The war against Iraq

A week ago the USA and the UK launched their war against Iraq, and since then I've been following this war almost permanently. I have many strong views about this conflict and its larger context and felt like writing those views down. This text got very long, but I structured it nicely I think so just pick a topic if you're at all interested!

Contents:

This war is illegal

Most experts of international law (like Mary Robinson, to name one I particularly like) agree that this war is illegal. The UN Charter forbids countries to use force against other countries except in self-defence or with permission from the UN Security Council. The Security Council did not give the US or the UK permission for this war. Therefore this war breaks the UN charter and is illegal. It is really that simple.

Naturally, those who started the war or support it do not want to admit it is illegal, because that might sway some of the support for it. Their first and foremost argument was this:

  1. Resolution 1441 already authorised the use of force against Iraq if it did not disarm immediately and completely.
  2. Iraq did not disarm immediately and completely .
  3. Therefore the use of force against Iraq is authorised, without a second resolution being needed.

In law there is no True or False, there is only the judgement of the people who are appointed to judge. In international law, there are no judges however, so we are left to judge by ourselves.

It being clear that most experts rejected the above argument to be false, the Bush and Blair administrations set to finding technicalities to make their point, much like companies hire lawyers to find loopholes in the law. They ended up claiming that they were authorised to use force against Iraq all along because they were going to act in "self-defense" or because the resolutions of the previous Gulf War could be applied to this situation.

We all know that the USA and the UK would not have lobbied so strongly for resolution 1441 if they had really believed that they were already authorised to use force, so I'm not even going to argue those technicalities - suffice it to say that they were equally rejected by the majority of experts. So let's go back to their original argument:

  • Firstly, 1441 does not authorise the use of force at all, it warns Iraq that it will face "serious consequences" if it does not comply. "Serious consequences" does not mean "war". In fact we don't know what it means, since it is delibarately vague. It could mean war, but it could also mean economic sanctions, enforced inspections, hanging all Iraqi diplomats or cutting off Saddam's dick.

    No court in the world would interpret "serious consequences" to mean anything specific if those words were used in a law. There is also no precedent to fall back on. The only authority that can determine what exactly these words were intended to mean is the one that used those words in the first place, i.e. the Security Council. Since the Security Council clearly refused to confirm (in a second resolution) that they meant "war", they didn't, period. Telling the Security Council that it didn't know what it meant to say with its own words is just grotesque.

    It must also be noted that the precise text of the resolution (§14) is that the Security Council "recalls [that it] has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations". It only refers to past warnings, and therefore does not provide any new authorisation for any sanction itself.
  • Secondly, even if resolution 1441 had authorised the use of force against Iraq if it did not meet the resolution's demands, which it didn't, that would still not have authorised the US and the UK or any other country to unilaterally judge whether or not Iraq complied with the resolution. No matter how strong they felt that Iraq didn't do so, that would simply not be their call to make but would once again be up to the Security Council to determine, since the Security Council declared itself to "remain seized of the matter" in the resolution. Clearly many countries in the Security Council felt that Iraq was complying with the resolution.

The fact that the Security Council did not mean to authorise the use of force was obvious anyway, without all the philosophical and judicial reflections on the precise meaning of "serious consequences". If the Security Council had wanted to authorise the use of force in resolution 1441, why on earth would it not have said so clearly? Why hold back when you're trying to pressure someone into obedience? The Security Council settled for the vague term "serious consequences" precisely because it did not want to authorise a war. The vague words "serious consequences" were added to throw a bone to the US and the UK, but after the truly scandalous way in which they tried to turn this small concession against the countries that made it, you can rest assured that no more such favours will be made in future resolutions.

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This war has no international support

This is obvious, but Bush insists that he's leading a "coalition" and that it is in fact bigger than the coalition that fought Gulf War I.

Firstly, only a handful of countries in this coalition are actually participating in the war; most are just allowing the use of their air space, airports or harbours. The only countries that are really participating are the USA, the UK and Australia (and Poland?). In Gulf War I over 30 countries participated with troops or ships.

