Friday, January 09, 2004
Iraq - Casus Belli Revisited
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 Markets.com.
January 9, 2004 at 08:50 PM | Permalink
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Paul O'Neill's revelations have produced a predictable response in Britain from the Murdoch and Black press (both pro-war), as the bitterness of a failed man. Even the normally excellent Financial Times carried a column by its house neo-con, Gerald Baker, with the tagline, "Tears of the US Treasury Clown". It's all designed, of course, to destroy O'Neill's credibility. In fact, O'Neill has merely confirmed what any savvy observer had already guessed. As British and US governments twisted and turned between reasons for going to war and, more to the point, routinely rubbished the UN arms inspector's reports even before they hit the table, it became obvious that the decision had been taken and could not be rescinded. Published later, Bob Woodward's book "Bush At War" gave the game away, describing how at the NSC meeting on September 12th, Rumsfeld asked, "Why shouldn't we go against Iraq, not just Al Qaeda?...His deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, was committed to a policy that would make Iraq a principal target in the first round in the war on terrorism." (p49) This was the day after the twin towers disaster. Blood was high and Rumsfeld took his chance. 9/11 had nothing to do with Iraq and Iraq had nothing to do with international terrorism but, by god, it gave the neo-cons the opportunity to do something they'd been planning for months. It was a gift for many others: for Sharon in the Occupied Territories and Russia in Chechnya... everyone wanted to get in on the act. Destroy the political opposition in the name of the War On Terror! Thanks George.
We can speculate on the reasons why the US had it in for Iraq until the documents become available in half a century or so. My guess as a Middle East hand of moderate expertise but great age is, that bland old formulation, "regional stability": secure access to oil and peace of mind for the Bushies' supporters on the fellow-travelling Zionist Right.
Where does "bringing democracy to the benighted Arabs" fit in? Has US foreign policy at last acquired an altruistic component? History is against it, as your comment makes clear. If creating an Arab democracy had really been an objective, Saudi Arabia was the place to start. It is the Middle East country where the US has the strongest presence and the longest history of close involvement. But the US government has been consistent in nothing more than its support for the al-Sauds, a corrupt, regressive, un-democratic regime that had the singular merit, offsetting its immorality, of reliably delivering the crude oil the US badly needs in return for the defence the family wanted - defence, more than anything else, against poteitially democratic subversion.
We have two hypotheses to fit to the events. The choice, dear reader, is yours.
1. Either there has been a change of heart in the US administration and President Bush's born-again altruism now dominates the decisions of the State Department and DOD;
2. Or US foreign policy in the Middle East is, as it has been in the rest of the world for the past half-century, built around a hardnosed definition of US interests. Which is to say: in Guatemala, bananas; in the Middle East, oil and Israel.
Faites vos jeux, messieurs et mesdames.
Posted by: Joe Roeber at Jan 15, 2004 2:29:59 PM