Ten Things We’ve Forgotten About the Iraq War
As the Iraq war enters its fifth year, its time to reflect on some of the things that we’ve long since forgotten.
1. Most people have forgotten–or never knew–all the reasons we went to war. — H.J.RES.114 is the Congressional resolution that authorized the President to use force to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. Most Americans–probably including the 136 Congressional Representatives and 16 Senators who co-sponsored the resolution–have never bothered to read the text and instead parrot nonsense about “why we really went to war.” This law, however, provides the complete list of justifications for why we went to war with Iraq. This law establishes the criteria that the American people–through their elected representatives–agreed were sufficient reasons for using force in Iraq. The list includes:
Continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability (false); actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability (true); supporting and harboring terrorist organizations (true); continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population (true); refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq (true); failing to return property wrongfully seized by Iraq from Kuwait (true); demonstrated its capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction against other nations and its own people (true); attempting in 1993 to assassinate former President Bush (true); firing on many thousands of occasions on United States and Coalition Armed Forces (true); harbored members of al-Qaeda (true); continues to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations (true).
Critics of the war who deny or downplay these reasons for going to war are either ignorant or dishonest. They are either unaware of the real reasons provided to the American people by their legislature or do know and are intentionally being deceptive.
2. The plan to overthrow Saddam began during the Clinton Administration — The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-338) was a Congressional statement of policy calling for regime change in Iraq which Bill Clinton signed the bill into law on October 31, 1998. The Act authorized the President to provide assistance (including military assistance that didn’t require the use of U.S. military force) to anti-Saddam groups working to enact a regime change. This act was also cited in H.J.RES.114.
3. It wasn’t just neo-conservatives who made the case for war. — Kenneth Pollack was the Iran-Iraq military analyst for the CIA, and the director of Persian Gulf Affairs and Near East and South Asian Affairs for the National Security Council under Bill Clinton. Pollack had both the experience and credentials to make liberals take notice so when his book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, debuted in 2002 it caused quite a splash among fence-sitters who were unwilling to accept the Republicans case for war. The New York Times claimed that Pollack‘s, ‘argument for invading Iraq is surely the most influential book of this season, has provided intellectual cover for every liberal who finds himself inclining toward war but uneasy about Mr. Bush.” According to The New Yorker, Pollack’s ‘comprehensive and convincing” case for war was presented, ‘More effectively than Dick Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz or any other of the hawkish big thinkers in the Administration…”
4. Saddam released over 100,000 hardened criminals from prison before the war. — At the beginning of the war, 1 out of every 200 Iraqis on the streets was a convicted rapist, robber, or murderer, or other felon. Unleashing such a horde of convicts would naturally have a devastating and detrimental impact on any society. Imagine what life would be like if we emptied every prison in Texas, a state that has approximately the same land area and population as Iraq. How safe do you think it would be to walk the streets of Austin or Dallas? Imagine also that the police forces had been disbanded and was having to be reconstituted. How long do you think it would take before the state was able to reach a level of ‘stability?”
Even if such an event were to occur here in the U.S. during a time of peace, it would be impossible for even the best police forces and military units to capture and reincarcerate all of these criminals within four years. The problem is compounded exponentially by occurring during a time of post-war reconstruction in a country run by a former dictator. Given such circumstances, how can anyone seriously claim that the country should even be close to being stable?
While I don’t think that all of the security issues in Iraq can be blamed on these criminals, a significant amount of the ‘insurgent activity” can reasonably be attributed to old fashioned lawlessness. Yet I can’t recall having heard anyone, either from the Left or from the Right, even mention this as a factor. Such an omission is inexcusable and I find it difficult to take any pundit seriously when they fail to take such realities into account.
5. Every Western government believed that Iraq had WMDs — In a interview with The Atlantic Monthly (Dec. 30, 2003), Kenneth Pollack made clear that Bush is not the only one who believed that Iraq had WMDs:
[The Atlantic] You too were a believer in the idea that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. How did that happen and on what evidence did you come to that conclusion?
My evidence came straight from the intelligence community. …I was certainly not alone in this—this was a consensus among the U.S. government, it was a consensus among the UN inspectors, it was a consensus of American experts outside the U.S. government. In fact, it was a consensus in the entire international community.
It’s important to remember that any intelligence service or country with the ability to monitor Iraq and its weapons programs—Germany, France, Britain, Russia, Israel—was a hundred percent certain that Saddam had these programs. There may have been some debate over just how aggressive they were or how far along they were. The Germans were the most alarmist of all on the subject of a nuclear weapon. They thought the Iraqis might have one in as little as two or three years. Our own intelligence community tended to be a little more conservative; they thought it was more like four to six years away—or five to seven. But no one doubted that Saddam had these weapons.
