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Tuesday, May 11, 2004


Why are we in Iraq?

(See previous two posts before reading this one, dear reader)

To understand the war in Iraq, we need to understand the reason that we invaded Iraq. The average American can be forgiven for being confused on this point, since, on numerous occasions, Bush himself seems sincerely and visibly confused about why he is occupying this Middle Eastern country.

There are three general reasons mentioned, usually, for justifying the invasion of Iraq:
1. Saddam Hussein’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction;
2. The tie between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein;
3. and finally, the human rights abuses of Saddam Hussein.

I think it is easy to show that, even if one concedes that there were WMD, that there were ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, and that Hussein’s regime was massively inhumane, these could not be the reason we invaded Iraq. Or rather, these reasons alone would not pick out Iraq as the one unique nation we would invade in 2003.

1. The WMDs. By the year 2000, there was one nation our intelligence agencies knew a., possessed nuclear weapons, in violation of international treaty; b., sold or exchanged nuclear materials to our avowed enemies; and c., had close and supportive ties to Islamic terrorists. That country was Pakistan.
In contrast, by 2000, Iraq had been effectually divided between a northern section and a main section for seven years. During this time, if Saddam Hussein had possessed WMD and the willingness to use them, as he had during the Iraq war, he would have. He didn’t. Why? Well, it turns out that he didn’t even have WMD, but even at the time, those who thought he did thought, also, that he didn’t want to face the consequences of using WMD.

Our point is that the bias towards punishing countries for illegally possessing WMD

2. The Al Qaeda tie argument is much simpler.
Grant, for a moment, that Cheney is right, and that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda.
Now, we can reason by subtraction here. Given the above supposition, we know that three countries, at least, had ties to Al Qaeda: Iraq, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
The idea of going to war with one of those countries would then seem to depend on the strength of the tie. So do a simple thought experiment: subtract a country, and ask if Usama bin Laden would have been prevented from launching the attack on 9/11 without the aid of that country.
Pakistan is easy. Pakistan’s secret service essentially set up the Taliban. The ISI also supported a network of Islamic warriors throughout Central Asia. Without Pakistan, there would have been no 9/11.
Saudi Arabia is trickier, since less is known. But it is known that the Saudis negotiated to find Osama a place, after the U.S. demanded his expulsion from Sudan. And we also know that large amounts of Saudi money flowed to Al Qaeda. The material symbol of Saudi help is the fact that the majority of the hijackers were Saudi. So there is a case that without S.A., there would have been no 9/11.
Iraq is much simpler. There simply is no record of largescale financial support. There were no training camps in Iraq for Al Qaeda. The ties that Cheney’s crew has publicized, even if true, played a minimal support role in 9/11.
Again, even given the truth, then, of this justification for the war, the bias against Iraq is presupposed by the justification.

3. Human rights. In the build-up to the war, LI said that there were two wars being debated in the press. One was Bush’s war, and the other was Hitchen’s – named for the most ardent advocate of the third justification.

Hitchens war always discretely skipped over a large problem. The war he – and liberal advocates – advocated was to be led by the same people who, in the eighties, allied the U.S. with Saddam Hussein.

Rumsfeld was the most prominent member of this group, but Wolfowitz, too, was a member of the Reagan foreign policy team that came into office with the explicit promise to overturn Jimmy Carter’s human rights foreign policy agenda.

The puzzle, here, is that if the case for the war was really a human rights one, then these people had wonderful conversion stories to tell. Nothing persuades like conversion. Yet, unless I missed it, I have not heard Rumsfeld tell of how he realized that helping a man who was ordering gas attacks on the same day Rumsfeld shook hands with him was a bad and immoral thing. I have never heard Wolfowitz describe his ambassadorship to Indonesia, where he rubbed shoulders with one of the world’s great mass murderers, Suharto, lead to a Damascus experience.
Again, what we have to ask is: why Iraq, then?

I think the clue lies in the people who lead us into this war – Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc. LI thinks that the reason we are in Iraq is that far from changing their mind about the tilt towards Iraq in the 80s (which has gone down memory hole – still, it is startling to read that, in the days after the Washington Post reported the gassing of the Kurds, the Reagan White House response was to ask for a tighter arms embargo on Iran – in other words, to award Saddam Hussein even more), Rumsfeld, et al. wanted to pursue it through other means. In other words, they wanted Iraq to play the role Saddam Hussein gave the country in the 80s – a hostile state poised against Iran and Syria – but with someone American friendly in place of Saddam.

That’s it. It is that simple.
Or, rather, it is that simple in this instance. But the reason for wanting a state that would function like Saddam’s did in the 80s takes us to the larger, Rumsfeldian perspective on the Middle East. Their theory goes something like this.

From 53 to 79, American policy in the Middle East could balance our alliance with Israel with our dependence on Saudi Arabia because there was a stable third term between the two: Iran.

After the Shah fell, our Middle Eastern policy was increasingly skewed by, on the one hand, the pull of Israel’s interests (which the Rumsfeldians interpret as, eventually, the full occupation of Palestine – Eretz Israel as the manifest destiny of that nation) and, on the other hand, our need to pacify the Saudis. The end of communism merely hastened the decay, here, by removing our strongest ideological bond to Saudi Arabia. In order to make the Middle East work, what was needed was a spectrum of states, going from Israel, our closest ally, to Saudi Arabia, which was always going to be a troublesome ally. Iraq, in this scheme, works perfectly. It could serve as a pressure point against Iran, and against Syria. It could, in other words, play the role of reversing the destruction of the old American policy from 53 to 79. Eventually, it could help lead to the re-Pahlavization of Iran. All of which would put such pressure on Saudi Arabia as to neutralize its hostility towards Israel. At last, we would reach equilibrium in the Middle East.

This, we think, states the subtending reason that we went to war with Iraq. If we are right, we have a reason for considering Iran, and our relationship with that country, among those conditions that have to be considered in getting out of Iraq. We will not, in other words, get out of Iraq successfully unless we end the remnant of our dual containment policy with Iran.

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