By Adam Fleming Petty
By Adam Fleming Petty
The first, offered by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, that the world would be much worse today had Iraqi President Saddam Hussein been left in power. The second is that invading Iraq would have succeeded but for a lack of post-invasion planning, which allowed for the mayhem that followed.
Simon Tilford examines how Barry Eichengreen, Joseph Stiglitz, Laura Tyson, and other Project Syndicate contributors address the anti-trade sentiment roiling advanced economies.
The second argument has some truth to it. But the first argument is surely false – a desperate attempt at reputation management by those responsible for a disastrous decision.
To academic observers and others who reported from Iraq at the time, as I did, Saddam was a prototypical regional bully. Domestically, he was a murderous tyrant; but his primary security concern was Iran, with which he waged, with Western support, a pointless war of nearly ten years that cost a million lives and ended in stalemate.
When Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, he assumed it was purely a regional squabble about oil and territorial claims. He mistakenly believed that the West had given him a green light.
The Kuwait invasion was reversed by Operation Desert Storm and other events that led the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to impose crippling sanctions and no-fly zones across large swaths of Iraq. With these measures in place, Saddam’s Iraq was weakened almost to breaking point.
In his newly diminished state, Saddam continued to obsess over Iran and hint at his own weapons of mass destruction. Iraq, however, had abandoned its nuclear project in 1991, had no biological weapons, and had only limited chemical-weapons capability. At no stage after being expelled from Kuwait did Saddam’s regime pose a serious threat to the region or the West. He was contained, like a jackal in a cage.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, George W. Bush’s administration understandably retaliated, by invading Afghanistan, where the Taliban government hosted Al-Qaeda training camps. By December 2001, the Bush administration was considering attacking Iraq, too.
The biggest obstacle for the Bush administration was the absence of an established connection between Saddam’s regime and Islamic extremism, though an effort was made to concoct a meeting between representatives of the two in Prague. Quite the contrary: Saddam’s regime and militant Islam were mortal enemies.
Still, leading administration figures were determined to wage war on Iraq, so they manufactured a justification: the threat of WMDs. In reality, there was no new Iraqi threat or indication that Iraq was in a position to deploy such weapons. And even when Saddam had used chemical weapons years earlier – against Iranian forces in 1988, at the turning point in the war in the Faw Peninsula, and against Iraqi Kurds in 1991 – the international response had entailed, at most, a no-fly zone, not an invasion. (The 1988 incident drew no response at all.)
Moreover, in the 1991 campaign to liberate Kuwait, Western countries threatened to respond with tactical nuclear weapons if Saddam deployed chemical weapons. He didn’t; and during United Nations inspections before the March 2003 invasion, there was no evidence of any additional WMD program.
The plain purpose of the 2003 invasion was regime change. Indeed, Blair has all but admitted as much. Earlier this year, he explained to Parliament’s foreign affairs committee that he had doubts about Western intervention in Libya for fear of repeating events in Iraq.
The damage from regime change in Iraq has been substantial. According to the Chilcot report, at least 150,000 Iraqis (and possibly four times that number) have been killed in the years since the invasion, and an estimated three million people have been displaced from their homes. The security situation is far worse than under Saddam, and the economy is no better.
Meanwhile, as many had warned at the time, Iran, with its largest historical barrier to expansion gone, now enjoys a significant strategic advantage. Through Shia militias and a sympathetic government in Baghdad, Iran is virtually occupying large parts of Iraq. So, too, is the so-called Islamic State, which is largely composed of Saddam’s former Sunni henchmen. They are locked in battle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s murderous pro-Iranian regime; a few pro-Western fighting groups, supported by American and British air strikes; as well as the Kurds, the Turks, and the Russians. The view that the Syrian civil war had nothing to do with events in Iraq is untenable.
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Posted: July 13, 2016
Photo of George Bush and Tony Blair at NATO summit in Istanbul. Image via Wikimedia
Sir John Chilcot’s report on Great Britain’s role in the Iraq War confirmed what many have long assumed: the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair—and, by extension, the administration of President George W. Bush—deliberately misled us, exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and Iraq in order to justify the 2003 invasion of that country.
This is a travesty of justice. The thousands of American casualties, trillions of dollars of expenditures, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, and the rise of sectarianism, terrorism, Islamist extremism, and the other negative consequences of the invasion have been disastrous.
