Iraq War: Justification or Rationalization?
On March 19, 2003, US and British forces invaded Iraq. This was a “preemptive” strike, the first in US history. There must have been a really good reason for this unprecedented military action. But, can you remember what the US preempted or prevented from happening? Most people who are supportive of the war believe the war was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime from power, to confront Muslim extremists head on, and to bring democracy to the Middle East. At times, the Bush administration even made statements linking Iraq to Al-Qaeda and to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to justify the use of force, although the administration eventually denied making this connection (see also Rumsfeld saying the US has 'Bulletproof' Evidence of Iraq's links to Al Qaeda.)
In addition, most people today believe the continued US occupation of Iraq is necessary to prevent terrorists from taking over the region—essentially the same argument for why supporters believe we went to war in the first place. However, unlike the initial rationalization for war, this view today is shared by supporters and non-supporters of the war alike including leading Democrats. The only argument now is over how soon the troops should be pulled out, not over whether they should be there in the first place.
It was President Bush who first suggested this new justification for the war in his State of the Union Address, January 23, 2007, to promote public support for the announced 'troop surge' of more than 20,000 additional soldiers:
…Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq, because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching. If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country – and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict. For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is the greatest ally – their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger. (Applause.)
However, contrary to new and old rationalizations for war, the initial 'justification' for the invasion was not the removal of Saddam’s regime, Muslim extremists, or democracy in the Middle East. Rather, the driving argument for war was Saddam’s active pursuit and possession of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons – or weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The purpose of the US invasion of Iraq was to forcefully disarm Saddam’s WMD arsenal. Unfortunately, after the invasion, the US found only limited quantities of degraded pre-1991 shells. No WMDs, mobile, or underground production facilities were ever found. (See US stops search for WMDs and UN: Iraq had no WMD after 1994).
The intention of this post is not to persuade you to oppose the war. This post should persuade you, however, that support for the war should only be given in the context of certain historical facts as presented here.
“Turned out to be Wrong”
The following is an excerpt from the President's address to the nation where he admits that the intelligence regarding the existence of WMDs was wrong:
President's Address to the Nation – Video
December 18, 2005
"...From this office, nearly three years ago, I announced the start of military operations in Iraq. Our coalition confronted a regime that defied United Nations Security Council resolutions, violated a cease-fire agreement, sponsored terrorism, and possessed, we believed, weapons of mass destruction. After the swift fall of Baghdad, we found mass graves filled by a dictator; we found some capacity to restart programs to produce weapons of mass destruction, but we did not find those weapons.
"It is true that Saddam Hussein had a history of pursuing and using weapons of mass destruction. It is true that he systematically concealed those programs, and blocked the work of U.N. weapons inspectors. It is true that many nations believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As your President, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
"He was given an ultimatum – and he made his choice for war. And the result of that war was to rid a – the world of a murderous dictator who menaced his people, invaded his neighbors, and declared America to be his enemy. Saddam Hussein, captured and jailed, is still the same raging tyrant – only now without a throne. His power to harm a single man, woman, or child is gone forever. And the world is better for it."
When I first came upon this statement, I was very surprised. I had no idea that Bush himself had admitted that the intelligence that supposedly justified our preemptive strike was wrong. Naturally, this sparked a lot of questions in my mind: Is it possible the US would go so far as to invade a country on false intelligence? Don't we have the best intelligence agencies in the world? How can we trust the intelligence community's assessments in the future, especially the new intelligence regarding Iran? Why would the US still pursue this war when the major argument behind it turned out to be false?
Many of these questions will be answered in future posts. This post will highlight some of the many documents and historical information that I studied in order to understand the truth behind the 'weapons crisis' that led to war.
Based on the historical facts you will learn from the information presented in this post, there are only two possible explanations as to why the Bush administration's WMD claims turned out to be wrong, either:
- The Bush administration and US intelligence community made gross misjudgments before the war began,
- Or, the Bush administration took an active role in exaggerating the nature, strength, and very existence of intelligence.
A WMD History Lesson
(Right: Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein – Video)
We tend to think of the Iraq War in terms of a timeline from September 11th to the present. However, to really understand the invasion of Iraq, one must first understand the history of US-Iraq relations. During the 1980's the US supported Saddam and supplied his military with many of the weapons we would later condemn. In addition to weapons, we also gave Saddam funding to fight against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. At that time, Iraq's 'use' of chemical warfare was not a concern to the US because we supported the defeat of Iran.
In 1990 and 1991 however, after Saddam used his military power to invade Kuwait—something against US interests—the US fought against Iraq in the Gulf War. Following this conflict, the UN passed many resolutions regarding Iraq, including resolution 687 which required Iraq to destroy all WMDs as well as their capability to produce them.
In conjunction with these resolutions, UN weapons inspectors were to have free access to Iraq. Over the next 7 years, UN inspectors oversaw the destruction of WMDs but were critical of Iraq's level of cooperation. In 1998, Bill Clinton approved air strikes against Iraq known as Operation Desert Fox in which the US and UK bombed many targets throughout Iraq. (See also Operation Desert Strike – 1996, and Operation Southern Watch – 1993). In anticipation of the 1998 air strikes, UN inspectors left and were not "kicked out" as Bush later alleged in his 2002 "axis of evil" speech. After having 100 targets bombed, Iraq refused to allow UN inspectors back into the country to inspect their remaining weapons capabilities.
