referred to as “the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth” by Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasion of Iraq.) Among Wurmser’s ideas was for the U.S. to respond to Al Qaeda by, as the 9/11 Commission later put it, hitting a “non-Al Qaeda target like Iraq.”
Wurmser then became a senior adviser to Bolton, who at that point was an undersecretary at the State Department and one of the most vociferous champions of a regime change war with Iraq.
Eventually, Wurmser and company got what they wanted, and the U.S. led an invasion of Iraq in March 2003. At that point, the purported wishes of the neoconservatives collided with reality, and reality won. Hundreds of thousands of people died, the lives of millions have been blighted, and the entire region will be in flames for the indefinite future.
In a 2007 interview, however, Wurmser continued to defend the decision to go to war, though he did question the Bush administration’s rhetorical emphasis on democracy in Iraq. “I’m not a big fan of democracy per se,” he said, “I’m a fan of freedom and one has to remember the difference. Freedom must precede democracy by a long, long time.” In the same interview, he stated that if the U.S. failed to “trigger a fundamental change in behavior” by Iran’s leaders that America might “have to think seriously about going directly into Iran.”
In any case, nothing in the past 17 years seems to have made much of an impression on Wurmser; he still maintains a belief in his own skill at precisely calibrated global strategy. Nor has this past calamitous decade and a half prevented him from having the ear of the people who operate America’s killer drones. Notably, the article about Wurmser’s current accomplishments, by neoconservative Bloomberg journalist Eli Lake, does not mention any of Wurmser’s unfortunate history.
Wurmser did not immediately respond to a request for comment.