HOW many of you reading this column, I wonder, remember the lead-up to the war in Iraq in 2003? It was a time full of tough talk by certain politicians, manipulation of intelligence and frankly downright lies all aimed at taking us into a conflict that was always avoidable.

Most of us casting our minds back to that time think of Tony Blair and George W Bush as the central villains of the piece, but there were other players even more hawkish in their drive to take us to war.

As we now well know it was a conflict that had very little, if anything, to do with the 9/11 attacks on the US and everything to do with the arrogance and self-importance of certain men we now recognise as neoconservatives – neocons.

These were men who cared only for spreading their vision of a new world order even if it meant at the expense of countless lives.

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Chief among them were US Vice-President Dick Cheney, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and, of course, the then mere US Undersecretary of State – a certain John Bolton.

It’s said that when Bolton moved into his office, down the hall from US President Donald Trump to become his current National Security Advisor, one of the first things he did was hang a framed copy of Trump’s executive order nullifying the US’s nuclear agreement with Iran.

Even before that moment Bolton had been unrelenting in his determination to precipitate a conflict with Iran in much the same way that he did all those years ago against Iraq.

Only last February, on the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, Bolton posted a video on social media warning the country’s ayatollahs: “I don’t think you’ll have many more anniversaries to enjoy.”

This past week, even though the world, it seems, has barely noticed, Bolton appears to be trying to make good on his threat in bringing all-out war with Iran ever closer. Preoccupied as some people and certain media appear to be with royal babies right now, it seems to have escaped their notice that the US has moved on to a war footing.

The very latest escalation in Bolton’s instigation of a war with Iran came in the statement he issued earlier this week.

“In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force,” Bolton said.

For an aircraft carrier to be deployed to the region is not in itself unusual, but the language used in Bolton’s statement suggests Washington is seeking to ramp up pressure on Iran to counter what the White House perceives to be a potential threat.

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While it’s probably pointless to try and get inside the war-mongering mind of Bolton to figure out why he wants a war with Iran, it’s worth remembering that to this day this is a man who contends that the 2003 war against Iraq was a good thing.

While Trump might be more reluctant to be drawn into a Middle East war than George W Bush was back in 2003, the worrying thing is that the president’s Iran policy appears to have fallen into the hands of Bolton and his comrade-in-arms Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

It was Bolton, not the president or acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan, who this week spoke for the administration when announcing the deployment of warships and bombers to the region around Iran.

That both Bolton and Pompeo seem to be in a position to accomplish whatever mayhem they choose should be a major cause for concern. Bolton himself has reportedly already caused much of the usual policy-making machinery around the White House to be bypassed.

The National: US Secretary of State Mike PompeoUS Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

This in itself is eerily reminiscent of those days leading up to the Iraq war when no policy process ever really examined whether launching that war was a sound move.

Back then Bolton was a driving force pushing towards open conflict, insisting on access to raw intelligence data before it had been evaluated, and it was he who also insisted that it confirmed Saddam Hussein’s regime to have weapons of mass destruction, something we now know was patently untrue.

Today Bolton likewise seems hell bent on provoking Iran, a country far more formidable militarily than Iraq was back in 2003. Let’s not forget it was a certain “incident” in the Gulf of Tonkin that led to the US engaging directly in the Vietnam War.

It would only take something similar in the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to lead to a similar showdown with Iran.

As for all this sabre-rattling, the crucial question now is whether Bolton’s efforts to put the squeeze on Iran will force Tehran to retreat or embolden the hardliners within the regime who themselves might be only to willing to escalate the confrontation. Either way the signs are far from good.

As two US Democratic senators, Tom Udall and Dick Durbin, wrote in the Washington Post earlier this week: “Sixteen years after the US invasion of Iraq, we are again barreling toward another unnecessary conflict in the Middle East based on faulty and misleading logic.”

Looking back on the colossal blunder that the Iraq War was and the terrible human cost it continues to exact to this day, one could be forgiven for thinking that the neocons and their pernicious foreign policy would now be consigned to a footnote in America’s history.

Today’s leaders, you might imagine, would be all too aware of the errors and dangers of the neocon approach. Terrifyingly, as John Bolton is now showing, nothing could be further from the truth.