Sunday, July 17, 2005

Thoughts about the invasion of Iraq

Last week I participated in an e-mail discussion about the invasion of Iraq with several friends. The views I expressed were:
1. The argument given for invading Iraq - WMD's and operational ties to al Qaeda - was bogus and thus did not justify the war.
2. Invading Iraq was not an effective means of addressing global terrorism
3. Removing Saddam for humanitarian reasons could not serve as legal justification for the war, and that even a utilitarian argument would still not necessarily justify the war.

For holding this general outlook I came out of the discussion being labeled as: an Islamic radical, a terrorist sympathizer, and, although not explicity stated, anti-American. I don't believe that these three accusations could be farther from the truth, but I suspect that my friends' views are representative of a large portion of the American population, so I will here attempt to articulate my position for the sake of clarity and in the hopes of possibly changing a mind or two.

The following response will be long (and if one actually takes the time to read all the provided links - very long), but it is long with the expectation that it is only by considering the evidence in its entirety can a coherent understanding of the invasion be developed. I will confine myself to defending the three points above, and I will take it as a given that the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq can not be justified by international law since such an invasion is a violation of the UN charter. Here goes:

1. This administration failed to justify the invasion

*The Bush administration knowingly oversold inconclusive intelligence while alleging Iraq had reconstituted its arms program. Also, former UN weapon inspector Scott Ritter estimated, in July 2002, that it was a 90-95% certainty that Iraq had dismantled its weapons program. Doubts were stripped from a public version of Iraq intelligence assessment used to justify the invasion and Senate Intelligence Committee member Bob Graham charged that CIA reports he was privy to did not establish a link between al Qaeda and Saddam. On top of this, 25 former CIA officers in March 2003 accused Bush of manipulating intelligence. And in the lead up to the war, experts who doubted the Iraq intelligence were silenced by the White House. What's more, nearly all of the intelligence purporting to link Iraq to al Qaeda has been demonstrated to be bunk.

Additionally, there is signifigant amount of evidence which casts doubt on this administration's motives for waging the war. Consider that: "two years before 9/11, candidate Bush was already talking privately about attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer," former Treasure Secretary Paul O'Neil charged that the Bush administration began planning how to remove Saddam almost immediately upon election (with similar charges being made by Richard Clarke and Bob Woodward), VP Cheney's energy task force mapped out Iraqi oil fields in March of 2001, in 2002 John Bolton "orchestrated" the firing of a UN official who sought to send chemical inspectors to Iraq, the administration has a built-in ideological drive for regime change in Iraq.

Then there is the leaked Downing Street memo and the subsequently leaked documents in which British senior officals and intelligence question both the legality of the Iraq invasion and the intelligence on Iraq. These documents also imply that efforts to justify the invasion through the UN were largely a pretense (a charge which is argued carefully in Peter Singer's President of Good and Evil.) To see this all in perspective here is a timeline with pertinent links.

Lastly, the administration claimed that it was interested in exhausting all possible options before resorting to military action in Iraq, but oddly, UN weapons inspectors were recalled (by Bush) before they were able to complete their mission. Hans Blix, the chief UN weapon inspector, has stated that they were not given a reasonable amount of time to finish their inspections, but that in the time they were there they were unable to find any evidence of a nuclear program, which has led to speculation that the administration recalled the inspectors because their lack of findings was undermining the case for war (with similar reasoning being suspected for the Bolton driven firing of the official seeking to send in chemical inspectors.)

This Reason article could easily go into the next section, but I will include it here since it shows how the American public was misled about the cost of war in Iraq, which I believe further compounds the
disingenuity of the given reasoning for invading.

In October of 2004, Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, reported that the group had found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction produced in Iraq since the UN sanctions of 1991 were imposed and that ultimately, Saddam, despite wishing to reconstitute the program if sanctions were lifted, was "incapable of doing so,"1 thus confirming what many critics of the administration had said from the start, that Iraq did not have wmd's.

What I have here detailed does not exhaust the list of evidences of why the administration argument for invading Iraq was bogus, but I will rest my case on this point for now. For further exploration of the untruths contained in the administration's case for war in Iraq see David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush.

2. Invading Iraq did not make us safer

"Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going to win the war on terrorism." - U.S. Army general, William Odom

It is my opinion that the invasion of Iraq has increased the likelihood that America will be faced with terrorist attack rather than decreased it. By removing Iraq's government and military an unstable enviroment has been created that allows terrorists to function and recruit. Similar to the war on drugs, the war on terror appears to be a self-perpetuating self-fullfilling prophesy, meaning that the war itself is helping to create the conditions that make the war necessary.

Additionally, we are now diverting a significant amount of our resources to fighting in a country that previous to the invasion did not host terrorists, nor did it have weapons of mass destruction.

