On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the formal appeal to the U.N.General Assembly of the then U.S.President, George W. Bush to support invasion of Iraq – which fell on September 12 – it makes sense to review its justification:Iraq is still suffering from the U.S. invasion of 2003, and American occupation till 2011. Every community is worse off than what it was before Americans entered the region. There have been no weapons of mass destruction found, no democracy established, no end to tyranny, and certainly no end to terrorist involvement in the nation.
ON September 12, 2002, then U.S. President George W. Bush, while addressing the United Nations (‘UN’) General Assembly, said, “Twelve years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait without provocation. And the regime’s forces were poised to continue their march to seize other countries and their resources. Had Saddam Hussein been appeased instead of stopped, he would have endangered the peace and stability of the world. Yet this aggression was stopped — by the might of coalition forces and the will of the United Nations. To suspend hostilities, to spare himself, Iraq’s dictator accepted a series of commitments. The terms were clear, to him and to all. And he agreed to prove he is complying with every one of those obligations. He has proven instead only his contempt for the United Nations, and for all his pledges. By breaking every pledge — by his deceptions, and by his cruelties — Saddam Hussein has made the case against himself.”
This was Bush’s first formal appeal to the international community to support an invasion of Iraq. It was on this day the building up to the war, which commenced on March 2003, began. As we recently crossed the 20-year mark to this address, it is an excellent time to assess the decision of the Bush administration through the prism of justice, because the current U.S. President does like to claim that Washington, D.C. stands for a rules-based order.
In what conditions is a war just? Did the Iraq invasion satisfy those conditions?
The idea that a war can ever be just is a debate that has gone on for centuries. However, there is a consensus on what makes a war just, popularly summed up with two phrases:jus ad bellum (conditions in which a State may resort to war) and jus in bello (the rules of war). These philosophies provide the constraints to judge the validity and fairness of any war.
These parameters can largely be cast along three axes: were the reasons valid (cause and intention); were the aggressors willing to be accountable (authority and responsibility); were all other paths exhausted (last resort)?
1. Right cause and intention: War can in some circumstances be justified. India made a powerful case for invading the then East Pakistan in 1971, by pointing out the Pakistani military’s atrocities and the refugee crisis that India was facing as a product of it.
For the cause of war and the intention of the aggressor to be right, it needs to satisfy two conditions: is injustice being addressed and is it an act of self-defence/stopping aggression? The problems India faced from Pakistan’s acts in its eastern territory did satisfy both conditions. What the Pakistani army was doing could be called a mass atrocity, particularly operations like Searchlight, and north-eastern India, an already sensitive region, was being detrimentally affected due to the massive refugee influx.
If Iraq was authoritative, then so was, as is, China; if Hussein was a dictator, then how different were the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and the military regimes of North Africa? If this invasion was indeed a crusade for democracy, then why was Iraq specifically being targeted? And if the Bush administration was so keen on specifically ending the reign of Hussein, was it willing to stick around in occupation of Iraq for the next eight years?
Washington rested its case on two pillars, one of which addressed security concerns by claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was involved in the 9/11 attack (the 21st anniversary of which was only earlier this week), and the second being the replacement of the dictatorial rule of then President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein with democracy.
A preliminary investigation of Iraq, by the International Atomic Energy Agency after the UN Security Council Resolution 1441, declared that“There is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in those buildings that were identified through the use of satellite imagery as being reconstructed or newly erected since 1998, nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites. There is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import uranium since 1990.”
As far as the attacks of September 11 are concerned, the 19 men who committed the act hailed from four different countries: 15 of them were citizens of Saudi Arabia, two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Lebanon, and one was from Egypt. The mastermind was the terrorist Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi national who was allegedly hiding in Afghanistan at the time of the attacks. If some reports are to be believed, Iraq wasn’t even mentioned as one of the culprits for the terror act early on.
