Recently, I had reason to revisit a certain resolution passed by Congress — the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. This was passed by a vote of 360-38 in the House, by unanimous consent in the Senate, and signed by President Bill Clinton.
I found myself drawn to Section II, the Findings part, that spelled out why the Act was pushed forward. It cites 12 distinct points.
The first four outline Saddam’s acts that provoked the world’s condemnation:
(1) On September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, starting an 8 year war in which Iraq employed chemical weapons against Iranian troops and ballistic missiles against Iranian cities.
(2) In February 1988, Iraq forcibly relocated Kurdish civilians from their home villages in the Anfal campaign, killing an estimated 50,000 to 180,000 Kurds.
(3) On March 16, 1988, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurdish civilian opponents in the town of Halabja, killing an estimated 5,000 Kurds and causing numerous birth defects that affect the town today.
(4) On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded and began a 7 month occupation of Kuwait, killing and committing numerous abuses against Kuwaiti civilians, and setting Kuwait’s oil wells ablaze upon retreat.
That condemnation came about in a most strenuous form:
(5) Hostilities in Operation Desert Storm ended on February 28, 1991, and Iraq subsequently accepted the ceasefire conditions specified in United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 (April 3, 1991) requiring Iraq, among other things, to disclose fully and permit the dismantlement of its weapons of mass destruction programs and submit to long-term monitoring and verification of such dismantlement.
After Iraq’s surrender, Saddam continued to push the limits and provoke the US and the world:
(6) In April 1993, Iraq orchestrated a failed plot to assassinate former President George Bush during his April 14-16, 1993, visit to Kuwait.
(7) In October 1994, Iraq moved 80,000 troops to areas near the border with Kuwait, posing an imminent threat of a renewed invasion of or attack against Kuwait.
(8) On August 31, 1996, Iraq suppressed many of its opponents by helping one Kurdish faction capture Irbil, the seat of the Kurdish regional government.
(9) Since March 1996, Iraq has systematically sought to deny weapons inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) access to key facilities and documents, has on several occasions endangered the safe operation of UNSCOM helicopters transporting UNSCOM personnel in Iraq, and has persisted in a pattern of deception and concealment regarding the history of its weapons of mass destruction programs.
(10) On August 5, 1998, Iraq ceased all cooperation with UNSCOM, and subsequently threatened to end long-term monitoring activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency and UNSCOM.
(11) On August 14, 1998, President Clinton signed Public Law 105-235, which declared that `the Government of Iraq is in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations’ and urged the President `to take appropriate action, in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws of the United States, to bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations.’.
(12) On May 1, 1998, President Clinton signed Public Law 105-174, which made $5,000,000 available for assistance to the Iraqi democratic opposition for such activities as organization, training, communication and dissemination of information, developing and implementing agreements among opposition groups, compiling information to support the indictment of Iraqi officials for war crimes, and for related purposes.
And the conclusion of this:
It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.
The rest of the Act spells out just how the US should seek that goal — outlining what we should do. And it ends with one caveat, one line we should not cross:
Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize or otherwise speak to the use of United States Armed Forces (except as provided in section 4(a)(2)) in carrying out this Act.
That last part was superseded four years later, with the Authorization for Military Force In Iraq, passed 296-133 by the House, 77-23 in the Senate, and signed by President Bush.
So, what changed in those four years?
For one, the president. Bill Clinton wanted Saddam removed, he just didn’t want to dirty his hands by doing it himself. George W. Bush had no such compunctions.
For another, Saddam was on the verge of getting the sanctions lifted — without being bothered to comly with the demands behind them. He’d turned the “Oil For Food” program into a way to funnel literally billions in bribes to key figures among the Security Council member nations, and had a ready supply of propagandists, apologists, and useful idiots (“the sanctions are killing thousands of Iraqi babies EVERY DAY!!!!!!!”) who were clamoring for their end. We were looking at going right back to the way things were right before Saddam invaded Kuwait back in 1990 — or worse.
Finally, though, the biggest one: 9/11.
No, Saddam was not involved in 9/11. Despite his thoroughly-established connections with Al Qaeda, there is no evidence he was aware of that plot. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that he was — Al Qaeda was pretty damned good at operaional security, and there was absolutely no compelling reason why they should tell him, and plenty of reasons why they shouldn’t. Had Saddam known about it beforehand, he could have bartered that information for some sanction relief.