So there would have been very few, if any, people, who ever posited, even as a hypothetical, that Iraq didn’t have any imminent WMD programs?
I can’t think of anyone who did not believe that the Iraqis had a weapons of mass destruction program. There was simply no one.
6. Economic sanctions helped strengthen Saddam — With sanctions effectively forbidding all other foreign commerce, Iraq’s only legitimate trade was whatever flowed through Saddam’s ministries under the supervision of the UN program.
The UN even expanded the Oil-For-Food-Program (OFFP) to allow Saddam to import not just food and medicine but oil-industry equipment as well. The cap on the amount of oil that Iraq could sell was also raised from $4 billion to $10 billion a year. Saddam thanked the UN for their generosity by throwing the UN weapons inspectors out of Iraq.
In 2000, Saddam found another way to profit from the venture. As Claudia Rosett wrote in an article in Commentary magazine:
It worked like this. Saddam would sell at below-market prices to his hand-picked customers—the Russians and the French were special favorites—and they could then sell the oil to third parties at a fat profit. Part of this profit they would keep, part they would kick back to Saddam as a “surcharge,” paid into bank accounts outside the UN program, in violation of UN sanctions.
This allowed the dictator to pocket billions of dollars that was intended to be used for the relief of the Iraqi people. Emboldened by the UN’s refusal to reign him in, Saddam also began to smuggle out oil through Turkey, Jordan, and Syria. Rather than put a stop to this violation, the UN chose to expand the program even further. In 2002, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan approved “Oil-for-Food Plus” which added ten new sectors to be funded by the program, including “labor and social affairs,” “information,” “justice,” and “sports.” This allowed the UN to aid in financing, as Rossett points out, “the realms of Baathist party patronage, propaganda, censorship, secret police, rape rooms, and mass graves.”
7. Iraq was linked to Al Qaeda — Although you still hear people claim otherwise, Saddam had ties to Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. As the 9/11 commision chair Thomas Kean told reporters, “Were there contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq? Yes. Some of them were shadowy, but they were there.” Vice Chair Lee Hamilton added, “There were connections between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein’s government. We don’t disagree with that. What we have said is that we don’t have any evidence of a cooperative, or a collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein’s government and these al-Qaida operatives with regard to attacks on the United States [italics added]. So it seems to me that the sharp differences that the press has drawn, that the media has drawn, are not that apparent to me.”
8. Democratic politicians like Ted Kennedy predicted that tens of thousands of Americans would die in combat — Kennedy said, ““The 45,000 body bags the Pentagon has sent to the region are all the evidence we need of the high price in lives and blood we will have to pay.” Kennedy also quoted General Joseph Hoar, who warned that when urban warfare broke out in Baghdad, the U.S. could run through “battalions a day at a time” and that the fighting would look like “the last fifteen minutes of ‘Private Ryan.’”
9. The pre-war casualty predictions were extremely inflated. — Before the war, the United Nations predicted that the civilian death toll in Iraq could reach 500,000. Current estimates are between 35,000 -40,000 — including insurgents and other combatents.
10. The U.S. did not attack Iraq “unilaterally.” — The UN has 148 democracies that were available to join the “Coalition of the Willing”:
Albania, Andorra, Angola, Antigua, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bermuda, Bolivia, Bosnia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, The Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Greenland, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Isle of Man, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Niue, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia and Montenegro, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Now look at the list of countries that joined our call to action:
Albania, Andorra, Angola, Antigua, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bermuda, Bolivia, Bosnia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, (Canada), Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, The Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Greenland, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, (Israel), Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Isle of Man, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Niue, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia and Montenegro, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Switzerland, (Taiwan), Tajikistan, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe
What about the other countries? We can’t expect nations who were on Saddam’s payroll to join us so we can exclude France and Russia. Three other countries refused, for various reasons, to get involved militarily (Germany, Egypt, and Bangladesh). Pakistan has its hands full aiding us in Afghanistan and Switzerland is, as always, neutral, so we can scratch those two as well. The countries that don’t have a military (Andorra, Dominica, Kiribati, Mauritius, Panama, Nauru, Tuvalu, Vanuatu) are obviously excluded as are the states that rely on others for their defense (Bermuda, Greenland, Isle of Man, Niue).
Because of the cost to deploy troops to Iraq, we should remove any country with a military budget under $200 million a year (Antigua, Armenia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Cook Islands, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Dominica, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Moldova, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Suriname, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkmenistan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe).
Once we scrub our list we are left with the following:
Argentina, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Ecuador, Finland, Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Serbia and Montenegro, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yemen
These are the remaining democracies–the able but unwilling–that did not join us in overthrowing a brutal dictator.