Just as the arguments for invading Iraq in the first place were based on easily demonstrable lies and deceptions, so are the justifications given for continuing the occupation premised upon patent falsehoods.
In examining he question of whether U.S. forces should remain in Iraq, it’s important to look at not only the reasons given for why they must stay, but also at the justification given for the war in the first place.
The United States invaded Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein posed a grave threat to our national security because he possessed weapons of mass destruction and had a relationship with terrorist groups, including al Qaeda.
This pretext was never credible. Contrary to popular myth, there was no “intelligence failure” leading up to the war. The simple fact of the matter is that there never was any credible evidence that Iraq still possessed WMD, or that Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship with al Qaeda. Indeed, the known facts available at the time contradicted these assertions.
Iraq, it was said, possessed chemical and biological weapons and was on its way towards obtaining a nuclear weapon. While President Bush and others in his administration touted the “threat” from Iraq, conjuring up images of “a mushroom cloud” that could be “the smoking gun” that Saddam possessed a nuclear bomb, the fact – perfectly well known to anyone with any knowledge of the subject, such as those in the intelligence community and the White House – was that Iraq’s nuclear program had been completely dismantled by the International Atomic Energy Agency by as early as 1992. By 1998, the IAEA reported its confidence that in its efforts it had not missed any significant aspect of the program.
But administration officials said that Saddam had reconstituted the nuclear program since U.N. and IAEA inspectors left in 1998. The evidence for this, they said, was that Iraq had tried to obtain yellowcake uranium from Africa. There were several problems with this claim. First, Iraq already had 500 tons of yellowcake. But this was under lock and seal of the IAEA, so the argument was that Saddam wanted to obtain more that could be employed in a nuclear program without the IAEA knowing about it. That was credible, of course, except for the fact that obtaining yellowcake would require Iraq to enrich the uranium to weapons grade itself, and Iraq simply had no capability of doing so.
This hole in their argument precipitated the claim that Iraq had attempted to obtain aluminum tubes for use in uranium enrichment centrifuges. The tubes, we were told, were suitable for this task, and this task only.
The only problem with that claim was that it was an absolute falsehood. Not only did the top experts on centrifuges in the intelligence community conclude that the tubes exactly matched the specifications for the conventional rocket program that Iraq said the tubes were for, but also that the tubes couldn’t be used for centrifuges without significant alteration – and even then it was doubtful. Moreover, the experts at the IAEA arrived at the same conclusion. Though Secretary of State Colin Powell touted the tubes in his presentation to the United Nations outlining the “threat” Iraq posed, his own intelligence agency agreed with the judgment of the top nuclear experts at the Department of Energy that the tubes were not intended for use in a nuclear program.
Of course, the only evidence that was ever produced to support the yellowcake claim were a set of documents that were quickly recognized to be forgeries by IAEA officials as soon as the U.S. finally handed over copies to the agency.
This level of deception was the modus operandi of the Bush administration in building its case for war. Whichever aspect of the case for war one looks at, there is but one inescapable fact: there never was any credible evidence to support their claims.
The corollary is that if the U.S. didn’t invade Iraq because of WMD or terrorism, then the war was executed for some other reason.
One needn’t look far for alternative explanations. The planners of the war had been quite explicit in their own statements and writings about the reasons for regime change for over a decade prior to the invasion.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, for instance, oversaw a draft document for the Pentagon called “Defense Planning Guidance”. This document declared that the “first objective” of U.S. “defense strategy” should be “to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival”. The U.S. “must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” It defined the principle U.S. interest in the region as being “access to Persian Gulf oil” and outlined a plan for global hegemony to protect this interest.
The Project for a New American Century, the neo-conservative think tank, published a report in 2000 outlining the case for maintaining U.S. preeminence and global hegemony through a buildup of the military; to “extend the current Pax Americana”. The document stated that “Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
There are, of course, numerous other examples in which the reasons for the policy of “regime change” in Iraq are stated explicitly by policy makers in the Bush administration. One hardly need speculate at the true reasons for the war. Its planners are quite candid about the matter in documents not intended for broad public consumption.
International law is not ambiguous about nations engaging in military actions against other nations. There are two instances when the use of force is deemed legitimate: cases of self-defense against armed aggression or cases where the use of such force is authorized by the United Nations Security Council. Anything else is armed aggression itself.