But even worse, even if Iraq really did have the proscribed “WMDs”, delivery systems, and weapons programs at the time of the invasion, the war would have still been illegal and unnecessary. Here’s why.
At the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq roughly two dozen countries had chemical weapons, biological weapons, or nuclear programs with weapons potential. The mere possession of these programs is not legitimate grounds for invasion. Those who claim that the invasion would have somehow been justifiable if Bush and Blair had been telling the truth about Iraq’s WMDs and related programs are effectively saying the United States somehow has the right to invade dozens of other countries as well.
Defenders of the invasion and occupation claim that Iraq was in violation of UN Security Council resolutions regarding its program. But the United Nations determined—and the United States later acknowledged—they were not.
Furthermore, there was no authorization of force by the UN Security Council. The UN Charter—which, as a signed and ratified international treaty, has the force of “supreme law” according to the U.S. Constitution—declares unequivocally in Articles 41 and 42 that the UN Security Council alone has the power to authorize the use of military force against any nation in noncompliance of its resolutions.
The U.N. Security Council alone had the authority to determine what, if any, action to take regarding current or future Iraqi violations. The final pre-war UN resolution (1441) declared that any alleged violations be brought forward by the inspection teams consisting of experts in the field, not by any member state, and that at such a time the Security Council would “convene immediately in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance.”
Today there are three other countries in violation of UN Security Council resolutions regarding non-conventional weapons (as there were back in 2003). UN Security Council resolution 487 calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the trusteeship of the International Atomic Energy Agency. UN Security Council resolution 1172 calls on India and Pakistan to eliminate their nuclear arsenals and long-range missiles.
Not only have successive U.S. administrations blocked the Security Council from enforcing these resolutions, the United States has provided all three countries with nuclear-capable jet fighters and other military assistance and has subsequently signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with India.
To be clear, not only were charges by American and British officials that Iraq was violating the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty false, neither government expressed concern that Israel, India and Pakistan had never signed on. Furthermore, the NPT requires that the nuclear weapons states at the time of its signing make good-faith efforts to pursue complete nuclear disarmament, which the United States and Great Britain (along with France, Russia, and China) have failed to do. As a result, it is these countries, not Iraq, that were and are in material breach of the NPT.
Even if Iraq had WMDs, the threat of massive retaliation by regional forces—such as nuclear-armed Israel—as well as U.S. forces permanently stationed in the region provided a more than sufficient deterrent to Iraq using the weapons beyond its borders.
While the additional evidence provided by the Chilcot Inquiry of the duplicity by the British and American governments regarding Iraq’s military capabilities certainly merit attention, let’s not pretend that Iraq actually possessing such weapons and weapons programs would have justified the war.
To do so would just open the door for future disastrous military engagements against countries that really might have such capabilities.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.
Updated by Dylan Matthews on July 9, 2016, 10:00 a.m. ET
The best estimates available suggest that more than 250,000 people have died as a result of George W. Bush and Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. A newly released investigative report from the UK government suggests that intelligence officials knew ahead of time that the war would cause massive instability and societal collapse and make the problem of terrorism worse — and that Blair and Bush went ahead with the effort anyway.
The correct response to this situation is to despair at the fact that the US and UK governments created such a horrific human tragedy for no good reason at all. However, partisan grudgefests run deep, and some on the right have argued that the UK’s Chilcot report proves the real dastardly actors are liberals who accused Bush and Blair not just of relying on faulty intelligence suggesting Iraq had WMDs but of lying about the intelligence they did have.
To some extent, this is beside the point; even if they had been totally cautious and careful in characterizing the intelligence, the war still would’ve been a catastrophic mistake that took an immense human toll. But the truth also matters, and the truth is that there were numerous occasions when Bush and his advisers made statements that intelligence agencies knew to be false, both about WMDs and about Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent links to al-Qaeda. The term commonly used for making statements that one knows to be false is “lying.”
Mother Jones’s David Corn has been excellent about chronicling specific examples over the years.
Here are just a few:
In October 2002, Bush said that Saddam Hussein had a “massive stockpile” of biological weapons. But as CIA Director George Tenet noted in early 2004, the CIA had informed policymakers it had “no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons agent or stockpiles at Baghdad’s disposal.” The “massive stockpile” was just literally made up.
