What was the Bush Administration's motives for the Iraq War and were those motives warranted? What are some of the consequences of the Iraq War?
A lot of bad or incomplete history regarding the Iraq War has been written since it was launched in March 2003 as Operation Iraqi Freedom. The most common flaw in those narratives is the total absence of any historical context in which the decision to invade Iraq was made. Let me state at the outset that I believe the invasion was a mistake primarily because the most persuasive rationale for going to war – the belief that Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the ballistic missiles needed to launch them – turned out to be wrong. In that sense, the decision to go to war was absolutely wrong. Any complete understanding of the Iraq War, however, demands reference to the decade that preceded it. As someone who served as a foreign policy and military affairs advisor to members of Congress during the time frame discussed, and who was frequently briefed by representatives of the intelligence agencies that studied the data and drafted the analyses, and who met with key figures in the debates over Iraqi weapons programs, I can attest to the extent to which both political parties and the presidential administration that preceded that of George W. Bush firmly believed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed those weapons, and would use them. President Bush didn’t come to office and decide on his own that Iraq continued to possess weaponry banned by United Nations Security Council Resolutions; the Clinton Administration, for its eight years in office, held firm to the belief that the weapons existed. The Bush Administration’s deliberations on Iraq, therefore, need to be examined as part of a continuum, and a highly partisan columnist like Maureen Dowd has nothing of substance to say on the subject. Almost everyone believed that Saddam had the weapons, or was continuing to attempt to produce them covertly. The following quotes from Clinton Administration officials and supporters, including from President Clinton himself, should help to place the later decision to invade in a better context:
“One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line.” President Clinton, February 4, 1998
“If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.” President Clinton, February 17, 1998
“Iraq is a long way from [here], but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face.” Secretary of State Madeline Albright, February 18, 1998
“He [Saddam Hussein] will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983.” Sandy Berger, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, February 18, 1998
“Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.” Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, December 16, 1998
“Hussein has . . . chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction . . .” Madeline Albright, November 10, 1999
“We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), September 19, 2002
“We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.” Vice President Al Gore, September 23, 2002
This compilation of quotes by members of the Democratic presidential administration of William J. Clinton and of the president’s supporters in Congress is far from complete. More such quotes are available. The point, of course, is that the Bush Administration did not come to office in a conceptual vacuum regarding Iraq and the Middle East. Belief that Iraq continued to develop weapons of mass destruction was widely held throughout government and among the think tanks that dot the landscape in Washington, D.C.
In the Spring of 1998, I met, together with a colleague, in secret with a senior member of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, the organization established following the first Gulf War in 1991 to search for and destroy Iraqi weapons banned under the U.N. mandate, mainly the so-called weapons of mass destruction. That official, Scott Ritter, told me that the commission believed that Iraq possessed the components for three nuclear weapons and was missing only the properly processed fissile materials needed for a nuclear explosion. When, several months later, Ritter resigned in protest from his position with the U.N. Special Commission, he wrote to the head of the commission, Richard Butler, that
“The sad truth is that Iraq today is not disarmed . . . UNSCOM (the commission’s acronym) has good reason to believe that there were proscribed weapons and related components and the means to manufacture such weapons unaccounted for in Iraq today.”
Following his resignation, Ritter was asked to testify before a joint hearing of the U.S. Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee. Utilizing the information Ritter had provided me in that earlier meeting, I prepared a question for my then-employer, Senator John McCain, to ask Ritter during the hearing regarding UNSCOM beliefs that Iraq was concealing nuclear weapons components. Ritter’s response follows:
“The Special Commission has intelligence information which suggests that components necessary for three nuclear weapons exists, lacking the fissile material.”
So, this is the historical context in which one president left office and another was sworn into office. Unbeknownst to U.S. intelligence agencies and to American policy-makers, Saddam had decided in secret to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction programs because the inspection teams had successfully ferreted out what documents and technologies existed (with one notable exception: the nuclear weapons documentation a key Iraqi scientist, Mahdi Obeidi, had surreptitiously hidden in his garden). The international economic sanctions that had been imposed following Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait were crippling the country, and Saddam, it turned out, had calculated that the only way to rebuild his country would be to convince the West he had dismantled the weapons while convincing his country’s most dangerous regional enemy, Iran, that he still had such weapons so that the Islamist clergy ruling Iran would be deterred from attacking Iraq.
