Opposed to What?

Opposed to What?
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The rise of the fundamentalist Sunni terror group ISIS in Iraq over the last couple of weeks has provoked critics of the Iraq war to new heights of smugness. ISIS, of course, is the Taliban-like entity that split from Al-Qaeda in 2013, largely as the result of petty politicking between its leader, self-styled “caliph” and would-be global overlord Abu al-Baghdadi and Osama Bin Laden’s owlish successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. According to the latest charts, ISIS now controls over a dozen Iraq cities, including Mosul, the country’s second-largest, and we keep being warned their march on the capital is imminent.

Whether or not ISIS is actually a viable “government in waiting” remains far from clear — they have little experience holding territory, let alone running it — and sensationalistic media analogies framing the group as the North Vietnamese army descending on Saigon display a lazy misunderstanding of both conflicts. Yet either way, the sheer horror of these would-be caliphaties — the mass-murders of captured soldiers, the nightmarishly medieval social codes, the unapologetically imperial ambitions to rule the entire Middle East within five years  — has made them a powerful symbol for everything wrong with America’s 2003 intervention in the first place.

Such is the supposed vindication of the anti-war left, whose members have been endlessly applauding their own retrospective rightness as of late. Told you so — the war was a disaster. You should have listened to us! 

But really, should we have? Bad decisions have to be viewed in the contexts of the debates in which they were reached, and even in these dark days, it remains an open question whether anyone on the left was actually offering a viable alternative to war in 2003. Or, to put it more specifically, whether anyone on the left was offering a morally coherent, non-war strategy for dealing with the rogue regime of Saddam Hussein that America would have been wiser to pursue.

As someone who politically came of age during the 2003 lead-up to war, I remember well the left’s discomfort in dealing with the Saddam question — a particularly awkward position to be in, given the dangers and brutality of the Saddam regime were very much the central focus of the entire war conversation.

Anti-war liberals desperately wanted to maintain their credibility as the self-proclaimed defenders of human rights and democracy, and understandably so. Yet this meant the most logically contrary anti-war position (and certainly the position that would seem most justifiable in the current context) — that Saddam Hussein, bad as he was, was a force for Iraqi stability and secularism, and thus better than the alternative — was not merely avoided, but actively denounced. Indeed, if anything, a common liberal refrain at the time was to claim it was actually those right-wingers in the White House whose anti-Saddam credentials were most dubious.

Did not some of those former Reaganites have former careers as Saddam boosters during his war with Iran in the 1980s? Did not we have a photograph of Rumsfeld himself shaking the dictator’s hand? Was it not the Republicans who turned a blind eye when Saddam gassed the Kurds in 1988? Didn’t a Republican commerce secretary allow Saddam to import deadly dual-use chemicals for his WMD arsenal? Did not the president’s father make a conscious choice to allow Saddam to remain in power at the end of the first Gulf War — then brag about it in his memoirs?

Beginning every anti-war argument with a sort of perfunctory throat-clearing about Saddam’s obvious wickedness became a pronounced tic of the anti-war set in those days, yet their accompanying lack of strategy for confronting the evil they just acknowledged was large part of the reason they ultimately lost the war argument.

War proponents cried incohrence and hypocrisy and they were not wrong. During the 1990s, after all, many of the same people who would oppose the 2003 invasion were also steadfast opponents of the UN’s post-Gulf War Iraqi sanctions, which they blamed (and not unjustifiably) for tremendous death and suffering. Yet this made the left-wing war position the very definition of an unwinnable paradox: Saddam should neither be removed forcibly, nor sanctioned, nor supported, nor ignored. Perhaps some felt he should have been overthrown internally (though I remember a lot of snide words about how the Bush administration was plotting to swap “one dictator for another” back in the days when the dissident Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi seemed to be a White House darling). Perhaps some felt Saddam had the capacity to democratize himself, a la Emperor Hirohito after World War II. But even counter-proposals as strained as these were not made. The cowardly have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too stance that should be both no war and no Saddam was exactly the sort of moral bankruptcy that drove many principled left-of-center intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens and Michael Ignatieff to abandon the anti-war cause, and sleazy demagogues like George Galloway and Michael Moore to assume larger roles within it.

No, it was only the fringe anti-war right — your Pat Buchanans, your Lew Rockwells, your Robert Novaks — in all their isolationist xenophobia, human rights indifference and America uber alles supremacism, that offered a genuine alternative to the war to unseat Saddam, though it was an alternative so ugly and mean-spirited few bothered to take it seriously.

Hussein was a brutal dictator they conceded, but Iraq was also a preposterous artificial country filled with hateful, warring savages that needed a strongman’s iron grip to keep everyone from lunging at each others’ throats. Islam was a cruel and violent religion thoroughly incompatible with democracy — give Iraqi Muslims the vote and they’ll simply elect fundamentalists to oppress themselves further — witness Hamas in Palestine. American foreign policy should never be about righting all the world’s wrongs, merely upholding whatever state of affairs keeps the United States rich and safe. Saddam Hussein’s murderous energies were reserved for his own people (or at worst his neighbors) and he was perfectly content to sell Americans oil. In fact, as noted, Saddam actually had some history as a man with whom the United States could do business, and he was admirably hostile to the region’s most ferociously anti-American regime — Iran.

Vindicated by recent events or not, it was a fringe opinion for a reason. Such coldly self-serving logic is not consistent with mainstream American morality, particularly the uniquely American notion that theirs is not a global hegemon like the nasty empires of yore, but a kind and empathetic republic whose foreign policy embodies the same neighbourly virtues of trust, sympathy and generosity its people practice in their day-to-day lives, and honours the same democratic principles abroad that are protected by its progressive constitution at home. As American anxieties over everything from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 to the Assad massacre of today have proven, the ethical lens through which we view the justness of American foreign policy continues be of the either-or variety — the United States can either actively alleviate the suffering of others or be somehow complicit in it.

As the country burns, the most profound intellectual legacy of the Iraq war will be the degree to which a quintessentially American conception of geopolitical power as a force to be dictated by emotions of idealism, responsibility, and guilt — held since at least the Second World War — begins to break down, and Americans, especially Americans of the left, are able to accept that the higher goal of “peace” often requires an explicit, callous indifference to the loss of foreign life and foreign freedom in the name of stability.

Running offensively counter, as they do, to deeply-entrenched American values on all sides of the political spectrum, such arguments may not stick.

They certainly didn’t in 2003.



  1. cmdelislefm

    I think this mischaracterises the argument for stability – it wasn't that Iraqis were thought too barbaric to forge a democratic government, it was that removing the strong leader and creating a massive power vacuum was not the way to do it. If the left had no coherant plan for Iraq in 2003, neither did the Bush government – and as the ones proposing drastic action, the onus was on them.
    (Nor was it as if Iraq was uniquely evil – the Bush regime considered it to have at least two peers. Yet his govt never invaded them)
    That said, before the war, Saddam's grip was hardly as firm as Assad's, so I doubt that his Iraq would have come through the Arab Spring any better than Syria.

  2. Devil Child

    The problem's with Iraq right now are mostly related to Maliki, not Saddam. Maliki's the one who cultivated greater relations with Iran; who seized dictatorial powers; who replaced a capable military's top brass with cronies and yes men; who took a shit on democratic measures; and who persecuted the minorities of his nation rather than the majority like Saddam Hussein.

    It's mostly Maliki's fault things are as bad as they are right now, but number two to blame is the Obama administration. They were so concerned with getting out of Iraq at any cost they completely ignored everyone who called for Maliki's removal because they wanted to speed up getting out. It was a careless ploy for temporary support at home, and a black mark on his administration.

  3. Trenacker

    The irony is that Obama's failing was leadership. He gave us, the American electorate, exactly what we said we wanted at the time — and now we are blaming him for the sour stomach that results. Some of that is disingenuous, but some of it warranted. As Harry Truman taught us by sticking to his unpopular policy of Containment, the executive must sometimes chart the less popular course and argue for what is hard rather than what is popular. How, exactly, one does that in an age when we can put a ready finger on the pulse of the popular will (and so discredit such behavior as illegitimate), I don't know. George W. Bush did it in going to Iraq, but even those who backed his play then now consider the entire ordeal a huge waste of blood and treasure.

    I hasten to add that Iraq's bloodletting is hardly anamolous from a historical perspective. What is an "artificial state" except one in which nationalism lags behind juridical sovereignty? It took the West several hundred years of liberal bloodletting to transition from the warlord to the legislature. Given that we have bequeathed an identical model of development to the Third World, why do we expect them to "get it" that much more quickly than we did?

  4. Glen

    There are so many world problems that could be ended by changing borderlines…

    BUT.. so much suffering every time it happens makes be dread it.

  5. Rachel

    "everyone who called for Maliki's removal"

    So having set up an ostensibly democratic state, we should have stepped in to fix the result? Nothing problematic there…

  6. Rachel

    Wow, what a mean-spirited little cartoon.

    Let’s recall other anti-war arguments that you’re conveniently leaving out: that the Bush administration had already shown itself to be dishonest and incompetent, and unconcerned with rebuilding Afghanistan effectively. That the threat of WMDs — which were the primary argument for warmongering in the US, not democratization — had little evidence to back it up, and inspectors were on the ground. That overthrowing a dictator was incoherent — why Saddam, and not some other dictator? There’s plenty of dictators and human rights violations in the world; an idea of Iraq being a uniquely rogue state that needed solving was bullshit. That democratizing a country from a cold start was something the US had never shown an ability to do.

    And you portray the opponents as being condescending, “fractious tribes”, “religious bigotry”, but you ignore the history behind Iraq’s borders and assuming everyone *wants* to create a coherent state within the post-colonial map lines.

    In fact, the opposition was proven correct on every point. The WMDs weren’t there. The administration and occupation were even more dishonest, corrupt, and incompetent than we’d imagined. Our nation-building was half-hearted and by all signs unsuccessful. Our fuckup has killed far more Iraqis than Saddam ever would. And we’ve wasted tons of money on fucking up; for the same money we could have given every Afghan more cash than they’d see in a lifetime.

    I can’t take credit for such prescience myself; I was neutral on the war at the time. I didn’t believe the WMD claims at all, but I was sympathetic to the idea of overthrowing at least this dictator. I did worry that I’d heard Bush had initially left any money for rebuilding Afghanistan out of his post-invasion budget proposal, but I didn’t worry too much.

    I can now say I was wrong, and the more thoroughly anti-war left was correct. While there might be some Platonic ideal war that could have worked well, Bush was completely unsuited to deliver it. Frankly, I don’t think the United States is politically suited to such endeavors; we can’t rebuilding Detroit or New Orleans, how can we be trusted to build another country?

    It was a pointless and unnecessary war. Claiming the left didn’t have a solution to the problem assumes there was a problem that needed to be solved, or that could be solved by having a little war.

  7. CAB

    I agree. This and the previous one. And I don't understand because I really used to like this comic.

  8. Kwyjor

    Heh. Remember http://www.jjmccullough.com/index.php/2003/02/10/… ?

  9. Glen

    Oh no, someone has a view different than your own!

    Confirmation bias much?

  10. Rachel B.


    In 2002, a Pew poll asked people what they think we should do get Saddam Hussein to accept weapons inspections. The choices were A) threaten a military attack B) removing sanctions C) both D) neither. Only 3% chose 'neither.' and among the 18-29 demographic, 4 in 10 chose the second option.

    It could be said that the question is leading and that phrased a different way, more of the anti-war demographic would have selected 'neither.' Regardless, I think his characterization is grounded.

    However, more importantly, the Pew poll from 2002 offers only three choices as justification regarding whether to attack Iraq: 1) helped 9/11 2) is developing weapons of mass destruction 3) is harboring terrorists. Bringing democracy and removing the intrinsic threat of Saddam Hussein are not on the list.

    I think that concerns with regard to the falseness of these three premises override any lack of solution the left had to the problem, because there was no problem anyway. I might even argue that 2 years later, the exposure by journalists of the Oil for Food program would have exposed the flaw in removing sanctions and the consequences would be much less dire than what we have now.

    The author stated in his Twitter feed, "If you backed the Iraq war, you bear culpability in its aftermath. But if you opposed it, at least have the decency to say Saddam was better. I find something incredibly cowardly about people who impossibly claim to be anti-Saddam, anti-war, and pro-human rights, democracy, etc."

    I don't see how opposition to the Iraq War implies being pro-Saddam any more than opposing the Vietnam War implies support for Communism.

  11. Glen

    Iraq was an example of failed UN intevention, had a leader openly housing known terrorists.. Bush said he'd fight nations supporting terrorism. Saddam rewarded terrorists with safe haven. Bush decided to remove him.

    The reasons they state are purely for affiming the publics mind, debating them is idiotic… they exist to distract from the hard questions. Which is 'what right does the US have to interfere?'.

    They don't, no one does. Pretending this isn't about changing ideologies of savages to one more harmonious to capitalism, is setting yourself up to fail and believe in lies.

  12. Jake_Ackers

    I think JJ misses the point. The Right thought Iraq would be a cake walk success. And The Left thought Obama's plan would of been the same. Both sides overestimated the eventual outcome because of the politicial glasses they were wearing.

  13. Glen

    Really? Paul Wolfowitz disagrees.

    And everyone balked when Rumsfeld stated how few troops would be sent to occupy, no intelligent conservative held optimistic views after that.

    Vocal idiots like Ann Coulter and Michael Moore do not represent anything but themselves.

    Use generalizations to simplify ideas, not ignore the diversity of peoples views.

  14. CAB

    Our supposed reason for invading in the first place was not that Sadam was a dick, which everyone seems to forget, but that he had WMD. Those WMD were not there, therefore excuse to invade – gone.
    The intent of the piece seems to imply that we should removed every barbaric strongman on the purpose of humanitarian grounds to "right all the world’s wrongs", but thats not why we were there in the first place. Our rational at the start of the war was WMD. But the government used a type of doublethink. They called the war Operation Iraqi freedom to pretend it was about something else – humanitarian efforts.
    But the most important point is that the piece implies we should have attacked because Sadam was an evil brutal person. There are many evil brutal persons and we are not removing them from power in their various countries. Now I don't know why we went after Sadam specifically, but until we invade (and I hope we never do) Syria, North Korea, and the other fifty to hundred countries that brutalize or terrorize their own populations in some way or form I think this piece has no argument.
    It was written merely to gloss over that Republicans from Reagen on, have made a mess Iraq and that they will continue to stick their finger into mess but will never be able to solve it.

  15. Glen

    Liar. WMD wasn't even brought up until the debate was raging.

    Saddam kicked the inspectors out, that is when the Bush admin pressured the Pentagon to make a case for invasion, truth be damned.

    Saddam had killed more people than any other living dictator, he killed near a million and had sons to tranfer power to. North Korea is worse, but they have enough artillery to level Seoul in minutes… we are powerless to stop them without dooming millions to death.

    I doubt you were even an adult let alone smart enough to understand the situation.

  16. Devon

    Come on Glen, there's no need for hostility, all it does is make you look childish and petty.

  17. CAB


    With the blood for oil one, you've left off that the sign should include all the Iraqis that have died since we got there.

  18. Lance

    This comes off as a strawman argument.

  19. Marginalia

    I politically came of age during that era as well and spent a good while discussing war with americans (because I'm not). I understood the point of view of the pro-war ones, bu I clearly was against, because :
    – It was illegal, regarding the UN rules, and would set a dangerous precedent.
    – The evidence about the WMD was unconvincing.
    – The link with 9/11 didn't exist.
    – War would kill many Iraqis, obviously, possibly more than Saddam, and it did.
    – And most of all, war would not solve anything. You can't implement democracy through an invasion. Of course it would be destabilizing the country. US already had Afghanistan on its hand. It was irresponsible.

    The only valid reason to go to war was to remove Saddam Hussein from power and to, as well, end the sanctions. But it wasn't reason enough. There were many dictators just as bad as Saddam Hussein that nobody cared enough about to think of removing, it's just that Saddam Hussein was more present in US's minds because of the propaganda following the 1991 gulf war (true on many grounds of course but propaganda nonetheless). And above all, war would solve nothing. As someone said already, one could guess it would go against the idea of democracy (because it would be a regime implemented through an invasion, not a regime chosen by the people), and create a power vacuum and chaos.

    Sure, nobody had good, all around right solutions for Iraq, just like no one has a decent solution about Syria currently, because the world is complicated. But the invasion in 2003 clearly wasn't a good idea. And it's not only the american left who knew, it's most of the world.

  20. Jake_Ackers

    1) Well it wasn't illegal per say, the war. Iraq did violate international law.
    2) The WMD was unconvincing I agree.
    3) No 9/11 link. Agreed.
    4) The war wouldn't of killed Iraqis. The occupation did.
    5) Agreed it was managed badly.

    For the record I was against Iraq because I knew it would be mismanaged and the US never voted on it..

    We should of funded rebels or some General in Iraq. The only plausible link for an invasion was the fact we knew Iraq had/ was trying to get nuclear material. And the US feared they would give that material to terrorists. Aka make a dirty bomb.

  21. Devon

    I dunno, the idea of funding rebels seems in poor taste considering the whole Iran-Contra mess

  22. Rachel

    FWIW, what happened wasn't just funding rebels, it was funding rebels in violation of Congressional law, via selling arms to our ostensible enemy, Iran. Double whammy of shit from the Reagan administration.

  23. Rachel

    But hey, maybe he felt grateful to Iran for them holding onto our hostages until after the 1980 election.

  24. Glen

    Anyone claiming there was a Iraq – 9/11 connection made, did not live through that era paying attention.

    Bush even refuted a connection when asked. Liberals lie when they claim the administration overtly made the connection. 9/11 was an escuse to intervene worldwide, just like the war on drugs etc.

  25. Rachel

    They were careful enough to avoid explicitly saying Iraq was connected to 9/11. Instead they mentioned them in proximity enough to create a psychological connection between the two.

  26. Glen

    Because there IS a psychological connection, without 9/11, the conservative non-intervensionist can't exactly escuse his complete switch in policy, so the reason has to be restated over and over.

    Remember, Clinton and the Dems were the ones waving thir arms about Iraq, while Conservatives said there was no threat. Bush was elected because he was the non-warmonger choice. Then they ignored the warning signs, and quickly realized they were wrong.

    People forget Democrats are the 'war' party, and 'Repubs' the isolationist party.

  27. Dryhad

    People "forget" that because Clinton isn't president anymore. That was a fine oversimplification when Clinton was going to war in Yugoslavia and the Republicans were opposing him, but Bush pretty much relegated that to history. There isn't a party of war and a party of peace, or even of isolationism. And the argument that there must be a connection between 9/11 and Iraq because Bush was such a peacenik is begging the question pretty hard.

  28. Monte

    While I don't recall if Bush ever directly tried to tie Saddam to 9/11 I do seem to recall that he did connect Saddam to terrorism. Many thinks it helped create the implication for many american's that the terrorist that the Bush administration claimed Saddam was supporting were in turn tied to 9/11. Basically they took advantage of the fact that many American did not know much about the region and knowing the various factions around it to get them to throw support behind the Iraq war; most americans didn't know the differences between the various terrorist groups and middle eastern countries… but after 9/11 Americans did hate terrorists and Bush connected Bush to terrorism. In effect, many Americans DID believe that we invaded Iraq as a reaction to 9/11.

    A poll by the washington post during the time found that 70% of americans believed that Saddam was somehow connected to the attacks http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/20…. Some other polls at the time found about 50% of Americans believed that Saddam was directly involved. The Idea that Saddam was connected to the 9/11 attacks was a very common belief back then, and it was one of the reasons why many supported the war.

  29. Glen

    Yes, and many Americans think Bush personally orchestrated 9/11. We call them 'truthers' and ignore them.

    If we start counting what morons think, then were doomed.

  30. Monte

    A false comparison. Only a small number of people can be called truthers. What's telling about those that thought saddam was connected to 9/11 is the fact that they made up at least half, if not the MAJORITY of americans. You say that those making the Iraq/9/11 connection did not live through that era but it quite clearly was a VERY commonly held belief back then.

    This isn't just the work of idle conspiracy nuts, this is the work of the Bush administration, the media, and american lack of knowledge on the complexities of the middle east. Bush associated Saddam with terrorism so much that MOST americans were convinced that the reason we went into Iraq was to go after the guy connected to 9/11. If 9/11 never accrued there would have been A LOT less support for the Iraq war. The other factor was ofcourse their lies about WMD's.

    "If we start counting what morons think, then were doomed. "

    Well you are right about that. We counted what the Bush administration thought and look where it got us.

  31. Jake_Ackers

    The American people also thought the Dems in 06 were going to end the war in Iraq after they got elected. Didn't happen. Even though Dems never outright said they would.

  32. Jake_Ackers

    JJ, there is a point to be made. Like that if we left Iraq when Obama said, the Left said Iraq would be okay. And it isn't. Criticize the dichotomy of the Right's delusion with how they thought Iraq was going to be a cake walk success versus the Left and Obama.

    Heck draw Bush with the Mission Accomplished sign and Iraq burning in the background with Obama and his own version of the banner and Iraq now burning in the background.

  33. Glen

    Keep in mind, 'Mission accomplished' sign was for the ship and crew, as its' tour was over.

    And major combat had concluded in general, terrorists and insurgents were never invaded, a nation was.

    Anyone thinking it would be easy, were idiots.

    Ask Paul Wolfowitz how 'well' he thinks the Bush admin followed 'his' plan. aka PNAC.

  34. Jake_Ackers

    Sanctions never work. How can anyone who is pro-free trade or libertarian or anyone who is pro-choice, pro-gun favor sanctions? If banning drugs, abortion, guns, trade doesn't work then what makes sanctions work? Trying to block ones and zeros in some virtual world and a few goods from crossing borders. When goods can't cross borders, troops will.

  35. Devil Child

    This is ridiculous. By that logic, we might as well not even ban murder, theft, or rape.

    Banning things is tremendously effective. Ever been to Saudi Arabia and ordered a beer? Ever been to Singapore, or even Japan, and bought a joint? Ever been to the UK and bought a firearm? Ever been to Cuba and attended a political rally for any party other than the Communists? It's just about impossible to do any of those things in all those said countries.

    Anything can be banned if the laws and national actions to enforce it are serious enough and the people have no alternative but to put up with it. Sure, a small vestige of it usually ends up surviving, but that's an if, and said if ends up small. In Iran, they managed to ban listening to music in public, and it worked.

    "But wait," you may ask, "what about soft drugs in the US?" Like we've ever taken that shit seriously for anyone who isn't black. Drug use is high in the US because we don't really wanna take the measures countries like Saudi Arabia and Singapore took.

  36. Rachel

    Drugs are high value for their size and mass, paid for in cash, relatively easy to smuggle. Sanctions target the things carried in container vessels and paid for with electronic transfers. It's lot easier to block bulk food and machinery and oil than drugs. And a lot more damaging to the civilian economy.

  37. Jake_Ackers

    But when has sanctions worked? Sure when it is universal like what was it South Africa?

    Moreover, it only hurts the civilian economy. That is my point. Has sanctions stopped Cuba? North Korea? Iran? Hamas/Gaza Strip? No.

    Free trade would of opened up North Korea and Iran and Cuba much like China has. All these sanctions have caused is poverty and misery in these countries.

  38. Jake_Ackers

    Apples to oranges. I said sanctions, not banning things. You are talking about within a nation. I am talking about internationally.

    Do you seriously think the US and its allies can stop countries like Iran from getting things? China and Russia will go around it. Sanctions are never universally enforced. They are meant to bring down a gov't or pressure them into doing something. It only hurts civilians not the gov't. Moreover, it only hurts the civilian economy. That is my point. Has sanctions stopped Cuba? North Korea? Iran? Hamas/Gaza Strip? No. Those gov'ts still stand.

    A national gov't has a monopoly on law enforcement/violence. The US and it's Allies do not have a complete control over Iran's borders.

  39. Trenacker

    Cheney's autobiography suggests that the United States went to war with Iraq because of a new wave of thinking among neo-conservatives after September 11 that elevated the threat inherent to illiberal regimes hostile to the United States. The fact that nineteen men did such damage with only some box cutters, at a total cost of $100,000 to themselves? That, above all, was the link that Bush and Cheney drew to Iraq: the idea that a dictator could provide much more abundant resources, much more training, much more official cover. The idea that intent, not just capability, was a serious problem.

    According to that logic, Iraq (along with the rest of the Axis of Evil) jumped several ticks to the head of the line, not least because it seemed the most soluble problem. North Korea was hardly a candidate for military action, even allowing that Bush had to contend with an especially unhelpful South Korean government inclined to blame the United States for Pyongyang's sabre-rattling. Iran was off the table, too. Syria had not yet metastasized. But Saddam still held the popular imagination, and most of the top decision-makers in the White House had already played key roles in the last war, Powell and Cheney in particular.

    Sanctions work when properly enforced and combined with other pressure. South Africa and Rhodesia are the cases in point: the UDI regime's will to fight dried up after the South Africans denied them succor, but the writing was really on the wall when the Portuguese abandoned ship, closing off vital routes of trade. The white government in Pretoria survived almost precisely until the end of the Cold War, whereupon the specter of Communist-sponsored invasion was no longer a viable source of cohesion among the minority electorate, who quickly found they didn't fancy economic privation. The trick was that white minority rule mobilized the whole world against colonialism. One rarely sees such unity over other issues. Certainly the sanctions regime was deteriorating about the time that Bush was calling for action over Iraq. And it is worth pointing out that everyone else was "free riding" on the shared confidence that Washington would foot any bill for backsliding on Hussein's part. Indeed, that was what made the prospect of renewing business with Saddam so enticing: there was no moral hazard since the Americans were sure to hem him in anyway if rising economic forecasts caused him to get too big for his britches.

    Difficult to talk about Iraq, though. To piece through the arguments that people made then and could make now. Much of the anti-war left didn't in fact discard Bush's allegations about WMD until American troops were on the ground; instead, they talked about the inability of Iraq to use that alleged arsenal in a manner that could meaningfully affect American interests. Those who did doubt that Saddam had weapons worth chasing were, it always seemed to me, fighting the preponderance of indicators: a leader with a history of pursuing, and using, WMD; an army disposed to leadership breakdowns of the type that might lead to deployment of those weapons; a state apparatus synonymous with deceit; a clear willingness to try and test our enforcement.

  40. CAB

    But Iraq didn't have WMD, and was not a threat to the United States. Saddam was not sponsoring terrorism against us, and so the neo-cons have no argument.

    By Cheney's logic it is like saying, Iran and North Korea is too tough, but we need to show we can take out some measly dictator somewhere just to show that we can still force backwater countries to behave themselves.

    But by that very argument it shows we can't do anything of true interest on the global scale.

  41. Glen

    Saddam supported terrorism, undeniable fact. Wikipedia agrees.

    Bush said he would go after states that support terrorism.

    You suck at politics if you can't get the simplest facts through your head.

  42. CAB

    Glen, did I insult you personally? Because you are being pretty vicious to me here and other posts today and I don't think I did anything to deserve it. If I did, I'm sorry. I'd be glad to listen to your ideas as long as they are not also written as personal attack pieces.

  43. Rachel

    I think he's just a vicious person.

  44. Glen

    You assume I'm personally insulting you, I have not.

    I didn't say "you suck at politicsI" I said "if you can't." And that is a valid point.

    If you still list the BS revisionist history for the reasons Bush went after Iraq, then you do suck at politics because your facts don't match history.

    One, anyone using the term 'neo-con' is blatantly advertising their naive bias, and is only used as an insult by people obsessed w/ labeling people.

    Two, you ignore the ONLY reason Bush stated for going into Iraq, to prove his global war on terrorism meant nations supporting terrorists get crushed. What was said to 'sell' the war to the public is pointless to discuss, troops were mobilizing before they even had Colin Powell spouting exaggerated 'facts' about Saddam.

    Anyone claiming WMD were the 'reason', is misinformed. The inspectors being kicked out wasn't a reason either, just a convient escuse to downplay the UN's efforts, thearby making American intervention more agreeable to the 'world'.

    You got played my the media, and I'm helping you realize the historical facts.

    The WMD term is utterly meaningless… don't use it. Media is not to be trusted in politics, they have bias.

    If you can't handle my tone, maybe politics isn't worth it to you. Emotion should be checked at the login screen.

    Otherwise we'd have done something about Darfur region if emotion and politics went hand in hand.

  45. Trenacker

    The Bush Administration, which had campaigned on a promise to limit American involved in foreign adventures, underwent a fundamental transformation in foreign policy thinking between September 11 and September 12. On September 11, it was clear that terrorists could inflict catastrophic damage to the American economy for very little money down, if you will. The nineteen conspirators who perpetrated the attacks that morning were working on a budget of $100,000 or so. On September 12, the Bush foreign policy team looked around and, in hindsight, concluded that the world was chock full of sovereign governments, many of them hostile to the United States, that could easily afford to provide other non-state clients with many times that amount in funding, along with support from their official intelligence agencies, access to advanced weapons systems (e.g., man-portable air defense systems), and diplomatic safe havens. The most dangerous were countries known or presumed to have active biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs.

    Iraq didn't have WMD, but was that such a "slam dunk" conclusion in September 2001? They had a history of pursuit. We know now that certain communications between Saddam and his generals were designed to give them the impression that Iraq did possess such weapons. We also know that WMD programs can be very difficult to find. South Africa got most of the way to a fissionable device without our knowledge. In September 2007, the Israelis destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in the Deir ez-Zor. According to Bob Gates's bibliography, the U.S. knew nothing about the facility when it was first brought to our attention, underlining the difficulty of detection.

    It wasn't that Saddam did sponsor terrorism, it was that as a confirmed menace to the region and a leader with much reason to want to harm the United States, he could have done so. If that does not appeal to your sense of justice, just so. I am trying to give you a window on the avowed thinking of our leadership at the time. Both Cheney and Gates have since written about the transition. And trust me when I say that I've suffered a lot of abuse, in fact, for trying to communicate it. A lot of people simply don't want to accept that this was the mindset at the time. I'm not defending it, although I think it partially credible; I'm just saying that it becomes impossible to understand why they chose to do what they did if you don't begin with the trauma of September 11.

    Cheney's logic is more akin to choosing the tractable over the intractable rather than waiting for the worse threats to resolve themselves. The point of invading Iraq wasn't merely to make demonstration, but to (1) trigger a chain reaction in the Middle East, (2) establish a liberal-democratic client state that would export values compatible with those of the West, and (3) eliminate one of the regimes that was thought to pose us a meaningful threat. In their eyes, Iraq had recently risen to qualify as a worse, but not the worst, threat.

  46. Glen

    Bush might have been a great president had 9/11 not occurred… well less awful anyhow. No child left behind and money to SETI probably would still happen… and the growth of religious orgs getting Fed money. Nope, he's just awful.

    Instead we did what Bin Laden/Wahhabists wanted, took out a dictator he didn't like, and US troops to attack and garner support worldwide.

    They even removed the military bases from S.Arabia like Bin Laden demanded.

    I supported the invasion, but strongly disagreed w/ how it was executed and predicted everything that has occurred in general. When Rumsfeld announced how few troops would be sent to occupy, I lost all hope, and everything from there on was predictable.

  47. Jake_Ackers

    The WMD was the overriding reason but not the only reason. There was a list with over 20 reasons for it. Either way, Iraq shouldn't of happened, moreover it was conducted wrong. Saddam was keeping a lid on terrorists within his country. Other moles to whack before Saddam.

    The main reason was that the US knew Saddam was looking for nuclear material or had it. They feared briefcase bombs or dirty bombs made from the material.

  48. Guest

    "an explicit, callous indifference to the loss of foreign life and foreign freedom in the name of stability"
    No, there's something you're missing. The anti-war left were under no illusions, there just was no good way of dealing with Saddam. It's not indifference but, well, pessimism, I guess.

    The left did not believe the invasion force would be seen as liberators, that once the regime was toppled capitulation would be swift, that democracy is something that can be imposed or that the motives of the occupation would be solely the benign service of the Iraqi people.

    And that's before we even get to the WMD question which was the actual reason for the war.

    The contention of the left was never that freedom and lives should be tossed by the wayside for the sake of stability and the pursuit of the moral high ground, it was that war was likely to result in greater loss of life and little or no improvement in terms of freedom, and could make the situation worse in all sorts of ways.

    That perspective seems to have come true and rather than reflect on why that perspective was ignored at the time and what went wrong the cartoon seems in rather poor taste and worse judgement to be using this as an opportunity to denounce the left for being, what, naive, callous? Again? Really? Only this time the mischaracterisation is differently confused. Galloway who was at the time controversial within the left for being too soft on/chummy with Saddam is now by implication rather unjustly credited with speaheading a sort of third camp position. Now, apparently, if we'd all been good little cartoon orthodox anti-imperialists, apparently we wouldn't have lost the support of weighty folks like Iggy.

    Somehow, I don't think that's the lesson.

  49. Glen

    Most were just spouting 'no blood for oil', they had no idea about Iraq then or now. These people think militaries run on unicorns, more 'oil' was lost going there than Iraq has made. Iraqs gasoline is paid for w/ American tax dollars, we didn't 'steal' any oil, even yet.

    Economically, liberating Iraq hurt the oil industry, rising costs do to decreased supply from Iraq raised prices high enough for the oil industries competition to boom.

    American fracking has now killed off oil dependency, OPEC is for the first time ever, not controlling the US. The oil industry is richer, but less powerful now.

    We have a booming 'green' industry now, we needed to be reminded our our 'oil addiction'.

  50. Guest

    You're trying to have your cake and eat it. The hawks expected Iraq to be a stable and compliant supplier in short order and the war to be brief. That they turned out to be wrong doesn't invalidate the hypothesis that war was waged for economic reasons rather than moral ones.

    I don't think anyone much thought the plan was to simply appropriate the oilfields in the name of the US either. The suspicion instead was that an Iraq under the thumb of the US would give some sort of preferential treatment to US interests when deciding what to do with its oil industry.

    As it happened a post-invasion administration guided by US government appointees was economically weak and had to make decisions about how to operate its oil industry and it was not in a strong bargaining position when it came to contract negotiations. Especially when the incumbent management is considered a potential security risk. And while I'm sure the short-term subsidies didn't come with and strings attached… you don't need any conspiracy theories to see how that situation will make certain people a lot of money.

    'No blood for oil' may not be the most precise description but detailed political analysis is hard to do on a placard, and it holds up as a relatively accurate narrative today, even though personally I think there was a lot more going on when it came to reasons to invade.

    Finally, fracking hadn't taken off as a profitable (albeit ecologically alarming) alternative energy source then, in fact had the Iraq war resulted in stable oil supplies, fracking would likely have remained niche. You seem to be arguing that the top brass couldn't have been after the oil because they knew prices would rise and technology would change sufficiently to make fracking viable, which imparts surprising powers of foresight and also doesn't preclude the possibility that it's not energy security they were interested in but promoting the interests of corporate contractors.

  51. UL 1004-3

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  52. Amestria

    Wow, an essay on the lead up to the Iraq War that does not mention the war's official casus belli…weapons of mass destruction. Remember the debate over the state of Iraq's weapons program and whether the Bush administration was right in ignoring the UN inspectors and its allies? Surely you must have *heard* about it.

    You're just rewriting history to cover up the fact that you began your political life by becoming part of a disastrous mistake.

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