The Antichrist’s Men (Revelation 13:18)

As Iraqi forces are confidently advancing through Islamic Stateheld territories in the country, the future of post-ISIS Iraq is slowly unraveling, and although some details might now be clearer, there is a lot of uncertainty looming over the fate of the country, where more than half of the population has lived their lives knowing nothing but war, chaos and destruction.

Sunni Muslims in Iraq, once a ruling minority, nowadays face absolute political and representational annihilation. Flagged as eternal suspects for the country’s flourishing fundamentalism, which saw the ultimate rise of Islamic State, deeply divided along the ideological, tribal and class lines, at the moment, Sunnis are only able to look up to Shi’ite leaders as the channel for their reintegration and national reconciliation.

In that sense, the future of both Iraqi society and its position in the regional and international arena seems to hinge on the growing Shi’ite rift in the ruling Islamic Da’wa Party, where current and former Prime Ministers, Haider al-Abadi and Nouri al-Maliki, respectively, are competing for the mandate in the 2018 general elections.

Al-Abadi vs. Al-Maliki – A Rift in the Dawa Party

The situation seems to be rather simple al-Abadi is pro-Western, and by extension, pro-Sunni Arab states’ camp, eager to move away from Iranian influence, with good PR as the face of Iraqi unity against the all-encompassing evil of Islamic State.

His arch-rival, al-Maliki, is pro-Iranian, supported by Tehran, more conservative, more religious and more sectarian, eager for possible rapprochement with the increasingly present and powerful Russia and he plays well into the mood of a country destroyed by what comes down to a jihadi Salafism.

Division is nothing new in the Dawa Party, which was founded in 1950s. During its tumultuous history, it has opposed different secularist and nationalist narratives, fought for different ends and ambivalently had both allies and foes in Iran and the United States, often splitting into various factions on that road. Yet these factions, especially after 2003, maintained a pragmatic approach towards Dawa’s unity and ideology of Islamic rule. 

However, the nuances of Iraqi Shi’ite domestic and regional affairs are much better reflected through the leanings of other prominent political players, including the Sadrist Movement and Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. After all, both al-Maliki and al-Abadi are typical representatives of alienated dissidents who spent decades outside of Iraq, while some other politicians were more successful at rallying the masses by successfully playing the card of their family’s legacy and street credibility.

The Call of Sadr(ists)

Hardline cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has always been nothing short of a star in Iraq — a true successor to his father, Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, one of the leaders of the Dawa Party in its early days, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s regime in late 1990s and celebrated as a martyr by Iraqi Shi’ites.

“He is a very charismatic leader, possibly the only charismatic leader in the Iraqi political arena,” Dr. Ronen Zeidel from Center for Iraq Studies at the University of Haifa told Intelligencer Post. “He is infatuated with his power, his charisma, he is very much like Nasrallah (Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Shi’ite Lebanese group Hezbollah), almost like a stand-up comedian. He enjoys listening to his voice. He enjoys listening to his speeches and having people react to them.”

Sadr swiftly emerged in the post-Saddam era as a fierce opponent of occupation, organizing a powerful Mahdi Army militia that effectively fought both foreign forces and Sadr’s rivals in Iraq. His social services network, built by his father during the 1990s regime’s crackdown on Shi’ites, further elevated his popularity among the Shi’ite lower classes. Some even argue that it was soft power, rather than militias – that embedded Sadr, and even Iranian influence, so deeply into Iraqi society.

“What Iraqi Shi’ite sectarian leaders and parties prioritized was the ability to dispense patronage, a core component of a strategy long employed by Lebanese Hezbollah and encouraged by their Iranian advisors,” resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute Michael Rubin wrote. “Firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr… placed his followers in the health ministry… By controlling hospitals and clinics, Sadr could either use services to expand his influence among ordinary people or simply employ his followers in a personnel-rich bureaucracy.”

However, none of Sadr’s allies should feel too comfortable. Despite owing much to Iran and even spending a few years in self-imposed exile in Tehran, Sadr proved himself to be a savvy political player who can easily switch narratives, allegiances and goals to keep himself afloat. He bears a lot of responsibility for fueling a devastating sectarian conflict in Iraq in the name of Shi’ism, and ironically, at the moment, he is the voice behind de-militarization and de-sectarianization efforts.

