Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

We’re Still Dumbing Down the Iraq War

The truth about the danger of Saddam Hussein and why we went into Iraq.

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Jeb Bush tangled himself up recently when he tried to answer a dumb question on the intelligence failures about Iraq’s WMDs and their role in going to war with Saddam Hussein in 2003. I’m not interested in the media’s usual pointless chatter about the incident, or in the other Republican hopefuls who circled to plunge a spear in Jeb like the Greeks jabbing the dead Hector. More troubling is the continuing dumbing down of the context and circumstances that surrounded the decision to go to war.

Start first with the mood of the country in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. After the shock and grief came the recriminations about the government’s failure to “connect the dots” and anticipate an attack that al Qaeda had telegraphed in word and bloody deed for nearly a decade. And that destruction had been wrought by a mere 19 terrorists, who armed only with box cutters had killed 3000 and injured 6000 Americans, and cost the economy $2 trillion, according to one estimate. No one wanted to find out what havoc terrorists armed with WMDs could wreak.

In the case of Iraq, there were many “dots” the connection of which pointed to just such a much greater disaster. Saddam Hussein had a long record of attacking his neighbors and slaughtering his own people, and he had used chemical weapons during the war with Iran and on Iraqi Kurds. He had serially violated 16 U.N. resolutions and the terms of the first Gulf War cease-fire agreement. For most of the 1990s he had evaded his responsibility under those resolutions and agreements to disclose his WMD facilities and stockpiles, until in 1998 he simply kicked the weapons inspectors out of the country. The sanctions regime, which was supposed to change his behavior, had become a farce. Hussein claimed the sanctions had killed a million children, creating a public relations nightmare for the U.S., all the while the corrupt U.N. food-for-oil program was putting billions into Hussein’s pockets. Meanwhile France and Russia were pushing for an end to sanctions so they could get back to doing profitable business with Hussein and oil-rich Iraq. Finally, Hussein had a record of giving support to terrorists, including vicious Palestinian murderer Abu Nidal and bin Laden’s future lieutenant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and making payments to families of Palestinian Arab murderers of Israeli women and children.

Given the picture created by these facts, the U.S. Congress in 1998 passed the Iraq Liberation Law, which stated “that it should be the policy of the United States to seek to remove the Saddam Hussein regime from power in Iraq and to replace it with a democratic regime.” This law was passed because by the end of the decade it was obvious that Hussein was not contained “in the box,” as many claimed. Certainly President Clinton didn’t think so: in February 1998 he said of Hussein, “What if he fails to comply [with the U.N. resolutions], and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made? Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you, he’ll use the arsenal.”

Clinton’s hypothetical in part came to pass––just as, by the way, it is coming to pass again in the case of Iran today. Hussein did not comply with the resolutions, but now the attacks of 9/11 had awakened us to the consequences of inaction and the danger of thinking that diplomacy could solve a decade-long problem. Thus on October 16, 2002, Congress passed with strong bipartisan support the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution, which was followed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, number 17 in the catalogue of U.N. futility. This latest resolution gave Hussein one month to come clean on his WMD programs and stockpiles or face “serious consequences.” Both the U.N. and the U.S. Congress based these actions on the global intelligence community’s consensus that the programs and stockpiles existed. But where the U.N. was, as usual, simply blustering and issuing empty threats, George Bush, backed by the U.S. Congress, meant what he said.

Another point, as the Wall Street Journal notes, missed in the current revisiting of the Iraq war is that the Congressional authorization had several casus belli other than just WMDs: Hussein’s “brutal repression of its civilian population,” its “continuing hostility toward, and willingness to attack, the United States,” its willingness “to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations, including organizations that threaten the lives and safety of United States citizens,” and its numerous breaches of international law and U.N. resolutions were all part of the resolution. Perhaps in peaceful times such aggression could be overlooked, and such threatening resolutions dismissed as political rhetoric. But after 9/11, few people were in the mood to roll the dice that a proven psychopathic murderer with suspected WMD capabilities and a track record of using them could be safely ignored. When the war began in March 2003, 72% of Americans thought it was the right decision.

In the end, of course, large stockpiles were not discovered, though evidence of programs and some munitions were found. Last year, for example, the New York Times reported [2]that from 2004 to 2011, American troops had encountered 5000 “chemical warheads, shells, and aviation bombs.”  Additionally, two tons of low-enriched uranium were removed in 2004, and the head of Saddam’s centrifuge program turned over blueprints and components for centrifuges he had buried in his garden. As the 2004 report [3] of the Iraq Survey Group wrote, “There is an extensive, yet fragmentary and circumstantial, body of evidence suggesting that Saddam pursued a strategy to maintain a capability to return to WMD after sanctions were lifted.”