In December 2002, Bush declared, “We do not know whether or not [Iraq] has a nuclear weapon.” That was not what the National Intelligence Estimate said. As Tenet would later testify, “We said that Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon and probably would have been unable to make one until 2007 to 2009.” Bush did know whether or not Iraq had a nuclear weapon — and lied and said he didn’t know to hype the threat.
On CNN in September 2002, Condoleezza Rice claimed that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.” This was precisely the opposite of what nuclear experts at the Energy Department were saying; they argue that not only was it very possible the tubes were for nonnuclear purposes but that it was very likely they were too. Even more dire assessments about the tubes from other agencies were exaggerated by administration officials — and in any case, the claim that they’re “only really suited” for nuclear weapons is just false.
On numerous occasions, Dick Cheney cited a report that 9/11 conspirator Mohammed Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer. He said this after the CIA and FBI concluded that this meeting never took place.
More generally on the question of Iraq and al-Qaeda, on September 18, 2001, Rice received a memo summarizing intelligence on the relationship, which concluded there was little evidence of links. Nonetheless Bush continued to claim that Hussein was “a threat because he’s dealing with al-Qaeda” more than a year later.
In August 2002, Dick Cheney declared, “Simply stated, there’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.” But as Corn notes, at that time there was “no confirmed intelligence at this point establishing that Saddam had revived a major WMD operation.” Gen. Anthony Zinni, who had heard the same intelligence and attended Cheney’s speech, would later say in a documentary, “It was a total shock. I couldn’t believe the vice president was saying this, you know? In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD, through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program.”
The Bush administration on numerous occasions exaggerated or outright fabricated conclusions from intelligence in its public statements. Bush really did lie, and people really did die as a result of the war those lies were meant to build a case for. Those are the facts.
The failure of Iraq was not merely a case of well-meaning but incompetent policymakers rushing into what they should’ve known would be a disaster. It’s the story of those policymakers repeatedly misleading the public about why, exactly, the war started.
This piece imagines an Iraq where Saddam Hussein was still in power in 2016. What if President Bush had allowed his red line to be crossed? How would Saddam’s response to the Arab Spring have played into the region’s geopolitics?
Ten years after Saddam’s death in December 2006, the decision to invade Iraq is still a contentious topic in the United States. Hillary Clinton has battled to win the favor of young and leftist Democrats who view her as part of the pro-war establishment that went ahead with a rash and costly military action. Jeb Bush struggled to shake the legacy, and in the end, it may have cost him the nomination. War fatigue is evident among Republicans who view Bush’s decision to invade Iraq as worsening the overall security situation. There is a widespread yearning for the simpler times of the classic Arab dictators.
How different would things have been if Bush had his version of Obama’s “Red Line moment” where he reneged on his threat to invade Iraq and Operation Iraqi Freedom never happened? How would Saddam’s regime have navigated the storm of the Arab Spring? What could’ve happened to the so-called Islamic State (IS) and Iran’s growing power in the region? Fictional depictions of history, such as The Man in the High Castle, occasionally provide insights into what might’ve been different or what could have stayed the same.
The following is a fictional version of events, imagining what might have happened had President Bush not decided to invade Iraq in 2003.
Following the resignation of Vice President Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz from the Administration, President George W. Bush opted to conduct a limited bombing mission (dubbed Operation Desert Fox II) against Saddam’s regime. With a focus on Afghanistan, Iraq falls on the foreign policy backburner.
Following Bush’s presidency, President McCain sets the stage for the Arab Spring. By 2008, new strides in technology, U.S. funded media training, and student exchange programs, led to the creation of a network of young democracy activists (including Iraqis) in the Arab World. President McCain focuses his attention on isolating the Iranian regime.
Despite the many years of hostile relations during Bush’s presidency, the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear program led to low-level bilateral dialogue. Initiated by Saudi Arabia and facilitated through mediation from German and French contacts, the U.S. and United Kingdom, fearing a nuclear Iran, agree to end Operation Southern Watch. Iraq, in turn, surrenders its WMDs, in exchange for cooperation against Iran.
Harith al-Qarawee, Fellow with the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University explained to GRI, “In the 1990s and as a result of the harsh international sanctions that followed the war which inflicted huge damage in the infrastructure, the regime lost a great part of its resources and was adapting internally in order to be able to rule with limited resources. This is why it almost completely gave up on its ‘modernizing policies’, continued liberalizing the economy, and created alternative channels of relating to local communities. The Baath party became less relevant, while a process of re-tribalization was initiated to use traditional networks, based on patronage, in managing local communities.”
