Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 11, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time – PART III
This is the third part of a four-part series in praise of, and defense of, the Iraq War.
Part I looked at why America could not rest after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and why state sponsors of terror, such as Iraq, require our attention. Part II looked at why, in particular, North Korea and Iran should not have taken precedence over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
This part, the longest yet, details why America and its allies were right to take it upon themselves to enforce years of violated UN Resolutions by military force and, ultimately, to remove Saddam Hussein. In other words, this is the meat of the sandwich.
The hardest part of writing this is deciding where to start.
* In the fall of 1980, when Saddam ordered the invasion of Iran, provoking the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, one of the bloodiest and most pointless conflicts in modern history?
* On June 7, 1981, when Israel, acting unilaterally, destroyed Saddam’s French-built Osirak nuclear reactor, which was the centerpiece of his secret nuclear plan? Europe and the most of the rest of the world, including even some quarters of the Reagan Administration, reacted with scorn. Today, that world is immeasurably safer as a result. (See Rodger Claire’s “Raid on the Sun” for a great book on this topic).
* In 1985, when Palestinian terrorist Abu Abbas murdered a 69-year old Jewish American in a wheelchair aboard the hijacked Achille Lauro, only to find welcoming arms in Iraq? Or in April 2003, when Abbas was captured by U.S. Special Forces in Baghdad?
* Throughout the 1980’s, when Abu Nidal and his organization, sponsored by Saddam’s Iraq, “mounted terrorist operations in 20 countries, killing about 300 people and wounding hundreds more.” Or in 2002, when Nidal died in Baghdad?
* In 1988, in Halabja, when Saddam ordered “the largest-scale chemical weapons (CW) attack against a civilian population in modern times”?
* In 1991, when an again-almost-nuclear Saddam invaded, without provocation, neighboring Kuwait? Armed with the largest coalition in history, the United States acted, over the objection of a certain Massachusetts senator, to repel the invasion, but not before Iraq fired missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia and torched its own oil fields. Regrettably, in retrospect, the U.S., believing Saddam would soon fall, did not finish the job and encouraged Iraqis to rise up, only to pull back and watch them be slaughtered by Saddam’s henchmen after the cease-fire.
* Throughout the 1990’s, when Saddam violated virtually every provision of that cease-fire, brutally suppressing all internal challenges to his power along the way? When, during that period, Saddam had Iraqi forces routinely fire at American planes patrolling the no-fly zone?
* In 1993, when Saddam plotted to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush on his visit to Kuwait?
* When, in May of 1994, Saddam ordered amputation of the ears of approximately 3,500 of his former troops?
* When Saddam ordered the crushing of a two-year old toddler’s feet when her father fell under suspicion?
* When his sons, potential heirs to the regime, tortured Iraqi Olympians and toured the streets of Baghdad looking for women to rape?
* When Saddam initiated a system of financial rewards for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, including members of Hamas and other radical organizations?
* In 1998, when Saddam kicked out weapons inspectors? Those inspectors were only reintroduced to Iraq by President Bush’s threat of imminent military force, a threat which could not be credibly maintained in perpetuity.
* When, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Saddam issued the following statement?
* When Saddam violated UN Resolutions 678, 686, 687, 688, 707, 715, 949, 1051, 1060, 1115, 1134, 1137, 1154, 1194, 1205 and 1284, leading up the final act in 2002-03?
* When, as the Duelfer Report details, Saddam perverted the Oil-for-Food program, turned the world against the sanctions programs aimed against him and engaged in a systemic campaign to bribe French, Russian, Chinese and other UN leaders?
* Or right before the war, when Saddam was obligated by UN Resolution 1441 to unconditionally and verifiably disarm or face “serious consequences”? Saddam did not comply. After a decade of defiance, would another slap on the wrist have been a serious consequence?