But 9/11 changed our perception of our war on terror. It woke us up to its true nature.
And in that light, Saddam had to go.
Taking out Saddam would achieve a great many things. It would open up a second front with the terrorists bent on attacking America, forcing them to divide their efforts between Afghanistan and Iraq. It would get rid of a major sponsor of terrorism. It would give us a major force in the heart of the Middle East. It would get millions of people out from under a tyrant’s jackboot. And, potentially, it would be a major blow to the Islamist ideology if we could help Iraq become an actual, functional representative democracy, and show that Islam and democracy are NOT incompatible.
Look back at the causes listed in the 1998 Act. How many of those concerns had been resolved in four years? Or even addressed?
Saddam’s attempt to assassinate former President Bush? Unresolved.
Threatening to re-invade Kuwait or suppressing the Kurds? He’d backed off, but could resume either at a moment’s notice.
Continuing the “cheat and retreat” game with weapons inspectors? Ongoing.
Under the terms of Saddam’s 1991 surrender, he not only had to destroy all his WMDs and WMD material, he was to prove he did so. While everyone talks about how we never “proved” he had WMDs, very few people choose to mention that he also didn’t prove he’d gotten rid of them.
In simpler terms:
He had them at one point. That is indisputable. But we have no proof of what happened to those weapons. They just disappeared, and Saddam told us “we destroyed them, but we lost the paperwork that proves it. Also, we forgot to invite you to see them being destroyed. But they’re gone, trust me.”
That the weapons inspectors were repeatedly unable to find Saddam’s WMDs or other forbidden materials means nothing. As the saying goes, “absence of proof is not proof of absence.” The significant thing is that Saddam would not account for his known pre-Kuwait invasion stockpiles, and neither could the inspectors.
So what the hell happened to those stockpiles of nerve agents, those research materials into biological and nuclear weapons, those delivery systems?
The anti-war crowd argues that since we didn’t find them, then they apparently didn’t exist. Or were destroyed without documentation. Either way, BUSH LIED!!!!!
The first argument is utterly ludicrous. We KNOW they existed.
The second is utterly specious. With Saddam’s long history, we were supposed to just TRUST him when he said they were gone? I think not.
Saddam was not entitled to any “presumption of innocence.” He was like a parolee after the first Gulf War. The burden of proof was not on us to show he was guilty of possessing WMDs; it was on him to prove he wasn’t.
Let’s extend that analogy. A known drug dealer is busted, then out on bail. One of the conditions of his release is that he not possess any guns. While he’s out, he swaggers through the neighborhood, issuing veiled threats, patting suspicious bulges under his jacket, and bragging that anyone who crosses him “will regret it.” And when he’s stopped by cops, he’s belligerent and defiant, but they never catch him actually carrying a weapon.
Finally, the cops get fed up and do a surprise raid of his house. They don’t find what they’re looking for, but they do find an old, forgotten gun hidden away. It’s fairly obvious that the dealer had forgotten it was there, and it’s in really lousy shape, but it’s still a violation. And the guy raises a hell of a stink when the cops show up, so he gets hauled off anyway.
That falls under the category of “sometimes, bad things happen to bad people.”
I have never doubted the rightness of the decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam. The war was carried out virtually flawlessly, and was an absolute victory, an almost-textbook example of how to invade a nation and remove the government in minimal time, with minimal fuss.
Where the problems fell were in properly explaining the full rationales for the actions to the American people, and in handling the post-war occupation and reconstruction.
My support for the war has never been based solely on the Bush administration’s public statements. Their “selling” of the war was less than stellar, and that weakness was jumped on by its critics. They put their message in the hands of a string of semi-competent spokespeople (including Bush himself, rarely accused of a stellar speaking ability, and Scott McClellan), and paid a great price for not putting forth the arguments for the war — arguments I found persuasive with almost no help from those who should been pushing the case.
But back to the crux of this piece: what happened between 1998 and 2002? More specifically, what happened to the unaccounted-for WMDs and other forbidden material?
We may never know what happened to them, but one thing we do know for sure:
They won’t be used by Saddam, who had freely used them in the past.
I think that’s a good thing.