Secondly, in almost all the countries that are part of the current "coalition" a clear majority of the people are opposed to the war. These countries aren't supporting the war, their governments are, against the will of their own people. Most of these governments do so because they don't want to or can't afford to get on the wrong side of the USA, either for economic reasons (e.g. Jordan), for military reasons (e.g. South Korea and Japan which are faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed North Korea next door) or for reasons of self-interest (the Arab dictatorships that are supported by the USA).

The only countries in which the people support the war are, to my knowledge, the USA, Israel and Kuwait. The latter two have been directly attacked by Saddam Hussein and can hardly be expected not to agree with any action against him. The UK and Australia joined the war against the will of their own people. Support may have gone up after the war started but that reflects a national concern with the safety of the troops; naturally people want to win the war once they're involved in it.

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This war is unjustified and unnecessary

Everyone knows the war is illegal, but since few countries really care about international law - certainly  not  the  USA - that was hardly gonna stop it. What is far more important to most involved in the discussion is whether the war is justified or necessary. The legality of it is merely an extra argument.

War means innocent people will die. While a military policy aimed at minimising civilian casualties may result in 'only' a few hundred innocent civilians dieing, anyone who starts a massive war like this must consider the possibility that it will be thousands rather than hundreds, and must be prepared to take the responsibility for that. What justifies killing thousands of innocent people? Let's review the justifications for this war in the public statements of the Bush and Blair administrations.

At first, while still pushing for a second resolution, they stressed how much we should fear Iraq:

  • "Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons"

    Let's forget for a minute that it was Europe and America who sold these weapons (or the means to produce them) to Saddam Hussein in the first place and can in no circumstances have the moral authority to kill thousands of people to get them back. The reason why this argument is not a justification is that we don't know that he still has them. In all the months during which the Bush administration pushed for this war, it hasn't managed to provide even the tiniest shred of evidence that he does. They sent poor Colin Powell into the Security Council with nothing more than satellite pictures that showed absolutely nothing and a tape that demonstrated that some Iraqi unit had a "modified vehicle". Not only was there no smoking gun, there wasn't even any smoke.

    Iraq may still possess stocks of chemical and biological weapons. In fact I think they do; they are probably buried in the desert somewhere and won't be found for years unless Saddam Hussein decides to use them in this war or unless an Iraqi official reveals their location after the war.

    But thinking that they still have them can not be a justification for war as long as their is no proof. Anyone who cherishes the basic principles of justice will consider a suspect innocent until proven guilty. In this case there isn't any evidence at all, we are merely speculating that someone like Saddam Hussein would rather hide his weapons than destroy them. It goes against all moral standards to rush into a war and kill thousands of innocent people when the main justification is entirely based on speculation.
    There is also no reason to rush; even if Saddam Hussein does still have these weapons, they don't pose an immediate threat. He's never used such weapons against the West, not even during the Gulf War when he had every occasion. In fact he hasn't used them at all for 15 years now. After all these years it is not credible to say that the threat of Saddam Hussein using these weapons was so urgent that war couldn't wait a few months. 7 days into the war it is clear that if he'll use these weapons at all it'll only be as a last resort.

    Given a few more months, we could have verified whether Iraq indeed still has these weapons. Iraq was in the process of demonstrating that it had destroyed its stocks, and if the war hadn't started the UN inspectors would have been able to verify this within months if not weeks. If Iraq had been unable to demonstrate that these weapons were destroyed, we could still have gone to war, with a much clearer conscience.
  • "Iraq is still trying to produce a nuclear bomb"

    Bush and several of his officials repeatedly stated they had a document that proved Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. When they turned over this document to the International Atomic Energy Agency, responsible for nuclear inspections in Iraq, it turned out to be a forgery. The CIA later said they had suspected that much all along (story).
  • "Saddam Hussein has links to terrorist organisations"

    The main strategy to get popular support for this war has been to relate it to the tragedy of 9/11 by feeding the fear that Saddam Hussein would deliver chemical, biological or nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists who would use them in American or European cities. To feed this fear it needed to be established that Saddam Hussein had links with such terrorists, preferably Al Qaeda. Despite all efforts that went into this, no such link has been found. Colin Powell's attempt to prove this link anyway in the Security Council was generally considered to be desparate and far-fetched.