A War of Words: Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, and Rumsfeld
After President Bush was elected, members of his administration, including Condeleeza Rice and Colin Powell, affirmed in 2001 that Iraq had no WMDs and that Saddam Hussein was not a threat. These statements, which were true, were in stark contrast to the flood of statements purporting the existence of WMDs unleashed on the American public by the the Bush administration less than a year later.
The "War on Terror" shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq after George W. Bush gave his State of the Union address in January, 2002, when he described the "axis of evil.” These remarks were the first in a year long propaganda campaign that eventually led to the Invasion of Iraq. As the time for war drew closer, the administration became increasingly relentless in their claims that Iraq possessed and refused to disarm WMDs, although many politicians and persons in the media were increasingly skeptical.
I will give just four examples (from hundreds) of the administration's statements:
Dick Cheney – March 24, 2002: "This is a man of great evil, as the President has said. And he is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time. And we think that’s cause for concern for us and for everybody in the region."
Donald Rumsfeld – September 26, 2002: "We know they have weapons of mass destruction. We know they have active programs. There isn’t any debate about it. So the idea that if you had an appropriate inspection regime, that they’d come back and say you were wrong, is so far beyond anyone’s imagination, that it’s not something I think about."
Colin Powell – February 5, 2003: "One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq’s biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents."
George W. Bush – February 6, 2003: "Iraq has developed spray devices that could be used on unmanned aerial vehicles, with ranges far beyond what is permitted by the Security Council. A UAV launched from a vessel off the American coast could reach hundreds of miles inland.
"And we have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons, the very weapons the dictator tells the world he does not have."
The claims made in these statements, along with hundreds of documented others, never materialized. Much of the world and the US population mistrusted the Bush administration's claims that Saddam was hiding a massive weapons arsenal. Yet, the US ignored the skeptics and went to war using insufficient intelligence. This point is very important to realize. Any of us who lived through that time can remember the heated debate over whether WMDs existed. The Bush administration's bold assertions were often made to counter intense skepticism regarding the US’s true intentions for invading. Hence, it is hard to imagine the administration didn't know exactly what they were doing when making statements that, "turned out to be wrong." This isn't about "turning out to be wrong," as Bush has claimed. This is about being wrong, and promoting wrong intelligence, from the very beginning, knowingly. (See Scott Ritter, former chief UN weapons inspector (1991 -1998), speak out about the US's true intentions prior to the invasion.)
(Please see an excellent documentary called Leading to War that chronicles the build-up of the war using only video clips of statements made by the Bush administration; or read a transcript of the documentary.)
What's worse, and unbeknownst to most American's, during the three months of UN weapons inspections prior to the invasion, Iraq was complying with weapons inspectors more than ever before.
Resolution 1441—One last ‘chance’
Towards the end of 2002, Iraq's government agreed to allow UN weapons inspectors back into the country and the US, and the UK made a push to pass UN resolution 1441. This resolution alleged that Iraq was still in violation of the earlier mentioned Resolution 687 that required Iraq to destroy its WMDs following the Gulf War. This new resolution (1441) required Iraq to comply "immediately, unconditionally and actively," with every term of the resolution, giving Iraq its final chance to destroy its WMDs before having to face "serious consequences.”
Progress and Cooperation
Weapons Inspectors entered Iraq for the first time in 4 years on November 27, 2002. On March 7, 2003, after only three months of inspections, Chief UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix reported substantial progress and cooperation in Iraq:
"Inspections in Iraq resumed on the 27th of November 2002. In matters relating to process, notably prompt access to sites, we have faced relatively few difficulties, and certainly much less than those that were faced by UNSCOM [U.N. Special Commission] in the period 1991 to 1998." He stated that, "The Iraqi side has tried on occasion to attach conditions, as it did regarding helicopters and U-2 planes. It has not, however, so far persisted in this or other conditions for the exercise of any of our inspection rights. If it did, we would report it."
After three months, UN inspectors received a level of cooperation from Iraq never reached during the entire decade after the gulf war. Keep in mind, this progress was reported two weeks before the US invaded.
- Iraq had no WMDs after all
- Each of the highest ranking officials in the Bush administration continually spoke of the existence of WMDs as fact
- Two weeks before the invasion, chief UN weapons inspectors reported that no WMDs, or weapons facilities, including mobile or underground facilities, had been found
- The US ignored the lack of WMD findings by UN inspectors and misled the public regarding those findings, continuing to emphasize the existence of underground and mobile facilities
- Two weeks before the invasion, chief UN weapons inspectors reported the highest level of progress and cooperation from Iraq since the Gulf War
- The US ignored the reports by UN inspectors of Iraqi cooperation and misled the public regarding that reported cooperation
- The US went to war without a declaration, having never been attacked by Iraq and, to the contrary, after attacking Iraq for decades
- The intelligence community is consistently blamed for the erroneous WMD claims