The U.S. war on Iraq is a war of aggression under international law, “the supreme international law” as defined at Nuremberg, “differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
But let us put that fact aside and look at the arguments given for why, whatever the nature of the initial invasion, U.S. forces must continue to remain in Iraq. There are many, after all, who opposed the initial invasion and yet still agree that, at this point, the U.S. must continue the occupation.
The principle justification for the ongoing U.S. presence is that if U.S. forces leave, mass chaos will result: sectarian violence, ethnic cleansing, civil war, even – as Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has warned, “genocide”.
This is the reason most who opposed the invasion on moral grounds believe that, despite the illegality and immorality of the invasion, it would be perhaps equally immoral to leave if it would result in even further mass bloodshed. This is an understandable position, but one based on a complete misunderstanding of the facts on the ground in Iraq.
Let’s be clear: the bloodshed that has plagued Iraq, including sectarian violence, is a direct result of the U.S. invasion and continued presence. It’s a simple matter of logic to recognize that if you remove the cause of the vast majority of the violence that is ongoing, then the violence will be very largely mitigated.
The picture presented by politicians and pundits in the media is one of an Iraq composed of people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds who would tear each other apart if it weren’t for U.S. forces maintaining order. The first count is perfectly well true. As for the latter, ask yourself a question: Is the U.S. military presence in Iraq a stabilizing influence on the country?
It’s a preposterous assertion. The preponderance of violence in Iraq has been directed against the foreign occupation and against Iraqis seen as traitorously cooperating with or facilitating the ongoing U.S. presence.
It’s become a matter of conventional wisdom in Washington and in our media that the troop “surge” has resulted in the decreasing level of violence we see in Iraq today. It’s absolutely true that the level of violence has come down, but this has not been because of the increased troop presence, but in spite of it.
The violence has abated in Iraq for a number of reasons. Sunni militias involved in the resistance to the occupation began getting fed up with terrorism and sectarian violence caused by others, such as the group al Qaeda in Iraq, and began turning against Iraqis and foreign jihadists who engaged in car bombings, suicide bombings, targeting mosques and civilians, and other acts of terrorism that only served to divide Iraqis against each other.
To its credit, the military leadership took notice of this increasing trend and used it to its advantage. It began supporting Sunni groups that became known as “Awakening Councils”, and this has led to a significant decrease in the violence. But it’s important to note that this movement began prior to the U.S. support and would have continued even had the U.S. military not chosen to provide assistance.
Another reason for the lessening violence was the withdraw of forces from the south. After British troops left the city of Basra, violence abated by as much as 90%, according to the commander of British forces himself. Gen. David Petraeus also testified to this fact before the Senate. The British commander explained the decision to leave with simple logic: If 90% of the violence is directed against British forces, then the bloodshed would be largely mitigated if they were to simply leave.
And that’s precisely what occurred. And the British feared that there might be a spike in inter-militia violence as a result of the withdrawal, but, as the British commander noted, this happily did not occur. One of the reasons he gave for why it did not was that forces under the Shiite cleric Muqtada el-Sadr were in control of the city.
Sadr is a figure with enormous influence over the Shiite population of Iraq. A third reason for the reduction in violence was his decision last year to stand down his Mahdi Army and other militias under his sway.
Similarly, when the Iraqi government under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki launched an offensive into Basra earlier this year, resulting in a spike in violence not only in Basra but across Iraq as militias protested the government’s actions, the crisis came to an end after Sadr once more ordered his followers to stand down, a move that was welcomed by the Iraqi government as the situation defused.
There is another strong argument favoring withdrawal that is all too often overlooked. The war in Iraq is being fought in the name of “democracy”. If that is so, then the view of the people of Iraq should be first and foremost be taken into account. Polls have consistently shown that Iraqis view the war as imperialistic and want the occupation to end. The Washington Post reported last December, for instance, that “Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of ‘occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation”.
If we believe in the principles of democracy and national sovereignty, there is nothing to debate. Or we may reject these principles and argue in favor of continued occupation.
The war in Iraq is a war fought under false pretexts for the purpose of expanding U.S. hegemony over the energy-rich Middle East. The planning and execution of that war constitute the most grave international crime that a nation may commit, the same crime for which Nazi leaders were hung at Nuremberg after World War II. The same kinds of deceptions fed to the public that allowed the U.S. government to wage the war in the first place continue to be employed to convince Americans that the occupation must continue. But when one looks past the lies and the spin at the truth behind the situation, there can be only one inevitable conclusion:
The U.S. must withdraw immediately from the sovereign nation of Iraq.