    Terrorists like Al Qaeda who target the west are muslim fundamentalists. These fundamentalists and Saddam Hussein hate each other. The very reason that the west supported Saddam Hussein throughout all his atrocities in the 80s was that he fought the muslim fundamentalists in Iran, in fact he slaughtered them by the thousands, with chemical weapons and other means provided to him by the West.

    Ever since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and got the West against him, he and the muslim fundamentalist terrorists have had a common enemy. That is all that binds them. While it is not inconceivable that Saddam Hussein would supply weapons to these terrorists, there is not a single shred of evidence that suggests he has done or plans to do so. It is not something that is at all likely either. Saddam Hussein has no ideological problem with the West, in fact he has no ideology at all. The only reason he'd support terrorism is if he'd gain from it. During the Gulf War he has been careful not to use chemical weapons against the Americans although he had every opportunity, so he's probably not eager to get caught delivering such weapons to terrorist organisations either.
  • "The inspections weren't working"

    The UN inspectors themselves are in the best position to judge that, and they thought the inspections were working. They had reasonable hopes that the inspections might be succesfully concluded "not within weeks, not within years, but within months" (dixit Hans Blix). It's not certain that they would have, that would have depended on continued Iraqi cooperation, but if the UN inspectors said they could have then that cannot just be dismissed.
  • "Iraq did not cooperate immediately and therefore did not comply with 1441"

    While this isn't anyone but the Security Council's call to make, it is no doubt true. I just want to stress the immorality of using this as an argument for war. The question should only be whether Iraq disarmed, not whether they could have done it a few months sooner, because that by itself can never, ever justify killing thousands of innocent people.
  • "Iraq is a threat to its neighbours"

    Iraq was a threat to its neighbours until a big part of its army was slaughtered and its entire air force wiped out during the Gulf War. Since then Iraq has not even been able to control its own northern territories, where Kurds have established an independant Kurdistan and Turkish troops have made regular incursions to contain those Kurds. It is absurd to claim that a country that can't even control its own territory would pose an immediate threat to its neighbours. In the distant future Iraq might have posed a threat again, but the same goes for many other countries; it is no justification for going to war now. The current outrage in the Arab world about this war demonstrates how threatened they felt by Iraq.

When it became clear the UN Security Council would not authorise a war, the rhetoric of the American and British governments shifted to emotional arguments aimed at convincing their own populations:

  • "Saddam Hussein has used chemical and biological weapons against his neighbours and against his own people"

    They conveniently forget to add that it were in fact Europe and America who sold these and other weapons (or the means to produce them) to Iraq precisely for the purpose of using them against its neighbour Iran during the 1980-1988 war, and that when Saddam Hussein used them against his own Kurdish population in 1987 no action was taken against him. Although more covert, support for his regime continued well after that atrocity, up to the point when he invaded Kuwait and thus threatened western oil interests. George Bush Sr. provided financial aid to Iraq as late as 1990, the year in which Iraq would invade Kuwait.

    How can something that the USA and Europe actively supported and something that wasn't even enough reason to end the funding of Saddam Hussein's regime when it happened be a justification for killing thousands of innocent people in order to punish it 15 years later?
  • "Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator who tyrannises his own people"

    Saddam Hussein was at his most brutal when he was the friend of Europe and the USA in the 80s, and when he fought the uprising of his people right after the Gulf War while American troops were standing idly by. So again we are left to wonder how after all this time this suddenly justifies invading his country.

    But let's forget our past support for Saddam Hussein. Should brutal dictators be removed from power by force, even at the cost of civilian casualties? This is an interesting idea and one I don't immediately reject. However, such a doctrine would have to apply to all brutal dictators, not just to the ones of oil-rich or geostrategically important countries who stop serving western interests.