Since 2011, his Mahdi Army was refurnished into a social services organization, which maintained its ability to swiftly revert back to battle-ready militias, as seen after 2014, when Sadr’s units became a crucial part of Hashd al-Sha’abi, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which fought Islamic State.

As the offensive against ISIS jihadists gets closer to its end, so do Sadr’s calls for dismantling PMF become louder. Numerous militias spawned under the predominantly Shi’ite PMF umbrella, under command of Qasem Soleimani from Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds force, could be a source of support for a powerful domestic rival, and more importantly, Iranian influence, something Sadr has been wary of for a while.

“He gave up on military involvement because he is already very strong in Baghdad and in the South, and he does not need any militias, because there is no conflict there. But if he tells people to go and demonstrate, they go out and demonstrate. He can send word of mouth and have hundreds of thousands of people come to the streets, right to the Green Zone, and even outside of its borders.” Ronen Zeidel says.

“He wants to be involved in social, economic and political issues, and he gambles on his political influence to fight the problems within the existing political oligarchy. He gambles on demonstrations and civil protests.”

Having a knack for feeling the shifting currents in a society exhausted by almost two decades of perpetual conflict, Sadr also has a knack for picking the right allies, be it in Tehran or Riyadh. In July and August, he embarked on a tour in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which was unequivocally seen as a push to minimize Iran’s influence in Iraq and the region. The visits were rather fruitful. After Sadr’s meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Riyadh decided to donate $10 million to help displaced Iraqis and announced possible investments and the opening of a consulate in Iraq’s holy Shi’ite city of Najaf.

Thus, Sadr came full-circle, siding with some of his former enemies’ patrons and supporting a pro-Western candidate in al-Abadi. But is he a voice of reform?

“In the long run, Sadr and his organization are ill-equipped to engage in the business of governance; they lack the capacity to translate mobilization into public policy, and ultimately are part of the problems that plague Iraq,” a fellow at the Brookings Doha Center Ranj Alaaldin wrote. “Through the sheer pressure of mobilizing the masses, the Sadrist movement could, nevertheless, engineer the space that allows for a culture of accountability to emerge, which Iraq’s reformist actors could then capitalize on, with the necessary support from the region and the international community.”

However, one should not put too much stock into this optimistic view. After all, one could argue whether Sadr’s changes of heart and policies come from his pragmatic approach towards the greater good of Iraqi society or building his own power. At the moment, Sadr’s grand ego seems content right where he is, but who is to say that won’t change in a few years, when some other reformists’ grand ego starts to surpass his?

Iranian Influence as a Double-Edged Sword

Sadr successfully reinvented his public persona by distancing himself for Tehran, and some other influential politicians might follow his suite. This brings the conversation to the question one cannot escape when discussing Shi’ite politics — the matter of Iranian influence. Many easily fall into a trap of portraying Iraqi Shi’ism as some sort of extension of Iranian ideology and crown proof of Tehran’s overwhelming influence in the country. The truth is far from that sweeping generalization.

“There is a big difference between Iranian and Iraqi Shi’ism, to start from theoretical basis. Islamic Republic in Iran’s ideology is heavily embedded in the involvement of clergymen in politics and the judiciary system. The Iraqi clergy refrains from this and has generally rejected being involved in politics on this level,” Zeidel explains. “Ayatollah Sistani is the most powerful Shi’ite cleric, and he has never been a supporter of involvement in politics, let alone the idea that they bend to someone like Khamenei.”

This, however, does not mean that Iraqi Shi’ite leaders, often very pragmatic, have never worked with Iran, as seen from Sadr’s example. On the contrary, their past and present have often been closely intertwined with Tehran, and another major Iraqi Shi’ite party has spent much of its existence defined by Iran.

For the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), close connections with Tehran served both as a blessing and a curse. It was founded during the bloody war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s, sparked by Baghdad’s fear from greater Shi’ite insurgency in Iraq following the Iranian Islamic Revolution. SCIRI was based in Tehran and led by Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim. Following the usual pattern of Iranian patronage, SCIRI presided over Badr Corps, a militia trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and also controlled a charity organization called the Shahid al-Mihrab Foundation.

Despite enjoying solid popularity and influence after 2003, SCIRI has never been able to shake off the burden of being a “foreign influence” in Iraq, where certain level of the national narrative has always managed to survive.

“SCIRI claims, with justification, that it was established and inspired in response to the Iraqi regime’s tyranny and crimes, but perceptions forged during the hard years of the Iran-Iraq war, in which the party and its Badr militia fought alongside Iranian forces, have been slow to change,” the International Crisis Group report concluded back in 2007.

