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Friday, January 09, 2004

Iraq - Casus Belli Revisited

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This has not been a good week for the original justification for the Iraq Invasion – the urgent need to “disarm Iraq.”

Remember? That was the official justification that was repeated ad nauseam in the nine months leading up the March 2003 invasion by a veritable Tabernacle Choir of senior US and UK officials, including President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Vice President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as any number of neoconservative pundits, self-styled national security experts,Iraqi National Congress exiles, former CIA Directors-turned-INC legal advisors, “objective” members of the mass media, and all but a few leaders of the hapless Democratic Party.

In the nine months since the Invasion, of course, this cover story has largely faded from view. By May 2003, Iraq’s WMDs had already proved elusive, and US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had downgraded their importance to “merely the one reason everyone could agree on.”22wolf.2.184.jpg

By now there’s a whole new series of surrogate excuses -- several of which would also allow us to invade at least a half dozen other dictatorships that the US finds objectionable. The country's Spartan spirit soars at the prospect of a perpetual war to reconstruct mankind in our own image, not only democratizing the lives of 1 billion+ Muslims, but also eliminating such long-lived irritants as Castro's Cuba, Kim Il Sung's North Korea, Mugabe's Zimbabwe, Burma's nasty SPDC, Saudi Arabia's extended family dictatorship, and of course the penultimate target, those prolific and disturbingly successful Red Chinese.

If we get going soon enough, right after President Bush is reelected next year, we may even be able to finish all this in time for our first visit, appropriately enough, to Mars by 2020. mars.jpg

Lest we forget, however, the original necessary and sufficient justification for the Iraq invasion had nothing to do with (1) removing Saddam’s repressive regime, (2) punishing him for his crimes against humanity, (3) reconstructing Iraq’s economy, (4) reducing Iraq’s huge debt burden, (5) solving its deep-seated ethnic rivalries, (6) providing it with a brand new federal constitutional system, (7) finally giving the Kurds (some kind of) self-government, or (8) bringing (some kind of) “democracy” to the Middle East.

Even less was it supposed to be about (9) securing our oil supplies and SUV-intensive life style, (10) generating fat contracts for contractors like Bechtel and Halliburton, (11) laying the foundations for future invasions of Syria and Iran, (12) providing an alternative to Saudi Arabia as a military base, or (13) helping Israel construct bantustans on the West Bank and defer a peace settlement with the Palestinians and Syria for another 36 years.

The war’s proponents understood very early that even the most worthy of these goals, “nation-building,” was simply not that important to most Americans, only a small fraction of whom could even find Iraq on a map.

Indeed, the Bush Administration itself had never showed much interest in nation-building, economic assistance, or debt restructuring before the Iraq Invasion. We were supposed to be fighting a war on terrorism, not policing Baghdad, fixing its power stations, and repairing its sewer system. While Saddam was a bloody tyrant, as Citigroup's former CEO John Reed used to say, the real world is a "nasty place," filled to the brim with such tyrants, many of whom – like Saddam – have been tolerated and even assisted by the US for decades as friends and trading partners. (Just ask the Tibetans, Uzbekis, Iranians, Kurds, and Pakistanis.)

Finally, as any true (e.g., non-neo) conservative is wont to point out, we have a track record. Most previous attempts at Third World nation-building by the US, from the Philippines to Vietnam to Iran to Haiti, have not gone all that well. (The exceptions, in relatively advanced, homogeneous post-war Japan and Western Europe, actually prove the rule.) Indeed, as Iranians and Iraqis know well, both the US and the UK have had much more experience in subverting Middle East democracy than in constructing it.

No – the war’s proponents understood very early that nation-building alone could never provide the American people with a sufficient ex ante justification for the invasion – even though, ex post, it may turn out to be the “least bad” justification. (On the other hand, the war’s $166 billion cost could have financed a great deal of nation-building elsewhere...)

As New York Times’ Thomas Friedman -- an increasingly uncomfortable "liberal" supporter of the war -- told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz last April,

This is the war the neoconservatives wanted…(and) marketed. Those people had an idea to sell when September 11th came, and they sold it. Oh boy, how they sold it. This is not a war that the masses demanded. This is a war of an elite. I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom sit within a 5-block radius of (my Washington DC) office, who , if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened.