    At this moment such a doctrine is not realistic, there are just too many brutal dictatorships left. It is also not credible that the USA would enforce such a doctrine, having actively supported many of the most brutal dictators over the past 50 years - Suharto, Marcos, Pinochet, Mobutu, and indeed Saddam Hussein himself, to name a few - and having been involved in toppling (leftist) democratic regimes to replace them by (rightist) dictators (e.g. Pinochet).
  • "We will liberate the oppressed people of Iraq"

    There can be little doubt that a majority of the Iraqi people want to get rid of Saddam Hussein. There was however no indication that they were prepared to suffer this war in order to achieve that. One can only marvel at the startling arrogance of the USA to first support Saddam Hussein's regime throughout his worst atrocities and then suddenly decide on behalf of the people of Iraq that it is justified to kill thousands of them in order to liberate them.

    After only one week into this war it is already clear that the people of Iraq did not want to be liberated this way; this war has already made Saddam Hussein more popular with his people than he has ever been. If even the shiite Iraqis in the south aren't welcoming the Americans and the Brits, then the sunni Iraqis nearer Baghdad certainly won't either. But no worries, once Saddam is gone the Iraqis will do the sensible thing and bow to the new masters who they will be completely dependent on for the next few years.

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This war is a disaster

  • Thousands of people, if not ten thousands, will die in this war; many of them civilians, many others soldiers who joined their country's army without any evil purpose.
  • Anti-western feelings in the Arab and muslim world are being fueled once again, ...

    • Because hundreds, possibly thousands of Arab civilians are being killed by Americans and Brits in a war that is unnecessary and unjustified.

    • Because the reasons for attacking Iraq do not apply to Israel, which has been ignoring several UN resolutions for over 30 years now. There would be dozens more Security Council resolutions against Israel if the USA hadn't used its veto against them almost systematically, most of the time in a 14 to 1 vote. From an Arab perspective, the USA going after Iraq because it refuses to comply with UN resolutions is a very cynical joke.

    • Because Arab dictatorships are being pressured by the USA to assist in the war. It is often forgotten that, besides the Palestinian problem, the prime reasons for Arab resentment against the USA is that the USA is supporting dictatorships in various Arab countries. These dictatorships serve American interests in return for this support, often against the will and sometimes against the interest of their own population. This war is just rubbing it in as these dictatorships are once again supporting the USA against the will of the overwhelming majority of their own population.

      The Bush administration claims that the war on Iraq is a means of spreading democracy in the region, but this war and American policy in the Middle East in general has been so instrumental in radicalising popular opinion in these countries that democratising them is all the more difficult.

There is already a massive outrage in the Arab world, not just on the streets but among all layers of the populations. This will only get worse as the war drags on. From their perspective this war is an American atrocity against their own people, and this hurts them as deeply as 9/11 hurt America.

  • A new generation of terrorists will be recruited from the angry, frustrated masses in the muslim world. Osama Bin Laden started his personal war against the USA out of anger over the first Gulf War, and this war is much, much worse than the first one, since there was no immediate cause for it and no international support.
  • There is a significant risk that this war will cause other wars. If Iraq is unstable after the war, Turkey may invade the Kurdish region in northern Iraq to prevent Kurdish autonomy. The fundamentalist fraction of the Shiites in the south may try to establish an islamist dictatorship, or they may all join up and start a civil war against the Sunni minority that has been advantaged by Saddam Hussein for decades. Iran could easily be drawn in such a conflict. Iraq has everything to become a new Lebanon.
  • This war sets a very dangerous precedent for unilateral, preemptive strikes. India and Pakistan threaten each other with weapons of mass destruction; what if one of them launches a preemptive strike on the other? You'd have to hope it was succesful because a nuclear holocaust would be the result if it wasn't.
  • Starting inspections to avoid a war and then launching the war anyway, although many perceived the inspections to be working, is another very dangerous precedent. The whole principle of peaceful disarmament has most likely been thrown overboard now. And if not, the next dictator who gets UN inspectors sent over may simply refuse to let them in because experience now teaches that he's going to be attacked anyway and will need his weapons then.
  • Breaking the most fundamental rule of the UN charter - not to start a war against another country without a UN mandate - against the will of the majority of the Security Council undermines what little authority and credibility the UN had, and the UN, however handicapped by the principle of vetos, is the only institution we have to maintain some peace in the world.
  • There is now a race on to get nuclear weapons. This war will disarm Iraq, but it will encourage every other dictatorship that is not supported by the USA to do everything it can to get its hands on nuclear weapons, because only nukes now provide safety against invasion. The contrast between how the USA treats Iraq, which was weak and no immediate threat to anyone, and North-Korea, which may already have (untested) nuclear weapons and openly provokes the USA, has made this painfully clear. Be assured that Iran for a start will accelerate its efforts in that direction to maximum speed; I would too if I was them. There will be a lot of rhetoric, sanctions, inspections and possibly invasions in the years ahead as the dictators of the world scramble for nukes.

