Saturday, September 19, 2009


It has been argued that because Iraq has already been invaded there is little reason for discussing the reasoning behind that invasion. This is a convenient position for many who supported the war, but it fails to understand that any discussion about the invasion of Iraq is only nominally a discussion about the invasion of Iraq. It is a trial of the mindset and ideology that led to the invasion. And as long as that mindset persists, as long as the risk of the disaster of Iraq being visited on another people exists, we can never move on.

The invasion of Iraq was undertaken because Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent danger to the U.S, ostensibly. When that rationale fell apart the motivations for the war switched to one of spreading democracy and promoting human rights. The efficiency of that switch was as effective and complete as the switch of official state enemies in the book 1984. The invasion of Iraq was about democracy, it had always been about democracy. In the few mentions of the archaic pretext made following the switch it was only to say the war was the result of a failure of intelligence, though the architects of it continued to suggest they made the right decision even in light of the revelation that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

Every invasion and imperialist enterprise, with the possible exception of the Belgian looting of the Congo, has been accompanied by noble rhetoric. The typical practice of judging leaders by their actions while ignoring their rhetoric is often inverted when looking at one's own nation. However, rhetoric can never justify a war. Saddam Hussein had equally impressive rhetoric when he invaded Kuwait.

As for the stated motivations, easiest to dispel is the claim of WMD. After it was confirmed that no such weapons existed senior policy makers, including the President, answered in the affirmative when asked if they would have invaded in light of this knowledge. Ignoring the issues raised by the Downing Street Memo, this is an implicit admission that the primary case for war made to the public was not what motivated policy makers. The sheer number of pretexts, changed to meet political demands, is in itself enough to cast serious doubt on the official explanation.

Moving on to the next major claim, the claim of spreading democracy and human rights, of planting a democratic seed in the Middle East. This claim can be easily tested with a single question: are the words of the idealistic crusaders seeking a new future for the Middle East consistent with their actions. The answer is decidedly no.

The group of policy makers waging war on Iraq simultaneously maintained close relationships with equally repressive regimes that served their perceived interests, such as Saudi Arabia, and simultaneously undermined democracy in countries where it would harm their perceived interests, such as Haiti and Venezuela. The case of Iraq before the invasion is sufficient evidence to discard any pretense the neocons had for concerns about democracy and human rights.

This was the same group of people who armed Saddam and shielded him diplomatically during the Reagan administration when his worst atrocities were taking place. To a large extent the idealistic crusaders enabled many of the atrocities they were fond of rattling off against Saddam. The relationship between Saddam Hussein and the U.S goes back long before the neocons were in office, it began when he was a twenty-two year old CIA agent tasked with murdering Iraq's Prime Minister and continued until his first real crime, the invasion of Kuwait in violation of American wishes. But the relationship between the two was particularly strong during periods of neocon control.

As the idealistic crusaders celebrated justice in the death sentence handed down to Saddam after a show trial no one thought to suggest that American officials complicit in the same crimes should be similarly dealt with. Indeed, many of those issuing noble pronouncements about the need for those guilty of crimes against humanity to be brought to justice, such as Donald Rumsfeld to name just one prominent example, were complicit in Saddam's crimes against humanity. The American officials who sold Saddam weapons, the CIA officers who gave him lists of thousands of political enemies to be liquidated, the American General who authorized him to put down a Shiite uprising that likely would have ended his rule, the western businessmen who sold him the components he needed to jumpstart his chemical and biological weapons programs, the list goes on, but the principle is that, in international relations, only the defeated are ever guilty of crimes. The crime for which Saddam died was not killing Kurds, the American officials who orchestrated the invasion were guilty of that also, the crime for which he was sentenced, like Noriega before him, was turning on his American masters.

The last major pretext for the invasion was fighting terrorism. But the war was conducted with the prediction by western intelligence services, ultimately realized that invading Iraq would only increase the threat of terrorism. The morality of invading Iraq is not only dispelled by serious lapses in the official reasoning, it is dispelled by the results of the invasion, results that set back the official goals of spreading democracy, fighting terrorism, and promoting human rights.
Supporters of the war make frequent use of an ancient propaganda technique. They ask opponents of the war if the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. They seek to equate the acknowledgment of the cruelty of the enemy with a vindication of their cause. But that is not the question that must be answered. No one ever asks if the world would be better off without George W. Bush, nor does anyone propose the absurdity that an affirmative answer to that question would justify the invasion and destruction of the U.S. No, the question is not whether the world is better off without Saddam Hussein, it most certainly is, but rather whether the world is better off because of the invasion of Iraq.

Massive majorities of Iraqis believe the answer is no. And it is easy to see why. The war sent both the economy and the infrastructure back many years. It sent the educated elites and professional classes into exile, in all it created about five million refugees and internally displaced people, out of a population of just over thirty-million. Iraq Body Count has confirmed 100,000 deaths resulting to the invasion, though it suggests the actual toll is likely much higher. Compare that with seventy-seven politically motivated murders reported by Amnesty International in the last year of the Saddam dictatorship. Civilian casualties were never a concern for U.S general in Iraq, one of whom declared "we don't do body counts" when asked about the issue. Clearly, the invasion accelerated politically motivated deaths on a massive scale.

But even before the invasion, the largest source of deaths in Iraq was not the Saddam dictatorship, monstrous as it was, but the sanctions imposed on the county by the U.S, which starved half a million Iraqi children to death, according to the U.S. A figure Secretary of State Madeline Albright accepted and found to be "a very hard choice," but ultimately "worth it". If the Bush administration were serious about prosecuting criminals to safeguard human rights they did not need to go overseas to do it. Nor did they need to go to the trouble of starting a war. The President could have accomplished that quite easily, if that were his real goal in invading Iraq. But, it is perhaps insulting to take the neocons at their word and extend their logic to its natural conclusions, so I won't go on anymore about that point.

On WMD proliferation, the invasion was again harmful to its stated goals. The attack convinced many nations that the only way they could deter an invasion was by acquiring WMD. The invasion provided an incentive for the acceleration of WMD programs in the third world. Many planners from third world nations felt Iraq was invaded because it did not have WMD, wheras North Korea was safe because it did posses such deterrent. Such comments are not entirely true, North Korea did not have WMD at the time of the Iraq War, though it did have a conventional detterant in the form of artillery pointed at cities and American troops in the south of the penninsula. But what is important here is the perception, the perception that the only way a small, third world nation can detern an attack from the superpower that spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined is to aquire WMD. By invading Iraq the Bush administration provided every weak, but rational despot ample motivation to initiate or accelerate WMD programs.

As for promoting democracy, it is obvious to any honest observer that Iraq is not a democracy. Even the American funded group Freedom House recognizes that Iraq is "not free", even the neocons implicitly acknowledge the point when they praise their favored regional client, Israel, as "the Middle East's only democracy". The invasion of Iraq was never about democracy, it never could have produced democracy. Every foreign policy expert, even the normally hawkish Henry Kissinger and George Kennan, foresaw that. Instead it set democracy back by providing dictators across the region an example of "what democracy would bring". The invasion of Iraq has been a disaster for the U.S, and more importantly for the people of Iraq. Sadly, the arrogant, reckless, and imperialistic mindset that made the invasion of Iraq possible still persists in American political culture. It was just recently that Congressman Dana Rohrabacher exclaimed to an Iraqi witness at a House hearing on the war his indignation that "I have never heard one word of gratitude from the Iraqi people about the 4,300 Americans who lost their lives," he continued "[w]e went to Iraq to try and free your people and now we're being blamed for sectarian violence," he said. "Don't blame us because that type of bloodlust exists in your society," before storming out of the room.

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