Indeed, as former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill disclosed just this week, President Bush may have also made up his mind even before he took office in January 2001 to dispose of Saddam, for reasons that had nothing to do with 9/11 (which hadn’t happened yet) or WMDs, but might have had a bit to do with a combination of (a) oil (b) family revenue (c) the fact that several of his top advisors, especially Cheney and Rumsfeld, had been decided on this course since at least the mid-1990s.

O’Neill also shed light on some Iraqi oil field maps and other documents. that had been obtained by Judicial Watch in its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against Vice President Cheney. According to O’Neill, Cheney was already plotting how to divvy up Iraq’s oil reserves – the world’s second largest – as early as March 2001.

Just recall -- during the run-up to the Invasion, these presumptuous partisans talked our ears off, insisting that an unprovoked “preventive” invasion was the only way to defend ourselves, by:

  • (1) Eliminating Iraq’s supposedly huge stocks of WMDs. We were repeatedly told that these consisted of biological, chemical, and quite possibly even nuclear weapons. As Vice President Cheney claimed on August 29, 2002: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." As Tony Blair claimed on September 24, 2002, ”The assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and that he has been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile program.”

  • ((2) Eliminating the threat that Saddam might use those weapons directly against the US or its allies. As President Bush warned on October 7, 2002, "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof - the smoking gun - that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” As Tony Blair asserted on September 24, “(Saddam’s) military planning allows for some of the WMDs to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them.”

  • ((3) Eliminating the threat that Saddam might share those weapons or technologies with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.

Inthe last nine months we’ve had time to evaluate these claims more carefully. The proverbial chickens are now coming home to roost.

cinicone.jpg Joseph Cirincione

This week the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published the results of a detailed evaluation of all these claims. This report, which was directed by Joseph Cirincione, a national security expert and former aid to Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge, should be required reading for those members of Congress who voted to authorize the Iraq War in November 2002, and, indeed, for the American people in general. Among its key findings:


  • (1) While Iraq’s WMD programs may have presented “a long term threat that could not be ignored,” they did not pose an immediate threat that required a US military response. There were several other much less costly ways to deal with them.

  • (2) In particular, Iraq’s nuclear program had been dismantled in the early 1990s, and there was no evidence that it had been reconstituted. As the UN inspectors had determined, Iraq’s nerve gas agents had lost their lethality by 1991. Its large scale chemical weapons production capabilities had been destroyed. While the state of its biological weapons capabilities is more uncertain, Iraq did not maintain stocks of biological weapons, but at most the capability to develop them in time of war.
  • (3) There is no solid evidence of cooperation between Saddam’s regime and al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups. There is more evidence, in fact, that Saddam’s regime was actively opposed to aiding or sharing its technologies with such groups – partly because they had long been hostile to Saddam’s Ba’athist Party.
  • (4) Ironically enough, by removing Saddam, and making Iraq more unstable and more open to terrorists than ever, we may have actually increased al-Qaeda’s access to whatever WMD materials and technologies the Iraqi military did possess.

  • (5) The UN/International Atomic Energy inspections regime was working, and should have been allowed to continue. International sanctions were much more effective than we had admitted. UN weapons inspections capabilities should be reinforced, not undermined, and experienced UN weapon inspectors should have been included in our recent efforts to assess Iraq’s WMDs, not systematically excluded.
  • (6) The Bush (and Blair) Administrations “systematically misrepresented” intelligence estimates on all these threats, to support an idée fixe, a preconceived determination to seize on the opportunity presented by the 9/11 political environment to remove Saddam from power.

  • (7)In the process, the US and UK intelligence communities became highly politicized, sharply changing their Iraqi estimates in 2002 to harmonize with the Bush/ Cheney desire for a war, and systematically over-estimating Iraq’s chemical, biological, and ballistic weapons capability.
  • These distortions reached a point which compromised the traditional independence of the intelligence agencies. As a result, Carnegie now believes that it is time for the Director’s position at CIA, in particular, to become a professional appointment, rather like the Federal Reserve chairmanship.

    Compare this disgraceful situation with Secretary of State Colin Powell’s hyperbolic statement before the UN, on February 5, 2003, that "These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” Also recall President Bush’s bogus claims, since proved completely false, about Iraq’s alleged purchases of uranium from the country of Niger – a matter that subsequently led to the Valerie Pflame affair.

