Sunday, April 17, 2005

What the Iraq War was About

Courtesy of Instapundit comes this link to a column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by one Mr. Sylvester Brown Jr. Speaking of the Iraq war, Mr. Brown writes the following:

Sounds to me like Maher's buying into the bait-and-switch rhetoric of the Bush clan. Maybe I would, too, if they were straight shooters. But, before the Iraq invasion, the rallying cry was against an "axis of evil" and "weapons of mass destruction." I don't recall any prewar speeches about delivering democracy to the Middle East.

Unfortunately, Mr. Brown's memory, like that of so many others, has badly failed him. Please note the following quotes from Bush speeches delivered prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom:

When it comes to the common rights and needs of men and women, there is no clash of civilizations. The requirements of freedom apply fully to Africa and Latin America and the entire Islamic world. The peoples of the Islamic nations want and deserve the same freedoms and opportunities as people in every nation. And their governments should listen to their hopes.

Remarks by the President at 2002 Graduation Exercise of the United States Military Academy, June 1, 2002

The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people; they've suffered too long in silent captivity. Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it; the security of all nations requires it. Free societies do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest, and open societies do not threaten the world with mass murder. The United States supports political and economic liberty in a unified Iraq.


If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world. These nations can show by their example that honest government, and respect for women, and the great Islamic tradition of learning can triumph in the Middle East and beyond. And we will show that the promise of the United Nations can be fulfilled in our time.

Remarks by the President in Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 12, 2002

America believes that all people are entitled to hope and human rights, to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. People everywhere prefer freedom to slavery; prosperity to squalor; self-government to the rule of terror and torture. America is a friend to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are met, the first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women and children. The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi'a, Sunnis and others will be lifted. The long captivity of Iraq will end, and an era of new hope will begin.

Iraq is a land rich in culture, resources, and talent. Freed from the weight of oppression, Iraq's people will be able to share in the progress and prosperity of our time. If military action is necessary, the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi people rebuild their economy, and create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq at peace with its neighbors.

Remarks by the President on Iraq, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 7, 2002

The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat. Acting against the danger will also contribute greatly to the long-term safety and stability of our world. The current Iraqi regime has shown the power of tyranny to spread discord and violence in the Middle East. A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America's interests in security, and America's belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq.


The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East. Arab intellectuals have called on Arab governments to address the "freedom gap" so their peoples can fully share in the progress of our times. Leaders in the region speak of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater politics participation, economic openness, and free trade. And from Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward politics reform. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.

President Discusses the Future of Iraq, Washington, DC, February 26, 2003

(emphasis added-DD)

If one closely reads these four speeches, the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Saddam, and countless other official speeches and documents, it becomes clear that the Bush Administration cited numerous rationales for military action in Iraq. In addition to the widely-shared, bipartisan concern over Iraq's WMD programs, other reasons included Saddam's active support for terrorism, especially his regime's decade long relationship with al-Qaeda; Iraq's flouting of 17 UN resolutions in the period since 1991; Saddam's exploitation of the UN Oil-for-Food program to bring in billions of dollars in illegal revenues while ordinary Iraqis suffered; and finally, the Baathist regime's horrific record of atrocities committed against its own people. All in all, it has been estimated that the administration offered no fewer than 23 separate reasons for going to war against Saddam.

It is ironic that many of the same critics who now say the war was only about WMD previously accused the Bush Administration of offering "shifting rationales" for the decision to use force. It's true that the perceived threat of weapons of mass destruction was emphasized more than other arguments, but this was done for what has been described as "bureaucratic reasons".

Yes, the Bush Administration was wrong in believing that Saddam's Iraq possessed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and an active nuclear program. I believed the same things, and I was wrong. However, even here it is important that certain facts are recognized.