The ruling Baath Party leadership is aging. Saddam and his cohorts are almost all octogenarians. Since 2000, Saddam has been preparing for a leadership transition for his second son, Qusay Hussein, who is viewed by some diplomats as reasonable and open to reform. A similar diplomatic overture is being explored with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in Libya.
Years of sanctions crippled Iraq’s economy. The Saddam Dam, one of the government’s grandiose state development projects, continues to teeter on complete disaster. Despite the hardships and high unemployment, the resourceful and innovative people of Iraq found ways to rebuild at the local level.
In the late 1990’s, Saddam had begun experimenting with satellite TV and wireless communications. By the time of McCain’s presidency in 2008, the new window to the outside world was difficult for the Iraqi government to control. Satellite dishes adorn the rooftops of many homes in Baghdad and across Iraq. In 2011 cracks appear in the regime and people began to hold demonstrations organized through online social networks.
As the demonstrations and repeated violent crackdowns continued, the Iraqi military was severely weakened from repeated bombing, sanctions, and isolation. Grumblings within the Republican Guard led to a new round of purges. Seeking new allies, Saddam turns to his fellow Sunnis and his former financial backer from the Iran-Iraq War, Saudi Arabia.
The Baath Party had embarked on a nominal path towards Islamism under the guidance of Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri via the faith campaign. This galvanized and shored up Sunni support from Jordan and the Arab Gulf States. Donations from abroad poured in to the Saddam University for Islamic Studies.
It is not long before the demonstrations turned into a full-fledged repeat of the 1991 and 1999 predominately Shia uprisings.
Iran, after several nuclear tests, remained isolated and agitated. Syria’s separate peace with Israel left Iran searching for allies within Iraq’s rebel movement and an increase in terror abroad. A powerful Lebanese Christian-Sunni political establishment with ties to Saddam faces near daily attacks from a hardline and politically marginalized Shia Hezbollah.
The conflict very quickly took on a sectarian element. With support from the Iranian government and trainers, the Iraqi Badr organization and Dawa Party form sizable militias. The Mehdi Army has held out under the regime’s siege of Saddam City for over a year and the humanitarian situation is dire. Smart phone footage from Abu Ghraib shows mass overcrowding and torture in prisons.
The Kurds manage to stay neutral until regime attacks force them to once again side with Iran. Hezbollah comes in via Iran to aid Iraq’s Shia fighters. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, a Chaldean Catholic, appealed desperately for more Western support to protect Iraq’s beleaguered Christians.
The regime struggled to contain the number of Sunni extremists group operating in the country, facilitated by a vast network of Baath army and intelligence officers with questionable loyalties. Despite the fact that Saddam still provides financial supports to different Palestinian factions, the government’s crackdowns against Ansar al-Islam and the arrest and execution of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi further marginalize the regime’s relations with Sunni Salafists.
Saddam, while using the guise of religion to shore up local support, never trusted the Islamists. Clashes erupt between defecting Republican Guard units and the loyal Fedayeen Saddam paramilitary force. Iraq is soon dealing with a multifaceted civil war.
Realist and idealists will continue to debate the human cost of the war for both the Americans and Iraqis, whether Iraqis were better off under Saddam, and what the region’s geopolitics might have meant for Iran and IS. Iran has increased its influence in the region and Syria was directly impacted by the violence in Iraq. However, it is unclear if Syria could have actually escaped violence or what direction Iran would’ve gone in had Saddam stayed in power.
As for IS, it is difficult to know whether a Sunni extremist organization of its size could’ve formed without the power vacuum that transpired in 2003. Baathist like Abdul Karim Muta’a Kheirallah, Samir al-Khlifawi, and Fadel Ahmad Abdullah al-Hyali from Saddam’s intelligence services may have never met IS leader Al-Baghdadi in Camp Bucca but would’ve instead been instrumental in putting down rebellions instead of fomenting them.
Alternative history shows that one historical decision may have postponed regional upheaval and shifting of alliances, but perhaps only for a while. Dictatorship is not a guarantee of peace and stability. The new era of post-Arab Spring authoritarianism has already begun taking shape. The lessons of Saddam’s long period of brutal rule will continue to demonstrate the impact of his dictatorship on the region.