In short this war introduces principles and mechanisms that make this world a much more dangerous place for all of us. People will die as the indirect result of this war long after it is over.

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How could this war have been avoided?

It couldn't, because the Bush administration had already decided to go to war by last autumn, and nothing Saddam Hussein or the Security Council could do would have stopped them (cfr. next chapter).

But let's assume for a moment that the Bush administration was sincere about wanting Saddam Hussein to disarm and not starting this war if he did. Then I think a solution that satisfies most of the world would have been possible, in the form of a second UN resolution with the following characteristics:

  • UN inspections inside Iraq would continue on the same terms: anywhere, anytime.
  • Iraq would either have to:
    • Give up its known stocks of chemical and biological weapons. There would be no sanction for having lied about their destruction all this time.
    • Provide credible evidence that they have already been destroyed. It may be very hard to prove that something does not exist anymore, but there must be traces and a way to measure them. Iraq and the UN inspectors were working on this before the war was started.
  • The deadline would be 1 September 2003. This would have given Blix the "months, not years" he asked for, and Iraq would have been given a reasonable amount of time to account for its chemical and biological weapons if indeed it destroyed them. This deadline is in fact longer than needed, but since due to the heat you can't start a war against Iraq during the summer there would be no advantage to setting the deadline earlier.
  • When the deadline is reached, it would be the Security Council that would judge whether Iraq was fully disarmed or not, to avoid unilateral action.
  • The current resolution would authorise, in crystal clear words, the use of force against Iraq if it is not judged to be disarmed by the deadline date. This way the Security Council would already commit itself to allow the use of force to disarm Iraq if necessary.
  • The USA and the UK would be financially compensated for keeping their troops in the Gulf for an extra six months, so the wait would have no financial cost for them.

The above is not necessarily what I want, it is what I would suggest as a compromise. This resolution would have given inspections extra time - which is what the French, the Russians and most of the world wanted - while the USA and the UK governments would have a guarantee that inspections would not drag on forever and that Iraq would be disarmed by force if necessary.

But again, any resolution that might have averted the war was unacceptable to the Bush administration; and keeping all those troops in the Gulf for another half year in return for a chance to get a UN mandate would be a bad deal, since they were going to have the war anyway. That is why the Bush administration opposed any resolution that would have postponed the war until after the summer.

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Why the USA wanted this war

The official reason for this war is that Iraq had to be disarmed by force since Saddam Hussein refused to disarm peacefully. Removing Saddam Hussein's regime is also an official objective of the war, but only under the pretext that it turned out to be the only way to disarm Iraq. Removing Saddam was never officially stated to be the reason for this war, in fact it was repeatedly stated that Saddam Hussein could avoid this war and stay in power if he would just disarm.

The truth is that removing Saddam Hussein's regime was always the reason for this conflict, that this war was already decided on by the Bush administration by last summer, and that this war would have happened regardless of whether the UN inspectors could disarm Iraq or not, regardless of whether Saddam Hussein cooperated with them or not, regardless of whether the Security Council approved it or not, and regardless of world opinion.

To understand this, we have to look at the build-up to this war, which started long ago. With all the diplomatic fuss about inspections during the last few months, most of us in Europe have forgotten that the USA was already looking for a UN mandate to invade Iraq last autumn when it pushed for resolution 1441, and that it never wanted these inspections. But we have to go farther back still.

 

The road to war

Five years ago, in February 1998, a number of prominent conservative hawks wrote an open letter to president Clinton in which they publically called for the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime, including a plan that came down to arming the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north, inciting them to start a civil war against Baghdad, and supporting them with air power.

Among those who signed the letter were Donald Rumsfeld, now the Defense Secretary in the Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz, now the Deputy Defense Secretary ( i.e. the number two in the Pentagon after Rumsfeld), and eight other officials of the current Bush administration. Wolfowitz may seem less important than Rumsfeld but is in fact a very influential figure, being a long-time ideological leader of the branch of American conservatives who want the USA to agressively defend its strategic and economic interests with military power. In the past he has voiced approval of American support for various dictatorships that serve American interests, most notably that of Suharto in Indonesia (one of the bloodiest dictatorships since WW2) where he served as US ambassador in the 80s, but also that of Pinochet (Chile), Chun (South-Korea) and Marcos (Philippines). Wolfowitz was also part of the administration of Bush Sr. during the Gulf War and ever since has been the most prominent lobbyist for the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime in various articles and speeches. In one speech before the National Security Committee of the US Congress in September 1998, he said that the plan described in the open letter "would be a formidable undertaking, and certainly not one which will work if we insist on maintaining the unity of the UN Security Council".

When Wolfowitz and fellow hawks Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice were appointed in the new Bush administration, all in defense and security functions, it was already speculated that Bush Jr. would sooner or later set about completing the "unfinished business" of his father, i.e. use force against Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. There was also strong opposition against this within the Bush administration however, most notable from Colin Powell who favoured a policy of containment. It wasn't clear which course the president would pursue.

Then came 11th September 2001, and the hawks got in the driver's seat. Six days later, on 17th September 2001, Bush "directed the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq" (Washington Post article, citing "senior administration officials") in the same top secret document that outlined the plan for the war against Afghanistan.

According to the same Washington Post article, General Tommy Franks, currently the commander in charge of the war against Iraq, was already holding regular private meetings with Bush about the war planning for Iraq in the spring of 2002. The article also quotes Bush as informally telling a journalist in April 2002 that "I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go", and cites Condoleezza Rice as confirming to a lower official in July 2002 that Bush had made the decision already.

On 25th August 2002, the Washington Post leaked a story obtained from "two senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity" that the White House had instructed its lawyers to investigate whether Bush could launch a war against Iraq without needing special authority from the US Congress, and that those lawyers had concluded that he could. Naturally the Bush administration denied that the decision had already been made.

The leaked story sparked a national debate about attacking Iraq. Many former government officials, like James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger and Brent Scowcroft, questioned the wisdom of a preemptive strike. The latter, a former National Security Adviser, warned that it "could unleash an Armageddon in the Middle East".

A mandate for invading Iraq was sought in the UN Security Council, but not obtained. All the US and the UK got out of the negotiations was a resolution that reinforced previous resolutions, reminded Iraq of the "serious consequences" if it would not disarm completely and immediately, and that restarted inspections.

Meanwhile the Bush administration started building up an invasion force in the Gulf. All their actions indicate that they were already determined to go to war against Iraq by then:

  • They built up troops at a pace that showed a clear intention of going to war before the summer, even when it became clear UN inspections could not be completed by then.
  • They critisized the UN inspections as useless from the very start.
  • They always claimed to know Iraq still had its weapons of mass destruction, but failed to provide any evidence. Blix repeatedly stated that if the USA had any evidence, they should give that information to his inspection team so it could be verified.
  • They frantically sought for links between Iraq and Al Qaeda although there was never any indication of those. No credible link was found.
  • They always said they would go to war even without a real UN mandate, preparing world opinion for their unilateral action.
  • They refused to consider any second resolution that would postpone the war until after the summer, even though that would have given them much broader support.

Near the end of the diplomatic process, the UK government was equally committed to the war. This is clearly demonstrated by its proposal for a second resolution, which would have forced Iraq to bring out its known stocks of chemical weapons and to give up its mobile production factories, completely ignoring the possibilities that these weapons had already been destroyed and that these mobile factories do not exist (there isn't any evidence that they do). Noone who would genuinely want to avoid a war would set conditions that may very well be impossible to meet. As an American stand-up comedian joked, this resolution might well have forced Iraq to first produce these weapons and factories and then destroy them again - all within a matter of days.

