Why are we in Iraq? What is over there that is worth the blood of a single U.S. citizen? Where are the WMD?
These are questions one hears often these days, in this time of political turmoil surrounding the 2004 Presidential elections. The Democrats would have us believe that the entire operation is due to the self-aggrandizement of a single man – George W. Bush; that there is not a single valid reason for us to be there, that we were lead to war under false pretenses, that the average Iraqi citizen on the street hates our guts and wants us gone, and that in any event, Iraq was better off under Saddam. The implication of course is that if Bush hadn’t usurped the election, Mr. Gore would be in office, and none of this would have happened, including 911, which only occurred due to Mr. Bush’s incompetence, if not outright acquiescence. Mr. Bush, after all, needed a pretext to attack Iraq and secure profits for Haliburton.
Let’s examine the issues briefly, and see if we can perhaps find any truth behind the campaign rhetoric.
Why are we in Iraq? And are there any valid reasons for us to be there?
On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by a group of terrorists linked to the al Qaida organization. The attack was successful, resulting in the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings in New York City, and the deaths of thousands of American citizens. Previously, U.S. reaction to terrorist incidents was to treat the perpetrators as criminals, who, if caught, were put on trial much as any other criminal would be. We had in the past attacked terrorist training sites in Afghanistan with cruise missiles, but we had not made any serious military effort to eradicate any terrorist group, or to hold accountable any country which encouraged or harbored terrorist organizations.
The magnitude of this attack was much greater than anything ever before seen. The attack mechanism, using an airliner filled with passengers as a flying bomb, was unprecedented, and potentially more devastating in the long run than the actual destruction of the buildings themselves; it came very close to bringing the entire U.S. airline industry to its knees.
The response of the President was swift, as one would expect from such an incident, the first time the U.S. had suffered serious attack on her own soil since the War of 1812. The President stated, unequivocally, that we would seek out and hunt down terrorist organizations with “global reach”, and that this included nations who harbor, aid, and abet such organizations. He also stated that this would be a war different from any other the nation had fought in its history. Not only would it take a very long time, perhaps as much as 10-15 years, but it would be fought differently than any other war in the past. Some of it would make the papers, and look very much like a conventional action. Some would be behind the scenes, perhaps never ever becoming public knowledge. It would be fought by military forces, diplomacy, covert action, economic warfare, and any other means deemed necessary. At times it might look as though nothing much was happening. The al Qaida terrorist network, being the prime mover behind the World Trade Center attack, would be the first target, as would the Taliban administration in Afghanistan which harbored them. The Taliban would get the opportunity to turn them over, and if they did not, would face the consequences. It was made clear however, that this was not the only country and terrorist organization we would target.
The Taliban was given the opportunity to turn over bin Laden, the leader of al Qaida, and to expel al Qaida from its borders. It refused. It is now no longer in power in Afghanistan. Although we have not as yet captured or killed bin Laden, we have killed or captured many of his lieutenants, disrupted their base of operations, and rocked their world. Although they are not out of the fight, the power of al Qaida has been greatly diminished.
Other than the fact that we have as yet not captured or killed bin Laden, we don’t hear much from the Democrats concerning Afghanistan, despite the fact that we deposed a brutal regime there that, in addition to harboring terrorists, was guilty of more basic human rights violations than I have room to list. The reforms that have been put into place should make most of the liberal Democrat organizations jump for joy; women’s groups should be particularly pleased. They would be, I am sure, were the president a Democrat. But, since he is a Republican, there is a deafening silence when it comes to these issues.
Iraq, however, is a different kettle of fish. We know why we are in Afghanistan. Why are we in Iraq?
There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding among the Democratic Presidential contender John Kerry, his supporters, the mainstream press, and many Americans concerning our role in Iraq prior to our invasion last year. Much of it is intentional, but some appears to be pure lack of knowledge.
Simply put, Iraq remained unfinished business, a festering wound. We didn’t go into Iraq last year, we have been there since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. And we were going to be there indefinitely into the future.
Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch, the policing of the northern and southern no-fly zones, have been sucking up Air Force resources since they were instituted in 1991. We have spent literally billions of dollars on these two missions, during which time our pilots have been painted with target tracking radar, and shot at with AAA and surface to air missiles. We in turn have carried out retaliatory strikes in response. This continued up until we finally sent ground forces into Iraq last year.
Why were these missions being flown? Because after the Gulf War cease fire, the people of Iraq were encouraged by President George H W Bush to rise up against Saddam, with the implication that if they did so, they would receive American aid. The Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north did so, and were brutally repressed. No American aid was forthcoming. While Saddam was reluctant to use his Air Force against the coalition (where he was certain to lose), he had no such compunctions when it came to his own people. This led to the declaration of the northern and southern “no-fly” zones. If Saddam was going to brutalize his people, he would have to do it on the ground, where we were unwilling to go. The message was simple: we will support you, as long as it doesn’t cost us anything but money.
Now that Saddam is gone and Iraq is free, there is no longer any need for ONW and OSW, and both have been disbanded.
During the Gulf War and post Gulf War period, the United Nations passed a series of resolutions, 17 in all, of which Saddam Hussain complied with exactly zero. Not exactly a sterling track record on his part, nor a highlight of success on the part of the UN. These resolutions threatened Iraq with the use of force if not complied with. No only did Saddam fail to comply, but the UN never followed through. The solution was always “further negotiation”, and passing a new resolution. These “solutions” were always favored by France, Germany, and Russia, three members of the UN Security Council, with veto power over UN actions.
One of the main sticking points was Saddam’s failure to come clean concerning his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. We knew he had them; he used them against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. And we know he had them during the first Gulf War, as strikes by our aircraft against his storage facilities detected their release. During the intervening time, he continually frustrated the efforts of UN inspectors to gain meaningful information concerning the programs, ultimately kicking the inspectors out of Iraq in violation of the UN resolutions.
The UN inspectors believed he had WMD, or at least the capability to rapidly reconstitute the programs. So did our intelligence agencies, as well as the intelligence agencies of Britain, France, Germany, and just about any one else you cared to ask. Defectors from Iraq reported the existence of WMD or WMD programs. Saddam himself claimed to have WMD. President Clinton and members of his administration referred to Iraqi WMD, and the grave threat it posed on multiple occasions.
This became more of an issue after 911 occurred. The administration was concerned that Iraq might pass WMD to a terrorist organization for use against the United States. Iraq was a known supporter of terrorist organizations, particularly those engaged in hostilities against Israel. While there was no love lost between Saddam Hussain and the al Qaida organization, there was concern that other organizations might make use of such weapons against us since we 1) were engaged against al Qaida, and 2) are the main supporters of Israel. Attempts were made once again to get Saddam to allow full and complete weapons inspections, and to renounce his WMD programs. This he would not do.
Go back a moment to Mr. Bush’s speech following 911. "If you harbor terrorists or aid and abet terrorists, and will not renounce such activities, you are an enemy of the United States. You are either with us or against us."
Saddam would not renounce his support for terrorist organizations, which he continued to finance. He did not allow free and complete inspections as required under the UN resolutions, and would not renounce his WMD programs.
It is easy now, after the fact, to ask “where is the WMD?”, and to criticize the administration in that regard. But the fact remains that at the time everyone was in agreement that the WMD was there. Had we not gone into Iraq, the mantra today by the Democrats would be “why haven’t we done anything yet about Iraq”.
In any event, WMD or no WMD, there were, and continue to be, very valid reasons for removing Saddam Hussain from power. The world is a better and safer place with him gone, and I for one am not losing any sleep or shedding any tears at his departure.