* With the 9/11 Commission hearings, which raised more questions than they answered about long-debated ties between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda? [The evidence here really is inconclusive, but if the lessons of pre-war intelligence teach us anything, it is that we should not jump to conclusions, in either direction, or rule out that which is clearly possible].
* Or in January 2004, by which time approximately 270 mass graves had been reported and 53 found and confirmed in the killing fields of Iraq?
What about the weapons of mass destruction? Read the Duelfer Report for more on that, as well as this and this. We have to think long and hard about how the world’s assumptions were so wrong about that issue and how to improve, but, centrally, those are intelligence questions, not political ones. Presidents and Prime Ministers are forced with life and death choices in real time, not with the luxury of hindsight. I, for one, am far more content to accept that we invaded Iraq and found no weapons of mass destruction, rather than invading and, as many feared, seeing those weapons dropped on the heads of our troops. [And, as a final word, I would say that there is no final word on this. Again, I’m deeply skeptical of the notion that we really now know for absolute certain what Saddam had and did not have and where such weapons may be today. Given some of the alternatives, I sincerely hope they didn’t exist.]
Again, rambling as all of the foregoing may seem, it remains a highly incomplete list of why military action was justified. An attempted summary: America’s containment policies towards Iraq were no longer working. Saddam had twisted the international sanctions regime to his advantage, to the point where world opinion had turned against them. Further, the Duelfer Report indicates Saddam’s intent and capability to aggressively reconstitute his WMD programs shortly after any lifting of sanctions. As it now appears, three members of the UN Security Council (France, Russia and China) were receiving substantial bribes from Saddam’s regime, deterring the world body from approving of any kind of decisive action.
Weapons inspectors, only allowed back into Iraq under threat of a massive imminent invasion, could not possibly provide the level of unconditional assurance the U.S. had every right to seek within the time frame they were given. In a sense, that process was doomed from the beginning due to its very circular dynamics (i.e. Saddam historically played games with or exiled inspectors when force was not imminent; however, credibly maintaining that threat indefinitely would have been massively expensive and unrealistic logistically. Such delay would eventually have only led to more games from Saddam and time was on his side until a policy of zero-tolerance was enacted and enforced).
Saddam’s track record of military recklessness, support for terrorism and an obsession with weapons of mass destruction gave the U.S. every reason to consider his regime an unacceptable threat in a post-9/11 world. The unspeakable brutality of his regime was a convincing moral rationale for action and a decade of defiance of a laundry list of UN Resolutions was a convincing legal rationale.
Tactically, unlike Iran and North Korea, the United States had a recent track record of fighting the Iraqi army and the likelihood of military disaster was quite low. In fact, the war itself, not to be confused with its aftermath, was a triumphant success. More on that in the final part, but, suffice to say, we sometimes take for granted everything that has gone right in Iraq. Quite a lot, in fact, did go right.
In the end, some would have you believe that the U.S. went to war to serve the narrow ideological interests of some sort of “neo-conservative” cabal. That cabal apparently includes the following:
Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, Kenneth Pollack, Christopher Hitchens, Joe Biden, John McCain, John Edwards and even, at times, John Kerry, along with many, many others.
I cite these moderate to left-leaning figures, not to mock them, but because they shared the same assumptions, and in many cases, advocated the same policies as the “neocons” (whatever that term means anyway). Some of their facts may occasionally have been wrong, but they were on the right side of history nonetheless. If only the latter two, in particular, would stick to that conviction.
Of course, Saddam never attained the capabilities of his infamously tyrannical predecessors (such as the Nazis or, his idol, Josef Stalin). For some, that is proof that America was wrong to wage war to remove him from power. For many of us, however, it is reason to be proud and grateful that he was removed when he was.
The decision to go to war was the right one. A year and half later, what, then, have we lost and what have we gained?
More on that in Part IV.
UPDATE: I re-read the link regarding mass graves and updated the post accordingly; 270 were reported, "only" 53 have been found. I imagine that is small comfort to those who are buried within them.