  • (8) The new, radical US national security doctrine of preemptive self-defense” announced by President Bush in May 2002 at West Point needs to be amended forthwith. It is a dangerously “loose standard for preventive war in the cloak of legitimate preemption.” The fundamental neoconservative notion that, in the wake of 9/11, rogue states like Iraq and North Korea cannot be deterred “does not stand up to close scrutiny.” And this whole Bush doctrine is a clear violation of the UN Charter, which proscribes the use of force except where authorized by the Security Council itself, or where an armed attack either occurs, or is “imminent.” (Under the Bush doctrine, for example, Saddam might have argued that it was legal for him to launch a preemptive strike on the the US in February, to prevent its attack on him. In the absence of clear multilateral processes and approvals the whole international system threatens to disintegrate into a series of unilateral aggressions.)
  • (9) The most significant threats of nuclear proliferation and terrorist access to nuclear and biological materials don’t have much to do with Iraq, but derive from poorly-secured sites in the former Soviet Union, and technology leaks from Pakistan, our supposed ally in the “war on terror.” These hazards need more attention and resources than the Bush Administration, distracted by Iraq, has devoted to them.
  • (10)So why did Saddam’s regime fail to cooperate more fully with the UN inspectors? First, Western authorities and the US in particular repeatedly said that economic sanctions against Iraq would not be lifted whether or not he complied with inspections. Second, Saddam may have felt the need to maintain the impression that he had these weapons for deterrent purposes, precisely because he feared that the US or its allies in the region would try to take him out. From that angle, the entire dynamic may have backfired on everyone.

Consistent with these findings, we also learned this week that the Bush Administration has virtually given up on finding any actual WMDs in Iraq, and is quietly disbanding the search team. David Kay, the hawkish former UN weapons inspector who has been managing the whole effort, is also leaving. Evidently the search for WMDs is no longer politically important, and indeed, is something of an eyesore.
kay.jpg David Kay

All this is very disturbing. Essentially it means that we've just had another “Gulf of Tonkin,” an exaggerated pretext used to manipulate our country into going to war. That doesn’t put us in very good company – Saddam himself used a similar “defensive preemption” pretext to justify his own 1980 invasion of Iran.

As a matter of international law, even if Saddam’s WMDs eventually turn up, in the view of most eminent international jurists as well as the UN Secretary General, the invasion of Iraq was clearly illegal, since it lacked clear UN Security Council approval and there was never really an “actual attack or imminent threat.” Amazingly, even arch-hawk Richard Perle has recently admitted the war's illegality -- though he argues that its illegality is irrelevant.

As it becomes clearer that even the “WMD preemption” excuse for the war was a fiction, some folks have worried that the US and the UK might even be accused of war crimes for launching this unilateral crusade. Practically speaking, that’s unlikely -- victors are never subjected to war crimes tribunals. But it does at least make us feel a bit more sympathy for Bill Clinton, who was subjected to a year-long impeachment proceeding for rather more mundane offenses than "propagandizing" a whole nation to war.

In the next few weeks, the publication of the UK’s Hutton report on the death of UK Defense analyst Dr. David Kelly will no doubt help to keep this story alive, perhaps by provoking the UK to a more detailed inquiry into the whole affair. This appears to matter a great deal to the UK public, and Tony Blair’s future. But whether or not any of this matters to the gullible US majority that swallowed the case for the Iraq Invasion in the first place is doubtful. After all, as of October 2003, nearly 70 percent of Americans still believed that Saddam was involved in 9/11. As of December 2003, 64 percent of them also believed that Iran’s “nuclear weapons” should be our “number one foreign policy priority.” (Note to readers: Iran, like Iraq and Libya, has no nuclear weapons. Like Libya, it has recently agreed to open its doors to UN inspectors -- a step that the Bush Administration attributes to its aggressive actions in Iraq, yet another new justification for this aggressive war. But meanwhile, North Korea, which actually has nuclear weapons, has refused inspections, and may have accelerated nuclear weapons construction as it watched the Iraq conflict build. So whether or not the Iraq War has had a positive net deterrent effect on these three possible proliferators as a group is not clear. )

Meanwhile, as of January 2004, 61 percent of US adults approved of President Bush’s handling of Iraq, up from 45 percent in early November, before Saddam’s capture.

About 64 percent of adult Americans also believe they will go to heaven when they die. Credulity has its consolations, and we hope that all this faith provides a measure of relief, as the security alerts continue in the months and years ahead -- despite Saddam's demise and perhaps even because of it. As the novelist Graham Greene once wrote, “No country has better motives for all the trouble it causes..…”


© James S. Henry, Submerging

January 9, 2004 at 08:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack