Notes on the Atrocities
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Friday, March 19, 2004  

Iraq Invasion:
Assessment of the Rationale

A year ago the bombs started flying. It's time for a reassessment. In celebration of this grim anniversary, I'm going to look back at a document I wrote in September, 2002 which argued against an invasion.

On the side of war, Bush and his boys have offered essentially four reasons to invade. They argue that: 1) Saddam Hussein's a bad man, 2) Saddam's repressed his own people, 3) Saddam's got weapons of mass destruction (WMD), 4) Saddam's a terrorist and/or terrorist supporter.

Corollary threats have been mentioned, although they haven't been identified in formal resolutions, either to the UN or congress. They include the sense that Iraq contributes to instability in the Middle East and that any restructuring of that region must begin with Iraq. In his words, "In one place, in one regime, we find all these dangers in their most lethal and aggressive forms exactly the kind of aggressive threat the United Nations was born to confront."

We know a lot more about those claims now. The first two were never in question--but they certainly didn't justify an invasion. The third and fourth have been proven false. This leaves the Bush administration with the corollary benefits, which include regional stability and individual Iraqi freedoms. In commercials and speeches, these seem adequate to rouse American hearts. But we didn't invade Iraq for corollary benefits. We invaded because Bush introduced a new doctrine--pre-emptive invasion. According to this doctrine, Bush reserved for the US the power to defend:

". . .the United States, the American people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders. While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country." (emphasis added)

The burden for invasion was extremely high. The confusion here arises where it always arises--in the confused rationales of the ideologically diverse Bush administration. On the one hand, neocons like Wolfowitz and Cheney approach foreign policy in a radical messianic mode, in which spreading American-style democracy is a moral imperative. Thus the rhetoric about an "axis of evil." On the other hand, cold warriors like Powell and Rumsfeld regarded invasion as an act of realpolitik, the movement of power by force into an important strategic region. For them, the "evil" business was merely justification.

But that confusion shouldn't hide the facts: the doctrine of pre-emption was the justification of this war. And by its own definition, it failed to meet the criteria. Pre-emption is: 1) a doctrine developed to combat terror; and 2) a doctrine that depends on immanent threat, even if the threat isn't immanent enough to qualify under accepted rules of war. But Iraq was not a terrorist state (or in the language of the Pentagon, not an "exporter of terror"), nor was there any threat to the US. Never mind the historic presence of WMD--we didn't invade punitively. We invaded because the White House told us that Saddam was an immanent terrorist threat and that American lives were at stake.

The war was an illegal one.

posted by Jeff | 7:15 AM |
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