Following the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, I and many others waited anxiously for news of the use by Iraq or discovery by U.S. military forces of the nonexistent weapons. As U.S. military units advanced towards the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, I and others were briefed on the status of the war. In inquired as to the point, as American forces advanced closer to Saddam’s palaces, we could expect Iraq to begin using its chemical weapons to slow that advance, and who among Iraqi officials, in addition to or besides Saddam and his equally ruthless sons, had the authority to order such weapons to be used. The response I received was classified, but suffice to say the intelligence community briefers never indicated that such weapons didn’t exist; the belief remained that they were still concealed somewhere in Iraq.
In another briefing provided by U.S. officials, including a Navy SEAL assigned to one of the teams sent out after the fall of Baghdad to locate the missing weapons, that SEAL officer stated conclusively that two flat-bed trucks on top of which were assembled suspicious machinery were in fact the mobile biological weapons laboratories the C.I.A. had been lead to believe existed. This officer and his colleagues saw the trucks after the invasion ended (and before the protracted occupation and subsequent conflict commenced) and confirmed that the trucks were mobile biological weapons laboratories. They were wrong. They were not biological weapons laboratories; they were mobile compressors for large balloons; the initial intelligence indicating that the trucks were for weapons came from an Iraqi defector codenamed Curveball who turned out to be a fraud.
This information, which represents only a part of the history of U.S. involvement in Iraq, constitutes far more than the question requested. It is necessary, however, to place the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq, no matter how misguided and disastrous that decision, in its proper historical context. Otherwise, discussions of the Iraq War devolve into partisan polemics. Yes, President Bush was determined to invade Iraq, and yes that decision turned out badly for the United States, for Iraq, and for much of the region. The main argument for invading Iraq, however, lied in the issue of weapons of mass destruction that most believed existed, but which had been dismantled years before the invasion.
While pundits such as Maureen Dowd of the New York Times have speculated that George W. Bush wished to avenge his father because of an alleged assassination plot by Hussein against Bush, Sr. who had ejected the Iraqi forces from oil-rich Kuwait, the American public were told in 2003 that there was an imminent threat from Iraq: the country had in its possession weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorism. According to then Vice-President Dick Cheney, Hussein "had long-established ties with Al Qaeda." In addition, Hussein was responsible for the deaths of nearly 50,000 Kurds in the northern part of Iraq, and was guilty of other human rights' violations.
The 17 June 2004 issue of the Washington Post, however, reported that the 9/11 Commission had found no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. Later, too, Bush found himself apologizing when no WMD (weapons of mass destruction) had been uncovered. So, two reasons for invading Iraq were apparently unjustified.
Nonetheless, it may be argued that Saddam Hussein needed to be ousted because of his crimes against humanity as he was an incredibly cruel and corrupt dictator, having gassed tens of thousands of Kurds in the late 1980's. Other atrocities include
In June 1994, the Hussein regime in Iraq established severe penalties, including amputation, branding and the death penalty for criminal offenses such as theft, corruption, currency speculation, and military desertion.
These punishments, however, do not include any of Hussein's family, government members.
As a consequence of the Iraq War, Saddam Hussein was captured and sentenced to death. After his capture, Hussein was returned to Iraq where a special tribunal convicted him of the murders of 148 Iraqi Shi'ite in 1982 in the town of Dujail, murders committed in retaliation for an assassination attempt on him.
The Bush administration did attempt to establish a more democratic government in Iraq, and it sent a mission to this Middle Eastern country with the goal of establishing a civil government there that would promote democracy in the surrounding regions. Unfortunately, just recently there are reports that radical groups are moving into Iraq.
Cheney's spokesman pointed to a 2002 letter written by CIA Director George J. Tenet stating that "we have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade" and "credible information indicates that Iraq and al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression."Still, the Iraq War cost the United States many lives and it was predicated upon seemingly false or, at least questionable causes. While it did free the people from Hussein, it has not brought democracy or civil rest to the country.