A list of more specific concerns follows:

- Troops might now be stretched thin, but we will be committed to Iraq for the forseeable future.
- The war has cost 200 billion, with a projected cost of 600 billion (see the Reason article linked above) yet we are operating at a budget deficit of 330 billion with a ten year projected deficit running anywhere from 1-2 trillion (various sources, try Google.)
- Global terrorist activity has increased since the invasion in March 2003.
- North Korea and Iran have proceeded with their arms programs while we were engaged with Iraq who had no such programs.
- al Qaeda is regrouping in Afghanistan and in Pakistan
- Our resources are limited, but the Coast Guard is underfunded
- Our borders are sill unsecure
- The threat that terrorist will come into possession of nuclear material - material such as that which can be found in significant amount in poorly secured facilities in Russia but which could not be found in Iraq - remains.
- 1800 dead American soldiers, 1500o wounded since fighting "ended" in Iraq.
- The occupation of Iraq is generating terrorists.
- Invading Iraq undermined the legitimacy of the UN, thus weakening the only international body able to legally authorize the use of force to settle global dispute, while concomintantly lowering world support for the US. International cooperation is , in my opinion, a vitally essential component of combatting terrorism, yet the US's unilateral approach in Iraq has taken us in the opposite direction. I also feel that the doctrine of pre-emptive aggresion creates an atmosphere where conflict is more likely, as nations might seek to attack in order to avoid being attacked first and since they can not be confident that the UN will be able to resolve the matter through diplomacy.

3, Humanitarian intervention did not justify the war

Saddam was certainly a terrible and ruthless dictator, but the fact remains that at the time of the invasion Saddam had become a tamed dictator who was not actively engaging in the atrocities (e.g. gassing of the Kurds) for which humanitarian intervention would have been rightfully justified.** Although not necessarily germaine to this argument, I can't fail to notice that several key members of this administration served in government at the time Saddam was engaging in said activities and not only were they content to not do anything about them, but they also to some extent helped facilitate them.

A key part of humanitarian intervention should be that there be good reason to believe that the people will be better off after the intervention than before, and at this point it is extremely difficult to honestly look at the situation in Iraq and say that the Iraqi people are better off now than they were before. Good faith alone is not reason enough to justify an invasion when the cost in civilian casualties can be anticipated to be high. And as it has been charged by O'Neil, Woodward, Clarke, Downing Memo, Singer, etc. this administration did not appear to properly consider what the costs to civilian lives might be, nor did it think through what to do after Iraq's military forces were defeated. If the people eventually achieve peace and a functioning democracy it will have been achieved as a lucky consequence, with the US having gambled with the lives of Iraqi citizens. But let's look at the situation now:

- "Iraq is now the global center of suicide terrorism"
About 400 suicide bombings have shaken Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003, and suicide now plays a role in two out of every three insurgent bombings. In May, an estimated 90 suicide bombings were carried out in the war-torn country -- nearly as many as the Israeli government has documented in the conflict with Palestinians since 1993
- Iraqi civilian deaths ranging from 20,000 to 39,000, with the Lancet study (done last year) putting the upper estimate at 100,000 deaths. I am unable to find a count of wounded Iraqi civilians, but one can speculate as to how high these numbers might go.
- Reports are starting to surface that Iraqi security forces are torturing detained civilians.
- Iraq is now close to civil war
- A signifcant portion of Iraq's cultural history has been lost or destroyed
- The region is being illegally polluted with depleted uranium. Though there is no conclusive medical evidence, the people of Iraq believe it to be responsible for the sharp rise of birth defects and cancer seen since the the first Gulf War. Afghanistan and the Balkans (regions where DU was used) have also seen a rise in birth defects.
- Regions of Iraq go without electricity and water due to lack of infrastructure. This blog entry from a resident of Baghdad gives an idea of what daily life is like there, while it also expresses discontent over the matter of the occupation.
Detentions and assassinations, along with intermittent electricity, have also been contributing to sleepless nights. We’re hearing about raids in many areas in the Karkh half of Baghdad in particular. On the television the talk about ‘terrorists’ being arrested, but there are dozens of people being rounded up for no particular reason. Almost every Iraqi family can give the name of a friend or relative who is in one of the many American prisons for no particular reason. They aren’t allowed to see lawyers or have visitors and stories of torture have become commonplace. Both Sunni and Shia clerics who are in opposition to the occupation are particularly prone to attacks by “Liwa il Theeb” or the special Iraqi forces Wolf Brigade. They are often tortured during interrogation and some of them are found dead.

*Much of the structure of this section was modeled after this Daily Kos blog entry.
**A common objection to this point is to cite Saddam's past atrocities as reason enough for his removal. Human Rights Watch answers this objection:
But if Saddam Hussein committed mass atrocities in the past, wasn’t his overthrow justified to prevent his resumption of such atrocities in the future? No. Human Rights Watch accepts that military intervention may be necessary not only to stop ongoing slaughter but also to prevent future slaughter, but the future slaughter must be imminent. To justify the extraordinary remedy of military force for preventive humanitarian purposes, there must be evidence that large-scale slaughter is in preparation and about to begin unless militarily stopped. But no one seriously claimed before the war that the Saddam Hussein government was planning imminent mass killing, and no evidence has emerged that it was. There were claims that Saddam Hussein, with a history of gassing Iranian soldiers and Iraqi Kurds, was planning to deliver weapons of mass destruction through terrorist networks, but these allegations were entirely speculative; no substantial evidence has yet emerged. There were also fears that the Iraqi government might respond to an invasion with the use of chemical or biological weapons, perhaps even against its own people, but no one seriously suggested such use as an imminent possibility in the absence of an invasion
1. Wikipedia entry, "Weapons of Mass Destruction," 2003 Invasion of Iraq

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