SCIRI leadership was well aware of that, changing its name to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq in 2007 to exclude that pesky Iranian-sounding word “revolution.” But even after Abdulaziz’s son and successor, Ammar al-Hakim, further broke ties with Tehran after his father’s death, parting ways with its pro-Iranian Badr military wing and refashioning ISCI into a political option aimed at middle-class Shi’ite Iraqis, Iranian influence hindered.

“When the ISCI-led Muwatin parliamentary bloc was created in 2014, it included nearly 20 different groups, some with close links to Iran. One such group is the Movement for Jihad and Building… Hassan al-Sari, a parliamentarian who serves as the group’s secretary-general, formerly led the Hezbollah Movement in Iraq and was a member of SCIRI’s advisory council,” a researcher at the University of Maryland focused on Iran-backed Shi’ite proxy groups, Phillip Smith, wrote. “More recently, he has advocated an armed Iranian presence in Iraq and vociferously opposed U.S. operations against ISIS.”

But if ISCI could not shake off Iran, Ammar al-Hakim could shake off ISCI, and in July, he stepped down as the leader to form a new party, National Wisdom. It is not much of a stretch to suggest that al-Hakim, just like Sadr, accepted that he cannot court Sunni Iraqis with ISCI’s history, and that general mood towards Iran changed with a new U.S. administration. At the moment, a bet on new party, new faces and some distance from Tehran might be a lucky draw.

Following Hakim’s resignation, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei sent an envoy, Mahmoud Shahroudi, but Iraqi Ayatollah Al Sistani did not find the time to meet him, signaling which way the political currents in 2017 flow.

Iran is not going to accept the new reality — it is likely to engage it in the best way it can: through its well-organized and well-established soft power network.

“The extent of Iranian influence depends on the election’s outcome, but even if pro-Iranian al-Maliki wins, Iraq is not going to be Iran’s marionette, satellite state,” says Ronen Zeidel.

Ultimately, Shi’ite politicians decided to fix one mistake that plunged the country into prolonged internal conflict: they embraced the national narrative as a top priority. However, at this point, it is just that: a national narrative.

The road towards turning it into social reality is long and booby trapped with a legacy of rampant corruption, class differences and tribal affiliations. All of these simultaneously went off in the oil-rich southern city of Basra in recent weeks, where Shi’ite tribes are fighting over valuable land, while the governor and head of the regional council had to step down and flee, faced with corruption allegations. It sounds like a broken record of the past, but if Sadr and Hakim were ready to change their own song reserved for voters, friends and foes, one might hope they could also try and set this record straight.

South Koreans Want to be a Nuclear Horn (Daniel 8)

More than ever, South Koreans want their own nuclear weapons

People watch a television news screen at a railway station in Seoul showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images)

SEOUL — It seemed like a fringe idea not too long ago, but the proposal for South Korea to have its own nuclear arms is gaining steam here.

There are many reasons South Korea probably will not pursue this path. A big one: President Moon Jae-in took office in May promising a path toward denuclearization of the whole peninsula, so the chances of South Korean nuclear armament are slim.

But this debate has become a key issue after North Korea’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test, carried out Sept. 3, and the controversy underscores the frustration in the South over the North’s expanding nuclear and missile program.

Throughout much of the Cold War, the United States had stationed nuclear-armed weapons in South Korea. Then, in 1991, President George H.W. Bush withdrew all tactical nuclear weapons deployed abroad, and Moscow reciprocated.

The debate over redeploying those weapons is sharply dividing South Korean politics. The main opposition party is doubling down on its calls for a redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons, buoyed by widely circulated reports from the weekend citing a senior White House official that the Trump administration isn’t ruling it out as an option, as well as similar comments by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whom many here recognize as a leading U.S. voice in security matters.

“The Korean defense minister just a few days ago called for nuclear weapons to be redeployed. We had them there once in South Korea. … I think it ought to be seriously considered,” McCain said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Most South Koreans don’t think the North will actually start a war, according to the latest Gallup Korea poll, conducted after the Sept. 3 test.

Still, 60 percent of South Koreans in theory support nuclear weapons for their country, according to Gallup Korea. A poll by YTN, a cable news channel, in August found that 68 percent of respondents supported redeploying tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea.