 

The real reasons

Why this stubborn determination to remove Saddam Hussein from power, even at the expense of killing thousands of innocent people, breaking the UN charter, infuriating the muslim world and causing even more instability in the region, and even though a peaceful solution to the threat that Saddam Hussein posed was still possible?

There were many reasons for Bush to remove Saddam Hussein's regime. I'll list them in their order of importance as I perceive it, although that order has little importance. It's the totality of these motivations that makes you understand that this war was an obvious, almost necessary course for Bush; one that he would push ahead with no matter what.

  1. Revenge for 9/11. Understandably, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the American people wanted revenge on those responsible for it, and they wanted it fast. Although there is absolutely no indication that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with those attacks, this war is still fulfilling that need for revenge among a large part of the American public.

    It was absolutely vital for Bush to fulfill that need if he wanted to get reelected. The campaign in Afghanistan did not suffice, especially with Osama Bin Laden still being on the loose, and genuine solutions for the real causes of terrorism (the Palestinian problem, Arab dictatorships that radicalise their populations by serving western interests, poverty, ...) would be much harder, would take much longer and would be much less understood by the American public than a quick war against Saddam Hussein. It would also be against the corporate American interests that the Bush administration stands for, as the rest of this list explains.

  2. Short-term oil interests. Iraq is the country with the second biggest oil reserves in the world. Half the Bush administration has ties with major American oil companies, which donated record contributions to Bush's election camaign. Who will get the fattest contracts after the war? Who will sponsor Bush's reelection campaign with record contributions once again? You can bet that before this war is over, Exxon & co will be unselfishly volunteering to help the Iraqi people exploit its abundant resources for its own national well-being.

  3. a) Popularity. Bush Sr. was made immensely popular by the Gulf War. Leaders who win wars generally gain immediate popularity. This makes going to war very tempting to any leader of any powerful country. It is my conviction that people drive their leaders into war as much as they are driven into it by them, and that the soaring popularity of leaders that start and win wars shows that deep down a lot of people like war because of the sensation and the powerful feelings of pride and bonding within the nation.

    b) History. Winning a war gets a leader a place in the history books. Who would remember the first Bush presidency 50 years from now if he hadn't fought the Gulf War? Another thing that makes war tempting for leaders.

  4. Long-term oil interests. Control of the world's strategic resources in general, and of oil reserves in particular, has always been the cornerstone of America's international policy and that of the colonial powers before it. With colonialism a thing of the past, installing friendly regimes in oil-rich countries is the best way to secure the flow of oil.

    To realise the importance of this, just imagine if the USA did not have befriended regimes (mostly dictatorships of course) in the Middle East at this very moment. The Arab League might actually unite and decide to stop supplying oil to the USA, which could become a crushing blow to the US economy if it lasted several weeks.

  5. Geo-strategic interests. Saudi-Arabia is the most powerful Arab country and the USA's principal partner in the Arab world, but that may not last much longer; the Saudi dictatorship is weakening considerably. The USA used to have another powerful friend in the region: the Shah of Iran, whose dictatorship they supported until he was removed from power by an islamist revolution in 1979. If a similar thing would happen in Saudi-Arabia, that would be a huge blow to American influence in the region (and to the safety of Israel). A friendly Iraq would always be a welcome partner, but a crucial one if Saudi-Arabia could no longer be relied upon.

  6. Neutralising Iraq. The official reason for the war is not unsincere. Even if UN inspections had been concluded succesfully, Saddam Hussein's regime would still have had to be contained; given half a chance he would no doubt arm himself again, and he could spread such weapons to fundamentallist terrorists. Although it is highly unlikely (these fundamentalists hate him as much as they hate the west, and Saddam Hussein knows it would be suicide), it is not unconceivable, and after 9/11 the USA is far more prepared to use force first in order to eliminate a risk.

  7. Relations with Saudi Arabia. Saudi-Arabia with all its corruption, decadence and western influence is a breeding ground for terrorist organisations, and since 9/11 the USA has been made painfully aware of that; most of the terrorists in the attacks of 9/11 were Saudi citizens as are many others that are still active (for example the one US security agencies specifically warned for on the day the war started). The weakening Saudi dictatorship is reluctant to act tough against its religious leaders however, and since good relations with Saudi-Arabia are so vital to its interests (see above) the USA can't put as much pressure as it would like. With another powerful partner in the region, the USA would have much more freedom to act.

