Throughout 2002, there was talk of war with Iraq. I didn't know why the Bush Administration was rattling its sabres. I didn't know what they were trying to accomplish. But I never could bring myself to believe they would actually invade Iraq. The idea was just too jaw-droppingly stupid, or insane. But then it happened, five years ago yesterday.
There were three simple reasons the war was stupid. The first is that an invasion would be disastrous. The senior Bush Administration understood this after the Persian Gulf War
. An invasion would have harmed our relations with other nations in the Middle East and destabilize the region. There was no plausible leader to replace Saddam. Because Iraq is ethnically and religiously diverse, overthrowing Saddam would have led to factional fighting for power - a civil war. Saddam may be a bad man, but if he's gone there would be a power vacuum in the Middle East, to the advantage of Iran. Everything they said would happen, happened. On top of their analysis, many others were predicting that an invasion would actually "bring more hate, more extremism, and even more terror.
The second reason the war was stupid is that, even if the claims against Saddam were true, he did not pose an "imminent threat" to the U.S. and did nothing to provoke war. Far from greeting us as "liberators," it would only be expected for Iraqi civilians to resist an occupation force coming from a nation that had already inflicted devastating economic sanctions and years of bombing raids
against their country over the previous decade. If I were an Iraqi of any sect, tribe, or faction, I would have assumed that the only reason for the invasion was for the U.S. to steal oil. This is a reasonable assumption to have made, because no other reason made any sense.
And that leads us to the third reason: even if the claims against Saddam were true, they did not, individually or taken together, justify war.
Because they were ideological enemies, the terror connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda was simply not believable until Colin Powell gave his speech to the United Nations
in February, 2003. Even though people of good will may have been persuaded because of Powell's integrity, that still did not indicate that invading Iraq was a strategic necessity in the War on Terror. Even if war is justified, it is almost always not prudent.
Likewise, numerous journalists and UN inspectors doubted whether Saddam had any weapons of mass destruction.
It appeared they were destroyed shortly after the first Gulf War, as per U.N. demands. Powell's speech persuaded many, but even if Saddam had WMD's, invading Iraq was not the best option. Saddam, after all, was already contained by crippling economic sanctions and U.S. enforcement of "no-fly zones." He was frequently uncooperative with the UN, but he's not the first national leader who wanted to avoid total humiliation. Diplomats should understand that other nations are reluctant to expose weaknesses. Saddam also knew that the U.S. has a nuclear deterrent. If a nuclear bomb went of in the U.S. and it was traced back to Iraq, Iraq would be wiped out.
And even if Saddam was developing nukes, so what? Does not a country have a right to defend itself? The reason a nation like Iraq would even want a nuclear weapon is to deter aggression from the United States. To believe he would hand weapons over to terrorists to detonate in the U.S. or Israel is sheer lunacy; Saddam would want to be in control of his arsenal at all times.
Moreover, the fact that a nation resists UN resolutions, does not oblige the U.S. to start a war - particularly if the UN itself is unwilling to authorize war. Israel defies UN resolutions all the time. The UN did not grant the U.S. the authority to be the world's policeman.
The ideological and "visionary" reason to invade was to turn Iraq into a capitalist democracy, a beacon of freedom in the Islamic world. But U.S. credibility is weak here since U.S. helps prop up dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
Lastly, there's the humanitarian justification, that Saddam was a genocidal maniac who had to be overthrown, was also weak. Even if Saddam Hussein killed hundreds of thousands of his own people, sometimes with chemical weapons, he was serving Western interests by holding an artificial nation of three distinct groups together and maintaining stability there. Besides, the bulk of his murderousness was in the late 1980's through the early-90's, with weapons supplied by the U.S. If Saddam was wrong to kill hundreds of thousands to keep his nation together, then perhaps we should examine whether Abraham Lincoln was such a great President after all.
Five years, a million deaths, and a trillion dollars later, it appears at this time that conditions in Iraq might finally be improving somewhat. This is seen as testimony that last year's "surge" of troops helped. To columnist Ivan Eland
, however, it looks like a holding pattern: the Bush Administration is bribing all factions to maintain stability until the end of Bush's Presidency. If Iraq is lost, it will be the next President's fault, not Bush's
In any case, the problem with the surge was not that it wouldn't work on its own terms, it was that it meant we were continuing the occupation instead of pulling out - right at the time a new Demcocratic congress was elected largely because the American people were tired of the war.
The sooner the U.S. gets out of Iraq, the better. Eland recommends partitioning the country, giving the central government authority only in matters of trade and diplomacy with outside nations. But even if that doesn't work, everyone would be better off if the U.S. just left - even if it meant abandoning expensive equipment.
There are two reasons to leave. One is, if America left or threatened to leave quickly, the factions in Iraq would have two options: a civil war or a settlement that avoids civil war. If a civil war, things may get really ugly quickly, but this would eventually happen anyway and our presence would just delay the inevitable. And if they choose a settlement, it has to be determined by them, not us, because any terms we impose would be rejected by at least one of the factions.
The second reason to leave is America's financial health. Ending the war would shrink the deficit by $100-200 billion per year. With the dollar plummeting and prices rising, Iraq has a price tag we can no longer afford. One little-known fact is that in November 2000 Saddam expressed his intention to sell oil in euros
instead of dollars. Some believe this was the real cause of the war, to keep Iraq's oil pegged to dollars. If this was a means of "saving" the dollar, it hasn't worked, as the war itself has helped increase the national debt and cheapen the dollar.
In any case, the objective of deposing Saddam has been achieved. So this won't be a "lost" war like Vietnam. If things get bad after abandoning Iraq, we may look back with regret, but we should also recognize that this is what Iraq's factions chose. The best thing about the Iraq War is it may deter the United states from starting unnecessary wars in the future.