For one thing, Iraq never fulfilled its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1441 to provide an "accurate, full, final, and complete disclosure" of its WMD programs. In the words of Dr. David Kay, who has been forthright in acknowledging the overestimation of Saddam's WMD capabilities, "Iraq was in clear and material violation of 1441. They maintained programs and activities, and they certainly had the intentions at a point to resume their program." The Duelfer Report has confirmed that "Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991—after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed." The report makes clear that the Iraqi regime was well on its way to achieving the goal of ending sanctions, thanks to its exploitation of the UN Oil-for-Food program. The budget of Iraq's Military Industrialization Commission went from "$7.8 million in 1996 to $350 million in 2002 to $500 million in 2003." Contrary to what some have argued, the containment of Baathist Iraq was clearly falling apart.

While the administration was wrong about the extent of Saddam's WMD programs, the other main reasons for going to war have been validated. The Iraqi regime's exploitation of the Oil-for-Food program was if anything underestimated. In terms of human rights, mass graves containing thousands of Saddam's victims continue to be discovered. Iraqis have clearly suffered during the last two years, but most are happy to be rid of Saddam and have hope for a better future. While the extent of Iraq-al Qaeda ties remains controversial, captured Iraqi documents prove that Saddam's regime had dealings with Osama bin Laden dating back to 1992. The 9/11 Commission Report has confirmed that the Iraqis offered bin Laden safe haven in 1999, while the Duelfer Report notes that Iraqi Intelligence trained foreign fighters at its facility at Salman Pak. While an operational relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda has not been proven, it is worth noting that an al-Qaeda detainee at Guantanamo has been accused of plotting with an Iraqi operative to attack the US embassy in Pakistan in 1998 with chemical weapons. In addition to al-Qaeda, Saddam's Iraq was a major sponsor of Palestinian terrorism against Israel, and was seeking to increase its ties to other terror groups.

As far as fostering democracy, there is no doubt that the liberation of Iraq has helped spark the nascent process of political change now underway in the Middle East. As Cliff May has noted, the fall of Saddam and Iraq's historic elections were essential in encouraging reformers in Lebanon and elsewhere. In the words of journalist Amir Taheri:

The ease with which Saddam Hussein's tyranny collapsed destroyed the myth of the Arab "zaim" (chief), thus opening the path for pluralist politics. The effects of this historic change are already felt across the Arab world, from Libya to Yemen, and passing by Tunisia and Egypt.

Lebanese intellectual Chibli Mallat made a similar point in an interview published in the March 27, 2005 New York Times:

"Saddam's survival created an atmosphere where people literally got away with murder," Mr. Mallat said. "His removal became a precondition for change in the region."

The various arguments for using force against Saddam are anything but "shifting" or disparate. All of them come back to one key factor: the barbarous, genocidal, totalitalian nature of Baathist Iraq. As President Bush put it in his October 7 2002 speech, it was Saddam's regime that was the real issue:

By its past and present actions, by its technological capabilities, by the merciless nature of its regime, Iraq is unique. As a former chief weapons inspector of the U.N. has said, "The fundamental problem with Iraq remains the nature of the regime, itself. Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction."

In the words of Taheri, "The real WMD in Iraq was the Ba'athist regimes (sic) and its machinery of oppression and war — which was found and dismantled."

Saddam Hussein was the Arab world's contribution to the horrific record of 20th century totalitarianism, its answer to Hitler and Stalin. The dangers he posed went well beyond the threat of weapons of mass destruction. His regime launched two brutal wars of aggression; used chemical weapons against its own people; committed genocide; sponsored terrorism; fostered the spread of anti-Americanism and radical Sunni Islam; defied the will of the United Nations for a dozen years; and posed a serious threat to the security of the Middle East. Baathist Iraq was at the epicenter of the forces of fanaticism and xenophobia, tyranny and terror that produced the jihadist movement and made an event like 9/11 almost inevitable. Removing Saddam's regime, and giving the Iraqi people the opportunity to build a free society, was the only long-term solution.

Liberating Iraq and helping bring pluralism and democracy to that country has proved to be neither easy nor cheap. Many have argued that it has not been worth the cost. It is important to realize, however, that inaction would have carried its own price. The containment of Saddam was collapsing. Had the War on Islamist Terror been confined to a glorified criminal manhunt for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, a resurgent and rearmed Baathist Iraq would have soon emerged as the leading force of anti-American Sunni radicalism. The consequences of letting this happen would have been terrible indeed.


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