  8. Completing the "unfinished business" of Bush Sr. Several members of the first Bush administration (and Bush Sr. himself, according to Wolfowitz) have said that they expected Saddam Hussein's regime to collapse after his crushing defeat in the Gulf War, and that they would probably have gone after him if they had known that wouldn't happen. This administration reunites many members of that first Bush administration around his son, and that remarkable reunion does make this administration more willing to remove Saddam Hussein's regime than it would be without that history.

  9. Using the army. Any powerful army has to be used regularly; to test its equipment in actual combat circumstances, to maintain combat experience among a significant part of its troops, and to justify its huge cost. This is always a consideration when a powerful nation hasn't fought a war for many years: its propensity to start one will grow as the years go by. One need only look at history books. In this case, with the Gulf War only 12 years in the past and many smaller conflicts looming, it probably didn't play a very significant role in the decision.

  10. Personal resentment against Saddam Hussein, who is suspected to be responsible for an assassination attempt on Bush's father and who in any case represents a gigantic policy failure of Bush Sr. in the eyes of many conservatives. This is certainly not the main reason for wanting Saddam Hussein removed, but it does add motivation.

  11. The brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime. There can be no doubt that a majority of the Iraqi people want to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Although they may not want to suffer this war for it, it's still a factor in the moral considerations about this war.

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"Anti-Americanism" and the French scapegoat

While in all but a few countries in the world a clear majority of the people oppose this war, the Bush and Blair administrations singled out France as the one country responsible for their government's failure to get a second resolution. These accusations were blatant scapegoat tactics.

When France and Russia announced they would use their vetos, Bush clearly stated he would demand a vote on Blair's proposal for a second resolution anyway, to force every country to throw its cards on the table. Later when it became clear that the USA and the UK would not get 9 votes, they backed off. France and Russia would not have had to use their veto, because despite the USA's open attempts to pressure and bribe the undecided countries just like they did with Turkey (what an incredible contempt for democracy that shows), not enough of them swayed. Even if they had been bribed and pressured succesfully, we know that they were really opposed to the war and would only have voted in favour of it to not get on the wrong side of the USA, as the Mexican government for example made clear.

The UK and the USA then used France as a scapegoat, saying France would veto any resolution that authorised the use of force. The truth is that France's view was no different from that of Russia, Germany and many other countries, and that the USA and the UK rejected any resolution that would not have allowed them to attack Iraq before the summer.

Ironically, there have been many accusations of "anti-Americanism" against Europe and against France in particular, while at the very same time many Americans are calling for economic sanctions against France and while American government staff have childishly (and stupidly) renamed french fries to "freedom fries" (stupid because the "french" in "french fries" does not even stand for France, it's a verb that stands for shaping potatoes in the form of fries). "Anti-Francism" in America seems to be much more tangible than anti-Americanism in Europe.

Many people in Europe do resent American foreign policy, but most of them like the USA in other ways (movies, music, ...). I do, and while I'm sure there are some fanatics who hate all things American, they are very few. The rest of us are no more anti-American than the millions of anti-war protesters on the streets of America itself.

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Anti-war slogans

Speaking of anti-war protesters. While I strongly disagree with this particular war (and indeed with most wars that get fought) I do so based on a review of the specific circumstances of this conflict and on my personal assessment of the dangers of starting this war and of the potential dangers of not starting it. I am certainly not a pacifist and feel a lot of distaste for naive, irresponsible and potentially dangerous anti-war slogans like "war is never an answer", "you can't fight terrorism with terror", and so on. But since people holding such views aren't currently in power and aren't currently causing an unnecessary disaster, I don't feel a need to fulminate against them like I do against those that are.

That being said, you can't put an argument as long as the one I just wrote on a plaque or explain it in a 30 second interview, so I guess it is just the nature of anti-war protest that it has to resort to simplistic, stupid slogans.

 

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