The U.N. Security Council passed new sanctions on North Korea on Sept. 11 in light of North Korea’s most recent nuclear tests. The U.N. Security Council passed new sanctions on North Korea on Sept. 11 in light of North Korea’s most recent nuclear tests. (Reuters)

The U.N. Security Council passed new sanctions on North Korea on Sept. 11 in light of North Korea’s most recent nuclear tests. (Reuters)

After South Korea’s defense minister said earlier this month that it was worth reviewing a redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons, other administration officials have distanced the Blue House — South Korea’s executive mansion — from the proposal. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said this week that South Korea is not considering the option and has not discussed it with Washington, but she acknowledged that public opinion is shifting toward supporting the option.

The centrist newspaper JoongAng Daily wrote in an editorial Tuesday that there is a “noticeable change in South Koreans’ attitudes about the redeployment of the nukes. Two recent polls show that the nuclear option was backed by nearly two-thirds of the people. As the debate becomes a hot potato, the Moon administration must make a wise decision.”

Kim Sung-han, dean of Korea University’s Graduate School of International Studies and a former vice foreign minister, said he fielded calls all day Tuesday from local media asking about the possibility of South Korean nuclear armament, after the United Nations voted on a watered-down version of sanctions on North Korea. The United States, South Korea and Japan had pushed for a full crude-oil embargo, which would have crippled the North Korean economy, but the U.N. resolution instead imposed a cap on oil imports to Pyongyang.

“The mainstream view is now changing in South Korea,” Kim said. “Even within the governing party, we are now hearing some of these voices who are supporting redeployment or South Korea going nuclear by herself, particularly after North Korea’s sixth nuclear test.”

South Koreans are “beginning to be concerned about whether we have to continue to live under the U.S.-provided nuclear umbrella support, so they have begun to suspect the reliability of nuclear-extended deterrence provided by the United States,” Kim said.

Under previous U.S. administrations, the return of tactical nuclear armament seemed out of reach. Moon’s immediate predecessor, Park Geun-hye, reportedly requested the United States in October 2016 to redeploy the tactical weapons but was denied, South Korean media reported this week.

But now, South Koreans are wondering: Who knows what will happen under President Trump?

During the U.S. presidential election, then-candidate Trump said he would support nuclear armament of South Korea and Japan as a defensive tactic against North Korea. If Trump did so, it would represent a sharp shift in U.S. policy.

In the meantime, the ruling Minjoo Party of Korea is united with the Blue House in rejecting calls for nuclear armament and pushing for a diplomatic and political solution.

“It is undesirable for us to be seen as having no will to resolve [the standoff] politically and diplomatically anymore, amid this dispute over nuclear armament,” Choo Mi-ae, head of the Minjoo party, said at a recent meeting with senior party officials, reported Yonhap News.

The Saudis and Persians Will Remain Bitter Enemies

Attempts to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia have probably reached a dead end, an Arab diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. The source added that a new path doesn’t seem to be possible given “Tehran’s arrogant approach in the region and its insistence on threatening its neighbors, meddling in their internal affairs and helping destabilize the region.” This appears to put an end to speculation that a new chapter might be ahead between the two Persian Gulf neighbors whose relations saw a drastic deterioration in the past years, notably after Riyadh executed a Saudi Shiite cleric on Jan. 2, 2016, and angry Iranian protesters stormed the kingdom’s diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad in retaliation. Prior to this, a series of events had laid the foundations for the Saudi-Iranian collision, starting with the crisis in Syria that began in March 2011 and including the war in Yemen launched by Riyadh and its allies in March 2015.

Despite the continuing wars in Syria and Yemen, there was room for optimism when Iraqi Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji told reporters in Tehran on Aug. 13 that Saudi officials had asked his government to bridge the gaps with Tehran. Saudi officials later denied Araji’s claims, but this didn’t end the wave of positive thinking that reached its peak during the hajj season. There were 85,000 Iranian pilgrims who participated in this year’s pilgrimage, and news of Saudi and Iranian delegations visiting their respective countries gave the impression that this might be the beginning. Then came the hajj message from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who remarkably didn’t mention Saudi Arabia or its government despite the fact that his message last year was dedicated to criticizing the kingdom and its policies. It was obvious that Iran wanted to send a different message this year, not necessarily in response to Iraq’s mediation, but perhaps just as a sign that the Islamic Republic had no intention to escalate the situation, even though the administration in Tehran is quite confident that rapprochement with Riyadh is unlikely.