Terrorism is a form of communication. Through public spectacles of violence, it attempts to convey a message from relatively powerless groups — usually nonstate actors — to more powerful groups — usually states.
Without a doubt, the Islamic State has mastered the art of this form of communication. They’ve beheaded and burned alive captives, thrown homosexuals off the top of buildings, stoned women for being raped, and produced an online magazine that uses stunning high-quality images to convey their propaganda message. The Islamic State has also embraced an apocalyptic narrative that makes it highly attractive to young men looking for adventure and a sense of meaning in life. In fact, their recruitment campaign has been extremely successful, with tens of thousands of foreigners flocking to Iraq and Syria from all around the world.
For such recruits, what could be more exciting than fighting the infidels at the very terminus of world history? What could be more thrilling than clearing the way for Jesus to descend over the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus before he hunts down the Antichrist and slaughters him in the modern-day town of Lod, in Israel? (This is what the Islamic State actually believes.)
In the pursuit of fulfilling what it believes is God’s wish for humanity, the Islamic State has openly fantasized about acquiring a nuclear weapon from Pakistan (which has a history of leaking nuclear secrets), shipping it across the Atlantic, smuggling it through the “porous borders” of South America, and detonating it in a U.S. city. It’s also pondered the possibility of weaponizing the bubonic plague, and even trying to spread Ebola by infecting some of its own members and them putting them on an airplane. While the Islamic State’s initial aim was provincial — to build a caliphate in Iraq and Syria — it later expanded its ambitions with coordinated attacks outside its territories, such as in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015. And there’s evidence that an attack on the American homeland may be one of the Islamic State’s resolutions for the new year. As Vincent Stewart, who directs the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified on Capitol Hill earlier this month, the Islamic State “will probably attempt to conduct additional attacks in Europe, and attempt to direct attacks on the U.S. homeland in 2016.”
So the threat is real and ongoing. As President Obama correctly noted back in 2009, even a single nuclear device exploding somewhere on Earth “would badly destabilize our security, our economies, and our very way of life.” An exactly similar thing could be said about a bioterrorism attack, which the former secretary-general of the U.N. Kofi Annan describes as “the most important, under-addressed threat relating to terrorism.” The stakes are high today — in fact, higher than they’ve been in the past.
But the Islamic State probably isn’t the greatest long-term threat to the Middle East — or to the West. While it’s managed to gain a monopoly of media attention because of its theatrical exhibitionism, many experts believe that there are even more dangerous nonstate actors lurking in the shadows. For example, former director of the CIA David Petraeus has claimed that Shia militia in Iraq threaten the “long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium” of the Middle East more than the Islamic State.
An early militia of this sort was the Mahdi Army. It was formed by the influential Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr for the express purpose of driving out the invading Western forces, and its religious ideology had an important apocalyptic twist to it. As the Islamic scholar David Cook writes, the Mahdi Army probably believed that “the purpose of the US-led invasion was to initiate an apocalyptic war — in this case, to find the Mahdi and to kill him.” The Mahdi is the end-of-days messianic figure of both Sunni and Shia Islam, although his role in each tradition is considerably different.
While this may sound like a pedantic detail of the Mahdi Army’s worldview, I’d argue, quite vigorously, that those of us in the West simply can’t understand what’s going on in the Middle East today without some sense of the eschatological beliefs that animate so many Sunnis and Shi’ites in the region.
The Mahdi Army actively fought the Coalition forces for more than half a decade, but in 2008 it spawned, and was replaced by, another Shia militia revealingly named the Promised Day Brigade. This group has since emerged as “one of the most prominent … Shiite militias operating primarily in and around Sadr City and Baghdad,” which the Islamic State failed to capture because of Shia militia resistance. (Sadr City is a suburb of Baghdad.) The Promised Day Brigade is also known to “receive training, funding and direction from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force,” an elite special forces unit that the U.S. has classified as a terrorist organization since 2007. The fact that the Promised Day Brigade is actively supported by Iran — one of the major regional powers — is why Petraeus has worried that, “Longer term, Iranian-backed Shia militia could emerge as the preeminent power in [Iraq], one that is outside the control of the government and instead answerable to Tehran.”
Written by Steve Byas Tuesday, 20 October 2015 10:25
Among the 30,000 e-mails found on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private server are some startling revelations that have now been leaked — including an e-mail that reveals how former President George W. Bush (right) and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (left) met at Bush’s Crawford ranch near Waco, Texas, to discuss strategy on a military invasion of Iraq.
