Was The Iraq War Discretionary?
12 Reasons Why It Wasn't
At the end of 1941 we had been attacked by Japan. Hitler, perhaps presuming we would be busy with Japan anyway, declared war on the U.S. Well, that's what we remember now. Actually, the next day after it was reported, the German government denied that it had declared war on the U.S. At the time, the U.S. went to war against Germany because it was believed that Germany had materially supplied Japan in its invasion of the U.S. or actually helped it as described quite well here. So was the war on Germany based on lies?
Lets assume full hindsight. Was the war with Germany discretionary? That depends on what the meaning of "discretionary" is.
Germany was not an "immenent" threat to the U.S. She was at war with her former ally the USSR on her Eastern flank and at war with the British Empire to her West. Thanks to 50 destroyers supplied to Britain at a crucial moment in 1940, the Battle of Britain had failed. And thanks to the discovery of RADAR, the Germany luftwaffe was neutered.
But the US strategists couldn't have been sure of all that at the time, could they? What they were looking at was the possibility that Britain or the USSR would form a truce with Germany essentially making a truce with both a certainty. Western Europe would be dominated by a poisonous collectivist political philosophy of National Socialism. Where that didn't dominate, it's flip-side, Communism, would. National Socialism was already gaining ground in Argentina and Uruguay. And they still believed Germany was providing material support to Japan with whom we were in a non-discretionary war.
Just because a danger isn't imminent doesn't mean taking it on is discretionary.
- Is it especially likely a foreseen danger will persist until it is imminent?
- Will the forseen danger be more difficult to solve in the future?
- Will the danger be more dangerous in the future.
If the answer is Yes to all three (as was true of the Nationalist Socialists), then talk of "imminence" is absurd. It is worse than choosing to only buy house insurance "when a hazard seems immient". It is more like only calling the police when the prowler outside your house has actually gotten through the open window.
With that in mind, was the war in Iraq discretionary? Here are 12 reasons why it was not.
1) 9-11 seriously upped the ante on the threat of terrorism. In the three months afterward, the U.S. lost 1 million jobs. The ultimate effect of 9-11 actually made the almost 3000 lives lost on that day insignificant. It was the equivalence of fighting a war by undermining the money-supply with counterfiet currency. Another similar attack or two could conceivably remake the economic map of the world. U.S. tall buildings could be made impractical by being made a likely target. U.S. cities could be uninhabitable by the threat of a dirty bomb. Anthrax in the mail slow a postal system to a halt.
2) 9-11 exposed the hopelessness of treating terrorists as mere criminals. The terrorists had governments that harbored them safe from U.S. prosecution. They didn't have ulterior motives like bank robbers (who wanted money) or rapists (who wanted to brutalize and get away without being identified). There existed a statistically small but numerically imposing number of people who wanted only to kill us and die. It was inevitable that they would get us unless we "got" them first in some way.
3) Saddam Hussein had invaded two neighboring countries in less than a decade. I'm not going to debate the U.S.'s support for Iraq during the 1980's because 1) Such scenarios are over-blown and 2) they are irrelevant to discussion of whether the 2003 invasion was discretionary.
But every square mile of oil-rich territory Saddam obtained, made him more dangerous by making him better financed to quell dissention in territories he controlled and to attack his neighbors for more oil-rich territory.
4) After being driven from Kuwait in 1991, Saddam was required to verify the destruction of his WMDs and the destruction of the infrastructure and documentation to create them them. His failure to do so - caused the major intelligence agencies of the world (including France) to conclude he retained them.
Actually the invasion of Iraq provided two categories of invaluable knowledge:
- That there were likely no enormous stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq which would otherwise tie down U.S. resouces worrying about them in a post-9-11 world.
- That Saddam was hiding equipment and documentation to restart his WMD programs after the world looked the other way.
5) The world was about to look the other way: the U.N. sanctions were erroding and would likely have been lifted by now.
6) Like certain other Middle Eastern nations such as Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Iraq was harboring known international terrorists.
7) Saddam had employed terrorists against the U.S. in 1993 when he employed a third-party assassin against former President George H.W. Bush.
8) The U.N. sanctions were a being used by Islamic and Arab Nationalist extremists to recruit terrorists such as the ones Saddam was feared to potentially employ.
9) 1-8 placed the U.S. is an untenable situation. Saddam was too dangerous to "let out of the box" and the box itself was making the U.S. and the world increasingly unsafe by radicalizing Muslims and Arabs. And 9-11 had shown, that Saddam would not need a powerful army to strike at the U.S. anyway.
10) The invasion of Iraq relinquished the necessity to keep U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia (which was Usama bin Laden's original causus belli for the World Trade Center attacks).
11) Just as the invasion of Afghanistan helped to make the U.S. Pakistan policy something besides hopeless, the invasion of Iraq re-stirred the pot of democratic momentum in the Western Middle East which had begun to clump since 1991 with tyrannical Iran and Iraq competing for the role of Anti-U.S. and financially supporting worst actors in the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. It is no accident that the fall of Baghdad led to Libya getting serious about disarmament, to the Lebanese felt confidence in standing up to Syrian control of their government, and to Saudi Arabia and Egypt at least making a pretense of democratic reform.
12) Although the successful invasion and remaking of Afghanistan is said to have been "a certainty" now, it wasn't in 2002. The same terrorists now said to be being created by the invasion of Iraq, were then being created by the invasion of Afghanistan (which were previously being created by the Iraqi sanctions that "kept Saddam in a box"). Afghanistan was said to be a potential "quagmire" (a term first used in the New York Times for the Afghanistan invasion on October 31st, 2001).
Winning a pitted war against the Muslim and Arab extremists would have been quite difficult in Afghanistan, especially with other nations in the region supporting them. It had no seaports or international airports for ferrying in supplies. It had no highways connecting the Eastern and Western regions. It's people were already shown to tend to be belligerantly fractous and backward.
Taking the battle to Iraq, weakened the enemies of liberal democracy in the region and moved the battle to a modern, accessible theater where it really is a certainty that we will ultimately win if we don't beat ourselves (as the French did against the Germans in WWII).