On Sept. 5, this author had the chance to conduct a televised interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said his country was ready to cooperate with Saudi Arabia to end crises in different parts of the Islamic world. Zarif said, “We are ready to cooperate with Saudi Arabia to put an end to violence in Syria, to violence and oppression in Bahrain, not to mention the irrational war in Yemen.” Zarif said his country is always open to dialogue “but this is not the case with respect to our neighbors; if there’s any change, Iran will surely welcome that.”

Zarif’s answers gave a clear indication there was no serious discussion going on between the two countries. “If the Saudis are ready to turn the page, we are ready, too,” he said. “We have to stop talking about the tension and pave the way for cooperation. We don’t need additional crises in the region, but rather more cooperation and understanding.”

Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain remain the main points of entanglement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iraq is Iran’s backyard while Yemen is Saudi Arabia’s. Lebanon, Syria and Bahrain are areas of balanced engagement; Iran has the upper hand in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia in Bahrain; Syria remains a contested ground, though Saudi Arabia is said to have limited its role there. The regional map of control prompted some to predict that Saudi Arabia’s alleged use of Iraqi mediation to engage with Iran was a clear indication the Gulf kingdom was conceding to Iran and that the clash between the two bitter rivals was coming to an end. Yet this isn’t the case, and Iraq is a good example in this regard.

When Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and later Araji visited Saudi Arabia in July, the visits were regarded as surprising. Speculation at that time didn’t go far with respect to Saudi Arabia’s role inside Iraq, but rather was focused on Iraq’s role in bridging ties between Riyadh and Tehran. The same happened when prominent Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr made an unexpected visit to Jeddah on July 31, meeting the Saudi crown prince and other officials. Once again, thoughts and analysis went to Iranian-Saudi ties, and the regional context helped in boosting the speculation. Yet events that took place later suggest there might be a different answer to the big question as to what was behind Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

Since the fall of the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iran has played a vital role in the making of the new ruling elite in Iraq as part of what is called “political Shiism.” Iraqi Shiite parties, despite their cooperation with the US occupation, had strong ties with Tehran, making Iran one of the main players in the Iraqi political arena. Saudi Arabia had good ties with prominent Sunni political movements and some secular Shiite political figures, and this gave Riyadh leverage in Baghdad for some time, but not at the level Saudi officials desired. Later, mainly after the US withdrawal from Iraq and the start of the conflict in Syria, things changed drastically, and with the Islamic State’s occupation of Mosul and Iraqi provinces such as Anbar, Iran emerged from being the regional country with the upper hand to being the only influential such hand in Iraq, starting to win hearts and minds.

But still the hearts and minds of the Iraqis aren’t united; differences among political factions aren’t new, and elections are on the doorstep. Saudi Arabia’s new approach might this time be to play in Iran’s backyard and invest in Shiite religious groups rather than just Sunni movements and secular Shiites in Iraq. Such a move could give Riyadh additional cards to play whenever a table is set and could be Saudi Arabia’s way of accepting an Iranian role in Yemen by imposing the kingdom as a new player in Iraq.

Ali Hashem is a journalist with a focus on Iran. He is the former Tehran bureau chief for the Arab news network Al Mayadeen, and a former reporter for Al Jazeera and the BBC. He writes extensively on Iran for Al-Monitor and Al Mayadeen and his articles have appeared in The Guardian, The Sunday Times, the Huffington Post, The National and Tokyo’s Facta, among others. On Twitter: @alihashem_tv

North Korea and the Iranian Nuclear Horn

North Korea’s rapid advances are a game-changer, but the quality of strategic analysis and decision-making in Washington is highly suspect. This portends troubling times ahead.

Pyongyang has long had the ability to inflict massive damage on South Korea through formidable conventional artillery rockets. In addition, it has single-mindedly pursued six nuclear goals:

It may have increased its nuclear arsenal to 60 bombs, not 20 as previously believed.

It has acquired intercontinental ballistic missile delivery capability that puts U.S. mainland cities within range.

It has invested in solid-fuel missiles that can be launched on warning, reducing the time frame for a surprise decapitating attack by the United States.

Its nuclear assets are dispersed and hidden in deep mountain recesses, making it impossible to take them all out in a pre-emptive first strike.

It has mastered the technology to miniaturize nuclear warheads to fit them in the nose cone of the ICBMS in order to increase their range.