At the time, Bush and Blair were publicly assuring their respective nations and the world that diplomatic solutions were still being seriously pursued. “We’re not proposing military action,” Blair asserted — a statement that contrasts sharply with other e-mails at the time from former Secretary of State Colin Powell to President Bush.
Powell wrote Bush a few days before the Bush-Blair summit at the ranch, “Blair continues to stand by you and the U.S. as we move forward on the war on terrorism and on Iraq.” The words certainly do not sound like diplomacy: “as we move toward war on … Iraq.”
Powell told Bush that Blair was “convinced on two points: the threat [from Iraq] is real; and success against Saddam will yield more regional success.” On the contrary, the removal of Hussein left a vacuum in the region, which is being filled by the forces of ISIS and the mullahs of Iran.
Still, supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq contend that even if Iraq did not turn out to be an example of “democracy” to the rest of the Middle East, Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction — WMDs — was justification enough for the invasion. It certainly was the major argument proposed by Bush and Blair at the time of their meeting at Crawford and for the next several months leading up to the war.
It was important to President Bush to secure Great Britain as an ally in any military operations in Iraq, and fear of WMDs in the hands of a tyrannical dictator such as Saddam Hussein was the major selling point to obtain the support of the British government and its people. The British Daily Mail, however, has come into possession of secret e-mails held on Hillary Clinton’s private server that indicate the Bush administration used “spies” inside the Labour Party “to help him manipulate British public opinion in favour of the war.”
Former “shadow” Home Secretary David Davis, a Tory, expressed disgust at what he regarded as Blair’s duplicity in the lead-up to the Iraq War. (In the United Kingdom, the party out of power maintains a “shadow Cabinet” of government ministers, as a way of demonstrating to the British public who would hold such positions were they to come to power. The Conservative Party during the Blair years was the main opposition to his Labour Party). “This is one of the most astonishing documents I have ever read,” Davis said. “It proves in explicit terms what many of us believed all along. Tony Blair effectively agreed to act as a front man for American foreign policy in advance any decision by the House of Commons or the British Cabinet.”
Davis accused Blair of subcontracting out British foreign policy to the United States in return for the getting George Bush to pretend Blair “was a player on the world stage to impress voters in the UK.”
Blair was “telling M Ps and voters back home that he was still pursuing a diplomatic solution while Colin Powell was telling President Bush: ‘Don’t worry, George, Tony is signed up for the war come what may — he’ll handle the PR for you, just make him look big in return.”
Davis was particularly angry at the “casualness of it all,” specifically in the lack of thought Bush and Blair gave to “the day after” — meaning the day after Saddam would be toppled. “We saw the catastrophic so-called ‘de-Baathification of Iraq, with the country’s entire civil and military structure dismantled, leading to years of bloodshed and chaos. It has infected surrounding countries to this day and created the vacuum into which the Islamic State has stepped.”
The Powell Memo addressed the “domestic turbulence,” or political opposition that Blair faced in England, noting his “poll numbers have fallen to below 50 percent.”
“He is sharply criticized by the media for being too pro-U.S. in foreign and security policy, to
o arrogant and “presidential” (not a compliment in the British context) and too inattentive on issues of concern to voters.”
Another memo, drafted by the U.S. Embassy in London, concerned the use of Labour “spies” in an attempt to manipulate British public opinion. The memo addressed the concerns of many in Blair’s own Labour Party about any direct military action to oust Saddam Hussein, and what it would take to change their minds. “A majority indicate they would change their minds if they had proof of Iraqi involvement in September 11 or another terrorist atrocity. Some would favor shifting from a policy of containment of Iraq if they had recent (and publicly usable) proof that Iraq is developing
WMD/missiles or that Iraq’s WMD status has changed for the worse.”
The memo concluded that bringing Blair’s party and the British people “onboard” was “the keystone of any coalition we seek to build”: “Labor Peers want evidence that Iraq promotes terror attacks, or that its WMD pose a clear and present threat.”
Many in the Labour Party expressed concern that action against Iraq would “undercut Arab cooperation in the war on terrorism,” that the United States was “looking for another fight,” and that Blair should consult Parliament before any military action was taken. The memo noted that neither Margaret Thatcher nor John Major asked Parliament to vote before taking military action in the Falklands and in Operation Desert Storm.
