Thursday, October 07, 2004

Iraq War - Good Idea or Bad

The question of the validity, justification and motivation for the US invasion of Iraq has taken center stage in the current presidential race. It has also been front page news since the invasion as each new report is released covering everything from WMD to linking 9/11 with Iraq. The story from yesterday of the WMD report from the Iraq Survey Group is the latest ammo in this ongoing debate. Here is CNN’s coverage:

Before we can answer the question of whether Iraq War was good or bad we need to review the facts leading up to the war. We need to go back in time before 9/11, before even Gulf War, back to the Iran-Iraq War. During this war the Iraqis first developed and used chemical weapons. Saddam became convinced after the successful use of these weapons against Iran that they were the key to his power in the region. In 1988 Saddam authorized a chemical attack against Iraqi Kurds. By the end of the Iran-Iraq War Saddam’s development and use of chemical weapons was a matter of historical record and not open to dispute.

One of the common points that repeatedly come up from the fringes is the notion that the US ‘supported’ Saddam. This is a very important point that needs to be clarified because the implication is that the US ‘created’ Saddam and we are somehow responsible for all the evil he has done. During the Iran-Iraq War the US provided very limited material support to the Iraqis and we provided ‘moral’ support. The Soviet Union and France provided much more material support to Iraq than did the United States. US support for Saddam was based almost solely on the fact that they were the enemy of Iran and we considered Iran to be our enemy. Remember the Iran Hostage Crisis that cost President Carter his job? In the early 1980s anyone who was killing Iranians was bound to get some support from the US. As the war progressed the US was more concerned with the growing Soviet influence in the region and it was believed that an Iraq loss in the war would be destabilizing for the region. During the latter period of the war both sides began unlimited attacks on oil tankers. This led to Kuwaiti tankers being re-flagged as US tankers. This marks the beginning of close US-Kuwaiti relations.

Fast forward to 1990 and the Iraq invasion of Kuwait. As mentioned above, Kuwait and the US had become very close during the latter part of the Iran-Iraq War and their invasion by Iraq was a big deal. An even bigger deal was Iraq’s intentions towards Saudi Arabia, another close US ally. The United States perused the proper course by going to the UN and obtaining a series of resolutions calling for the removal of Iraqi forces and the restoration of Kuwaiti sovereignty. Dozens of nations joined with the US in the liberation of Kuwait. The results of the war are well known, Iraq was driven from Kuwait and forced to sign a peace treaty. Part of the agreement to end the Gulf War was a requirement that Iraq destroys all WMD, end all development programs and submit to UN verification.

During the 1990s the Clinton administration maintained a relatively hands-off policy towards Iraq. The US and Britain enforced the UN sanctions and the no-fly zones. All during this period the Iraqis regularly violated the terms of the peace by firing on US/UK aircraft and no-fly zone violations. Iraq, during this period continued a cat and mouse game with UN weapons inspectors which would occasionally result in a US air strike or threats of increased sanctions. Basically, the Gulf War never ended because the Iraqis never completed their responsibilities. In 1998 Saddam decided that the weapons inspections no longer served his purposes and made a calculated decision that the world would not act if he expelled the inspectors. With the exception of a few days of missile strikes he was right.

During the same period that Saddam was playing games with the weapons inspection process the US was interested in spending the ‘peace dividend.’ The intelligence and military budgets were cut. The US ability to collect information on the state of the Iraqi weapons programs was severely hampered by these cuts. To the administration this did not matter because EVERYONE knew that Iraq had WMD and was trying to make more. Why else would they have failed to comply with the UN resolutions?

The 1990s were a period of increasing Iraqi support to terrorist groups. Many of these contacts have not been fully investigated bit it is clear that Saddam supported the families of suicide bombers in Israel and he supported terrorist groups fighting the Kurds in his own country. These efforts were a new development for Saddam who is very much a ‘conventional’ war thinker not an ‘asymmetrical’ warfare thinker. Frankly terrorism was not his normal mode of thought.

