On March 19th, 2003, after months of preamble, President George W. Bush took the United States of America to war with Iraq once again. This one event is arguably the most controversial in the 21st century to date. There is seldom a middle ground found on this issue amongst Americans. Often times the divide comes down to pure partisanship, which is ironic considering the strong bipartisan and international support America had in the build up to this war.
Nowadays though, if one is right of the political center, chances are good that you supported this war. If one is to the left, often times you are strongly against this war. Indeed, many Americans on the left are vociferous in their condemnation of President Bush to the point of accusing him of an “unjustified war of aggression” and thus “guilty of war crimes”. Such has been my experience with some friends in the blogosphere lately.
To me the topic has always been pretty cut and dry. The evidence prior to the war, and indeed to this current day, spoke of a clear and present danger with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq regime that needed to be eliminated. Others seem to want to ignore the evidence, or claim that the war was predicated on lies and Bush’s overwhelming desire to go into Iraq, especially after the 9/11 attack of al Qaida. Regardless, the topic of this war keeps coming up again and again in discussions I have had lately. With that being the case, I felt it was incumbent upon me to lay out the reasons for this war in a more comprehensive manner.
First, ever since the conclusion of operation Desert Storm in the first Iraq war in 1991, of which I was a part, Saddam Hussein held an all-encompassing grudge against President George H.W. Bush for leading the coalition that pushed Saddam’s troops out of the neighboring Gulf nation of Kuwait. He vowed at that time to avenge this, even if Bush was no longer in office. In April of 1993, Hussein tried to make good on his promise by having his Iraqi Intelligence Service plant a car bomb in Kuwait when the elder Bush returned there. Luckily, the plot was foiled and traced back to Iraqi Intelligence. Then-President Clinton responded to the assassination attempt by launching a strike of 23 tomahawk missiles at the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. Saddam Hussein’s attempted assassination of a former head of state was an act of war just by itself. At the very least, it showed that he was still dangerous, unstable, and willing to go to extreme lengths in striking out at his enemies.
Second, there were various occasions of apparent cooperation between al Qaida and Saddam’s regime. Indeed, al Qaida’s leader in Iraq, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, spent a lot of time in Iraq, particularly throughout 2002 before the second war. As per Carl W. Ford, Jr., MA, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, on Feb. 11, 2003 stated in his remarks before the Senate Select Committee of Intelligence:
"Al-Qaida's presence in Iraq has grown since 9/11, including inside Baghdad. We know that Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi spent considerable time in Baghdad during 2002, and has a network of operatives in northern Iraq in an area under the control of Ansar al-Islam. This network has been working steadily to produce toxic substances which are ready for deployment, based on recent arrests in Europe. Zarqawi controls operations outside Iraq as well, as evidenced by the assassination of USAID representative to Jordan, Lawrence Foley, in which the perpetrators reported they were acting with support from Zarqawi. Though we do not know the specific operational details of Iraq's relationship with al-Qaida yet, we do know that neither Iraq nor al-Qaida would have any compunction about using WMD in terrorist attacks against civilians. Based on the weight of our current information, I believe that al-Qaida operatives inside Iraq have positioned themselves so that they could launch operations with little or no warning."
Indeed, there was also intelligence reports of Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 terrorist hijackers, having met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer in April of 2001. As per Stanislav Gross, the Minister of the Interior of the Czech Republic,
"We can confirm now that during his (Mohammed Atta’s) trip to the Czech Republic, he did have a contact with an officer of the Iraqi intelligence, Mr. Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al Ani."Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz denied that the meeting had taken place; however, he said:
"Even if such an incident had taken place, it doesn't mean anything. Any diplomat in any mission might meet people in a restaurant here or there and talk to them, which is meaningless.”
Third, and perhaps the biggest concern, was the fact that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s) and was also seeking to continue its nuclear weapons program. We know Iraq possessed WMD’s and under multiple UN resolutions, Saddam Hussein’s regime was required to submit to international inspectors to remove and dismantle his WMD’s. He initially made a show of compliance, but became more difficult and uncooperative as time went on in giving U.N. inspectors full and unfettered access to suspected WMD areas.
At the start of the 2003 Iraq war, there were myriads of still unaccounted for WMD’s. Indeed in our multi-month build up to the war, the United States telegraphed its intentions to intercede if Hussein did not comply with U.N. resolutions on the matter. Many intelligence analysts suspected that this prelude provided him with the necessary time to hide and move his WMD’s to Syria and elsewhere.
Opponents of the war point to the fact that no WMD’s were discovered after the coalition invasion of Iraq as proof that George W. Bush fabricated evidence and lied about WMD’s as a casus belli for the war. Indeed, initially no WMD’s were found in Iraq; however, we have since found Saddam Hussein’s stashes that were indeed hidden within Iraq.
To that point, the mission called Operation Avarice, which began in 2005 and continued into 2006, was deemed a non-proliferation success as the American military acquired and destroyed at least 400 Borak rockets of the Iraqi regime. These were one of the internationally condemned chemical weapons that were unaccounted for by United Nations inspections mandated after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.” These weapons contained the chemical nerve agent Sarin.
Then there is the matter of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program. The United States grew concerned when it was reported by British Intelligence that Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire yellow-cake uranium from North African nations prior to the second war. Indeed, President Bush touted this in his State of the Union address in 2003, which detractors claimed was a lie. To this day, however, British Intelligence stands by their statement.
The Butler report on British intelligence affirms:
"We conclude that, on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government’s dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that:
'The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.'
Further, after the war was executed, the United States did indeed find 550 metric tons of yellow cake uranium, which was subsequently removed from Iraq in 2008. Saddam Hussein was indeed trying to acquire materials for his nuclear weapons program.
So, let’s summarize. Saddam Hussein had motive to harm the United States after his crushing defeat in Desert Storm. Indeed he even tried to assassinate President George H.W. Bush for his leadership role in that endeavor. Saddam Hussein also had various pre-war ties and seeming non-aggression pacts with al Qaida in Iraq, including with Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. Further, Hussein had many unaccounted for WMD’s and was being non-cooperative with international inspectors. Continuing, he was still trying to acquire fissile material for his nuclear program. In light of the fact that Saddam Hussein had motive, means of attack with WMD’s, and seemingly a cooperative agreement with known terrorists, a clear and present danger against America and its allies did indeed seem to exist. This dilemma was exacerbated with Saddam’s then intransigence towards internationally mandated WMD inspections.
It is because of this that bi-partisan support of H.J.Resolution 114 (107th) assured its passage with a vote of 296 to 133 in the House on 10/10/2002, which included 81 Democrats supporting the resolution. The Senate similarly passed the resolution with a 77 to 23 vote with the support of 29 Democrats, including various Democratic senate leaders and future Democratic presidential candidates such as Tom Daschle, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton. This resolution, as it was aptly and unambiguously titled, was called the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002".
After that, international support was rallied via the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, which was adopted on November 8th, 2002 by a unanimous vote of 15 to 0. It stated in part that it gave Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" and warned Iraq of "serious consequences" if it did not. Saddam called the world’s bluff and refused to allow unfettered access to inspect for his WMD’s throughout Iraq. Consequently a coalition of 38 countries supplied 25,000 troops to support the United States in enforcing UN resolution 1441, with the full backing of the United States Congress.
One can reasonably argue about the issues involved in keeping the peace after the main combat operations were over as being a failure; however, when President Obama came into office and precipitously and dangerously removed all significant remaining troops from Iraq, the power vacuum that he created without the United States and the international coalition in place to support the fledgling new Iraqi government was filled with disaffected Baathists, Shia insurgents from Iran, and ultimately resulted in the rise of a countering Sunni terrorism and the birth of ISIS.
The follow up to the war was poorly thought out and executed under both George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s administrations and severe criticism can justly be leveled at both accordingly; however, the initial need for the war in preventing the development, proliferation, and use of WMD’s by the Iraqi regime or cooperative al Qaida or similar terrorist regimes was absolutely justified. Discounting the clear evidence of this potential threat, even if it was not immediately imminent, would only put American and ally lives in danger. The second war in Iraq was absolutely justified accordingly.