From these memos, it is quite clear that what Blair needed in the U.K., and Bush had to have in the United States, was something to convince their respective legislative branches and populace that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, that he was aiding terrorists, and that the ouster of Hussein would lead to a more stable Middle East.
As a consequence, the Bush administration pressured the intelligence community of the United States to bring him proof that Iraq possessed WMDs, and that Hussein was aiding terrorists. In language ominously reminiscent of the Kennedy-Johnson years in Vietnam, Bush and his allies in and out of the government began promoting the idea that Iraq could become an example of liberty and democracy in the Middle East.
Following the successful invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein, American forces had difficulty locating any WMDs. Finally, David Kay, a former weapons inspector, concluded that Iraq probably did not have any. Kay admitted that the previous policy of containment, and the 1998 bombing of Iraq had destroyed whatever was left of potential WMD programs.
Throughout 2002, the CIA and other intelligence agencies warned Bush that it was selectively using intelligence to build a case for WMDs. According to the Washington Post of July 23, 2004, “The CIA sent two memos to the White House in October [of 2002] voicing strong doubts about a claim President Bush made three months later in the State of the Union address that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials in Africa.”
The Defense Intelligence Agency expressed the view in 2002 that “there is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has — or will — establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities.”
A February 24, 2003 CIA report told the White House that they had “no direct evidence” that Iraq had succeeded in restoring its biological, chemical, or nuclear programs since UN weapons inspectors had left the country. Efforts to tie the Iraqi dictator in plots to help al-Qaeda were also fruitless. A 2008 Senate Intelligence Committee report, based on five years of investigations, said, “Postwar findings indicate that Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qa’ida and viewed Islamic extremists as threats to his regime, and refused all requests from al-Qa’ida to provide material oroperational support. No postwar information indicates that Saddam ever considered using any terrorist group to attack the United States.”
Of course, the Senate committee is somewhat tainted by partisanship on the part of the Democrats (although two Republicans joined in the majority report), especially considering the report was issued during a presidential election year. Democrats such as John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Jay Rockefeller all supported the Iraq War in 2003. Clinton said, in justifying her support of the war, “Saddam Hussein is a tyrant” who “used chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds and Iranians…. Intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program,” adding that that he had also given “aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.” Kerry, Biden, and Rockefeller all expressed similar views.
But the intelligence reports were produced in an atmosphere of pressure from key figures inside the Bush administration. None was more enthusiastic for the invasion of Iraq than Vice President Dick Cheney. He repeatedly visited CIA headquarters to pressure the agency to support the administration’s claims. Former CIA counterterrorism chief, Vince Cannastaro, claimed the pressure was “unremitting.” According to the Dallas Morning News, Cheney and other hard-liners in the Defense Department insisted that the CIA “paint a dire picture of Saddam’s capabilities and intentions.”
Writing in his recently published book in defense of an interventionist foreign policy (Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America), the former vice president said, “As we now know, Saddam did not have stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.” Despite that admission, Cheney still believes the invasion of Iraq was a good thing. “However, it requires a willing suspension of disbelief and a desire to put politics above safety to assert that the absence of stockpiles meant the absence of a threat to the United States.”
In spite of the problems created in the Middle East as a result of America’s intervention (with the help of the United Kingdom, led then by Tony Blair), Cheney argues in his book, “America’s liberation of Iraq also sent a clear message to others in the region that we would take military action if necessary.”
There is no doubt that such bellicose rhetoric is noted in the Middle East. Whether that is necessarily a good thing for the United States and its citizens is certainly debatable.
“History will be the ultimate judge of our decision to liberate Iraq,” Cheney wrote, asserting “it is important for future decision makers” to know the facts of the 2003 invasion.
On that, we can certainly agree. Tony Blair’s role in support of George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq will be closely scrutinized by historians and pundits. Perhaps it will be studied along with the decision of the Germans to give the Austrians a “blank check” in their confrontation with Russia in 1914, and the decision of the British to give a similar “blank check” to France, all of which led to the great disaster of World War I.
Out of that war we saw the rise of fascism in Italy, the rise of communism in Russia, the rise of national socialism in Germany, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. Likewise, the choice to invade Iraq in 2003 has led to some very unfortunate consequences, as well. Those concerned about the menace of Iran and the rise of ISIS can trace these problems back to push for war in Iraq in 2003.