The only remaining technological gap to a fully operational intercontinental nuclear capability is to make the bombs survive the rigors of extreme temperatures, gravity and vibrations on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

In the U.S., meanwhile, the political elite and press proved how little they understand their own politics in the disastrous analysis of last year’s presidential election. It seems a safe bet that their ability to understand foreign politics is even more limited. Most are not bothered to read overseas accounts and some take the lazy option of reading U.S.-based “ethnic” analysts who have absorbed local prejudices and frames of analyses. The neocon warriors have forgotten none of their arrogance and bad habits, and learned nothing from their string of earlier disastrous errors.

At the biennial Carnegie nuclear policy conference in Washington on March 21, one question asked everyone to rate the probability of a treaty banning nuclear weapons being adopted within two years. The four of us on the panel ranged between 60-90 percent probability. The 800-strong audience, a cross-section of the most informed Americans engaged with nuclear policy issues, mostly gave it a 10-20 percent probability. The U.N. treaty was adopted on July 7.

U.S. nonproliferation strategies are fixated on tools of technology denial, economic coercion and threats of bombing the enemy du jour into total submission. Americans are generally oblivious to how their own history of trying to beat up all challengers has greatly aggravated the threat perception of others to the point of paranoia.

NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to defeat Slobodan Milosevic and put him on trial for war crimes at The Hague. At the following Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) preparatory committee meeting in New York, the Chinese and others publicly questioned if NATO would have bombed Belgrade had Yugoslavia been nuclear armed. In India, the same point was made by former foreign secretary (vice minister) Muchkund Dubey and in an editorial in The Times of India.

The U.S. addiction to unilateral use of military force as justification for a deterrent nuclear force has been voiced by Iran and North Korea. According to The New York Times, in 2011 Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said how Muommar Gadhafi “wrapped up all his nuclear facilities, packed them on a ship and delivered them to the West and said, ‘Take them!’…Look where we are, and in what position they are now.” Senior North Korean officials told Siegfried Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, that “if Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muommar Gadhafi in Libya had had nuclear weapons, their countries would not have been at the mercy of the Americans and their regime-change tactics.”

Washington is also cementing a reputation for bad faith in honoring deals. Richard Butler, former U.N. chief weapons inspector in Iraq, believes U.S. President Donald Trump has instructed intelligence agencies to find Iran in non-compliance with its multilaterally negotiated deal of July 2015 to curb its nuclear weapons program in return for sanctions relief. This is a demand for fake facts.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance with the deal. Yet in a speech on Sept. 5 to the American Enterprise Institute, a leading neoconservative think tank, Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, laid into Iran. As noted by Paul Pillar and Ryan Costello, her case was based on falsehoods, half-truths and innuendos. The insatiable market for fake facts in Washington is disturbingly reminiscent of the perfidious road to war in Iraq in 2003.

A day earlier, Haley said in the U.N. Security Council that North Korea is “begging for war.” North Korea dramatic nuclear delivery strides should push war off the table as an option of choice. Instead the focus should shift to deterring Pyongyang from starting a war or committing acts of aggression, containing it, and constructing defensive shields even if not foolproof.

The nonproliferation horse has bolted and cannot be recaptured. But Pyongyang should be left in no doubt that any attack on South Korea, Japan or U.S. forces anywhere in the region — let alone an attack on U.S. territory — will provoke an all-out war guaranteed to destroy North Korea and liquidate the regime.

This will still leave two challenges. First, modeling itself on Pakistan, North Korea could practice low-level serial provocations that inflict pain and create frustration but are not significant enough to risk all-out war with the risk of nuclearization. Second, the anger and exasperation at North Korea being granted de facto nuclear-armed status, plus fear of abandonment by the U.S. (“Will Washington really sacrifice Los Angeles for Tokyo, San Francisco for Seoul?”), could drive Japan and South Korea (and perhaps Taiwan) to sprint down the nuclear weapons path.

Before the revisionists blame it all on the new U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons, it is worth emphasizing that this crisis point has been reached from entirely within the NPT. The logic of proliferation cascade is built into the logic of nuclear deterrence that evades calls for abolition. For decades some of us have insisted that without disarmament, proliferation is inevitable. Instead of conceding how right we have been proven, already those on the other side claim that North Korea’s nuclearization proves how naive we have been in calling for controlled disarmament. Go figure.

Professor Ramesh Thakur is director of the Center for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, Australian National University.