Along comes the attacks of 9/11 and the US is turned upside down. September 11 happened because the US had not fully appreciated how dangerous a terrorist organization could be to national security. If Osama bin Laden could cause so much damage without the material support of a country what could Saddam do with the resources of Iraq? An Iraq that every Western intelligence agency and the Russian intelligence believed still had stockpiles of chemical weapons. The threat was clear and undeniable – Saddam had to go before the unthinkable happened.

To sum this up, in the summer of 2002 the US government decided that Saddam was too dangerous to remain in power and here are a few of the reasons why:

* Iraq had a history of using chemical weapons
* Iraq had a history of attacking its neighbors, some of whom are our friends.
* Saddam had publicly supported terrorists attacking Israel and Kurds in his own country.
* The UN had never certified the destruction of weapons stockpiles or production facilities.
* Iraq was in violation of 17 UN resolutions and in violation of the peace treaty that ended the Gulf War.

These points really were not in dispute, what was in dispute was whether or not this was sufficient justification for an invasion. As far as the US government was concerned it was more than enough. Support was bipartisan and nearly unanimous. Wesley Clark testified before congress in support o he war:
John Kerry voted in favor of the use of force against Iraq. George Tenet, director of the CIA, said the issue of Iraq’s WMD programs was a “slam dunk.” So began the nearly 8 month process of preparing for the Iraq invasion. During this 8 month period the US made it very clear to the Iraqi government that we were coming and nothing was going to stop use short of our state goal – regime change.

Once the invasion was over and the occupation and recovery effort was begun inspectors and intelligence agents were able to do a thorough inspection of Iraq, without interference, for the first time. What we found was a shock – some things we expected to find did not materialize and other things were more horrifying than we imagined. Here are some highlights:

* No stockpiles of chemical weapons were found, only a few old shells.
* No active production facilities, but several places that could be easily converted for production.
* Very few ballistic missiles were found but there was evidence that Iraq was actively developing new missile types during the period of the sanctions.
* Numerous mass graves and torture chambers were discovered.
* No strong evidence of connection to global terror groups but we found no evidence discounting these connections.
* Evidence of corruption in the UN oil for food program in which Saddam was able to divert billions of dollars to his personal use and for the purchase of banned military equipment from several different sources around the world.

You can also read the text of the president’s speech to the UN on this issue:

What happened to the stockpiles of chemical weapons that the UN required to be destroyed? If Saddam destroyed these weapons why did he not do it in front of the inspectors thereby ending the sanctions years ago? Did the leaders of his weapons programs lie to him about how much had been created and the inventory? Did Saddam transfer these weapons out of Iraq in the months leading up to the war? The issue of WMD in Iraq is more confused now than it was before the invasion, but the issue is still extremely important and it alone does not invalidate the invasion. These questions must be answered.

What we have discovered about Saddam’s treatment of his own people has greatly out paced our expectations. We knew he was a typical tyrant but we did not expect to find the level or torture and murder that we found. This puts Saddam ahead of Milosevic, kind of a mini-Stalin. Clearly an evil, dangerous man.

What about Saddam’s support for international terrorism? The evidence so far shows no strong ties to any international terrorist groups, but there is little documentation to work with. This issue actually ties in with the corruption in the UN Oil for Food program, namely what happened to all the money Saddam skimmed from this program. Much of it went to support his lifestyle but billions of dollars cannot be account for. Did this money get diverted to terrorist groups? We may never know but the possibility exists.

In the end, the question of whether the Iraq War was good or bad will have to be answered by history. Each person and nation will need to evaluate the reasons for the war and the results of the war. I think that Saddam was a bad guy and deserved to be removed from power. If some of the reasons turned out to be weak then that just means that the US needs to improve its intelligence capabilities. What we found in Iraq reaffirms that Saddam had to go. Now it is up to the US and the rest of the world to ensure that the Iraq War is good for Iraqis as well.

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