Yet what critics continually ignore is the fact that the only reason they can rail that Hussein did not possess WMDs––a fact no intelligence agency or years of U.N. inspections had been able to determine–– is because the U.S. military invaded and settled the question. If we hadn’t, it’s not hard to imagine that increasing pressure from our allies and critics to relax the sanctions would have borne fruit, oil revenues would have begun to flow into Hussein’s coffers, and those programs restarted and stockpiles replenished. Moreover, according to the Iraq Survey Group, “Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability––in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks––but he intended to focus on ballistic missiles and tactical chemical warfare capabilities.” If Hussein had succeeded, what would have been the consequences for our security and interests and those of our allies in the region? Inaction has as many risks and unforeseen consequences as action, a lesson we learned grievously on 9/11. The “no WMDs” meme that tripped up Jeb Bush oversimplifies the reality of Hussein’s ambitions and the danger they posed to the U.S.

Bush didn’t help his candidacy with his careless answer to a question more suitable for a high school paper. He should have taken the opportunity to turn the question about Iraq’s current disorder back to where it really belongs: Obama’s strategically idiotic but politically driven decision to pull all our forces from a country which, despite all the earlier missteps and bungling, by the time he took office was stable. Instead he reprised our dishonorable behavior toward South Vietnam and traded our soldiers’ sacrifices and our country’s interests for a mess of partisan political pottage. That’s the real point everyone should be making about Iraq instead of rehashing the Democrats’ stale “no WMDs” talking point.

 


Article printed from FrontPage Magazine: http://www.frontpagemag.com

URL to article: http://www.frontpagemag.com/2015/bruce-thornton/were-still-dumbing-down-the-iraq-war/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.frontpagemag.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/war.jpg

[2] reported: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/10/14/world/middleeast/us-casualties-of-iraq-chemical-weapons.html?_r=0

[3] report: https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/general-reports-1/iraq_wmd_2004

 

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

12 Thoughts on “We’re Still Dumbing Down the Iraq War

  1. Sam Gilman on May 21, 2015 at 9:54 am said:

    I do not disagree with your paper. However, after the first Gulf War, I did some business for several years with an individual who was a moderate Sunni from Lebanon, and who eventually was a member of the Beirut city council. At that time there was criticism of the elder President Bush for not removing Saddam Hussein from power in the first war. This man told me that in the view of moderate Arabs, Bush 41 executed a master stroke by reducing the military power of Iraq, freeing Kuwait, but leaving Saddam in power. His reasoning was that if Saddam was removed, there would be a political vacuum in Iraq, and Iran would eventually take over Iraq given its Shiite majority. He strongly felt that Saddam should someday be prosecuted for his crimes, but that his presence preserved the status quo in the region.

    I was not in favor of the second invasion of Iraq, because the administration was already talking about nation building and turning the country into a democracy. I did not believe that you could do that with the tribal and religious differences between Sunni’s and Shiites. However, once we were there, we needed to maintain a military presence in order to avoid the result that we now have. As Powell said, “Once you break it, you own it.”

    • Bryan Koenig on May 24, 2015 at 7:42 pm said:

      Sam your reasoning is futile, Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria remains in power and his country is in ruins and has create ISIS. Dictators like Saddam Hussein, Assad and many others sooner or later collapse and a vacuum is created. The United States, thanks to George Bush created a successful and stable environment in Iraq, BO and the Democrats “cut and ran” left Iraq when they needed support from the United States the most.

  2. Story has it a cop once disarmed a man who was pointing a pistol at him. Due to previous “training” of this scenario with fellow officers using fake plastic guns, the cop immediately returned the gun to the perp.

    The perp shot the officer dead.

    Progtard newsies and politicians, from all observations, cannot understand this dynamic. Liberty folk do.

  3. Its amusing when some “No war for oil” hack claims there were no WMDs in Iraq, but our military turned up at least 5,000 chemical weapons and dozens of service personnel got sick from them.

    While Saddam’s WMD program was not active in 2003, he did admit before he died that he misled the world because he was afraid Iran would attack him. That is why he says he didn’t cooperate with weapons inspectors in the belief that Iran wouldn’t attack him if he still had WMD. I believe that is only part of the reason, the other is pride.

    Over one million people died during the sanctions thanks to Saddam Hussein’s mischief. Iraq could hardly be better off with him and his sons in power. But we are slaves to anti-Americanism and long for those peaceful days of quiet genocide…

  4. gibbylee on May 21, 2015 at 11:02 am said:

    I saw this article in passing, and found myself compelled to comment in order to relieve a sudden, intense pressure building in my head. To me, the reasons why we would want to militarily occupy the countries on either side of Iran are obvious to anyone who remembers that pictures of George II kissing the Saudi king on the lips. The Iranians brilliantly counter our tactics by occupying the White House, under President Jarrett. I suppose 2016 will see us invading Egypt for the poor, oppressed Muslim Brotherhood. We have a tendency in this country to over-analyze every situation, and overlook the obvious. Washington DC is bought and paid for.

  5. Thanks for giving Jeb Bush the background on Iraq (this & VDH’s essay) & free advice (last paragraph).
    Apparently need to put in more effort to listen to the question and then with thoroughly rehearsed talking points stay on the offensive in the interviews.

  6. zygote314 on May 21, 2015 at 12:30 pm said:

    Hillary voted for the Iraq War, so she better not try channeling Elizabeth Warren on this issue. Taking down Saddam was the right thing to do; it was the bungled peace that deserves the criticism. And isn’t it ironic that we (rightly) went to war 12 years ago over growing concerns that a vicious tin-pot dictator may have stockpiled WMD or at least had ambitions to do so, but our current president is gladly willing to let the Iranians develop their own nukes?

    Obama threw away the peace and stability of Iraq which he inherited and for which so many of our honorable service members gave life and limb to achieve, purely for political posturing. The man truly disgusts me. Given her ineptitude at the State Dept. – the clownish reset stunt with Russia and, of course, her despicable failure in Benghazi and the subsequent cover-up – what would US foreign policy look like if she is elected Commander-in-Chief?

  7. 2BruceThornton 4DumbingThingsDown
    Don’t you grieve too much, Dr. Thornton. Coeval with the ascendancy of the Obama Regime, we have been dumbing down on everything, especially on things and values American. As they sang in Fidelio, “Und das ist nur daran, Das geb’ ich nur daran.” ~> http://www.lvbeethoven.com/Oeuvres_Presentation/Presentation-Fidelio_TheText.html

  8. Mickey Reno on May 21, 2015 at 2:50 pm said:

    Great article,as usual, Mr. Thornton. A couple of thoughts: America’s vote for Obama seems to have given to the Iraq war the flavor of what would have been the state of the American Civil war had George McClellenan won the 1864 election against Abraham Lincoln. Less educated, but smarter Americans back then refused to vote in an anti-war president, fully suspecting that McClellan would have wasted the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of dead soldiers, and thrown away the one opportunity we had to both keep the American union, and eliminate slavery as an institution. It’s ironic that Barack Obama acts in the role of the anti-Lincoln. But he has, and in so doing, has wasted the sacrifice of over 4 thousand American dead, and countless Iraqi dead, for a meaningless cessation of “the Iraq War” which has metastasized like the cancer it is, and will now be carried back to us not only in Iraq, but also in Syria, Libya, Eqypt, Tunesia, Nigeria, Somalia, etc. . Simplistic, idiotic populist anti-war Democrats still don’t think we’re in an existential war. History will judge them harshly.

  9. David Park on May 22, 2015 at 9:25 am said:

    A brilliant move to remind people of the situation of ‘then’ rather than the present doubters’ habit of overcoating history with the useless hindsight of a convoluted ‘now’. What’s the point of the voting public trying to keep an open mind if they are going to allow revisionists to shovel in crap while it’s open?

  10. Dan Kurt on May 25, 2015 at 2:17 pm said:

    Constancio S Asuemn Jr or anyone please give the English Translation for:

    “Und das ist nur daran, Das geb’ ich nur daran.”

    Thanks,

    Dan Kurt

  11. Sam Gilman on May 26, 2015 at 1:42 pm said:

    Bryan,

    George Bush did, in fact, create a reasonably stable Iraq, although the stability was based on the presence of the US military to keep the religious and tribal factions from having a civil war. The problem was that, like Vietnam, the American public no longer supported our effort in Iraq. It went on for too long. In the fall of 1945, after just 3 1/2 years of war, our American leadership was concerned that an invasion of Japan would take a long period of time, and cost a million casualties. They questioned whether the American public would support that. I think that after Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, we should be able to predict that we cannot do any more 10 plus year wars anyplace. VDH writes that the West has been able to defeat the East in war for centuries because we were willing to kill and conquer more ruthlessly than anyone else around. We did that in WWII when we flattened Germany, including the civilian population, and we did that in Japan. We have lost the political will to flatten any enemy, particularly with respect to civilians. You are, in my view, correct in stating that all of these dictatorships will be unstable, but I do not think that we have the capacity to manage these countries into stability as was the case with Germany and Japan.

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