Coming to the regime that Hussein was running, the hypocrisy of Americans opposing the system is that they had, and continue to have, no problem maintaining cordial relations with similarly run countries. If Iraq was authoritative, then so was, as is, China; if Hussein was a dictator, then how different were the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and the military regimes of North Africa? If this invasion was indeed a crusade for democracy, then why was Iraq specifically being targeted? And if the Bush administration was so keen on specifically ending the reign of Hussein, was it willing to stick around in occupation of Iraq for the next eight years?
2. Taking authority and claiming responsibility: The answer to all the questions raised earlier can be found in American conduct during the occupation. After the Second World War, American troops occupied most of Western Europe and the territories of Japan. In both the regions, apart from defeating occupying forces, the Americans ensured that appropriate development worktakes place, and that the region was up and running again. When a nation takes the decision of annihilating another entity, it has to take the responsibility of ensuring the region is back on its feet.
The success of this parameter can be gauged based on whether any defined targets were achieved, and if the region ended up in the status quo?
Another supposed American goal was rooting out terrorism, but post-invasion, Iraq became the bastion of the militant Islamist group, the Islamic State.
The Bush administration had big plans when they entered Baghdad, mainly of ostensibly turning the nation into a functioning, open democracy. Instead, immediately after the U.S.’s arrival, a civil war broke out and even today the region is ranked as an authoritarian State.
Another supposed American goal was rooting out terrorism, but post-invasion, Iraq became the bastion of the militant Islamist group, the Islamic State. Twenty years later, it still hasn’t seen any stability. The new Iraqi government after Hussein’s exit immediately went after the Sunni population and almost made it State policy to persecute them. Moreover, the government wasn’t accommodative of the region’s diversity and became an equally oppressive regime, albeit it didn’t have the same grip, resulting in no actual change in terms of rights but conversely unleashing a tyrannical majority.
After the First World War, both Britain and France had failed to empathise with the losing side, thus fuelling resentment, which became a factor in causing the Second World War. America’s similar failure highlighted that it didn’t have a plan regarding what to do after overthrowing Hussein, and thus left the people in anarchy. This raises the question: if the U.S. never had a plan to fix Iraq and establish a stable order before leaving, was this avoidable? Was the war necessary?
3. Last resort: If war is avoidable it must be avoided, as agreed even by hawks like American politician, diplomat, and geopolitical consultant Henry Kissinger. So were alternatives explored before the ultimate military intervention?
Before further engaging with this point, some facts about U.S. foreign policy must be acknowledged. Back in 1998, the 105th U.S. Congress adopted the Iraq Liberation Act which stated: “it should be the policy of the United States to seek to remove the Saddam Hussein regime from power in Iraq and to replace it with a democratic government.” Iraq clearly had been a long-standing grievance of Washington, and the latter was looking for an excuse to install a friendly government in the former.
Given most of the reasons stated by the American administration to invade Iraq didn’t really have much merit, it is important to view the removal of Hussein as a primary objective: did even that require an invasion?
The U.S. has a documented history of using internal instability to dispose of rulers, whether it is banana republics or setting up anti-communist regimes in the same nations. The country is also known for using sanctions, for example, with Iran, and using absolute isolationism, for example, with Cuba, to pressurise regime change in other nations. With Hussein, however, America was facing a balancing act. Whereas Iraq was close to the Soviet Union, it was still an important bulwark against Iran.
Things took a turn after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Washington now turned on Hussein with its full might. Having misunderstood the 1990 invasion of Kuwait as a short-term economic goal of the regime and not a large, national integrity project, the Americans seem to have concluded that Hussein was the problem, and not Iraqi nationalism. But even then, was an invasion necessary? Would violently overthrowing Hussein’s regime solve any problem? Could a more non-confrontational way of empowering the Shia majority not have been used to instead dispose of the brutal dictatorial regime? The last-resort nature of war means there is no alternative, and the situation calls for immediate action. No American argument, either short or long-term, can possibly explain why the conflict simply had to take place.
Was an invasion necessary? Would violently overthrowing Hussein’s regime solve any problem? Could a more non-confrontational way of empowering the Shia majority not have been used to instead dispose of the brutal dictatorial regime? The last-resort nature of war means there is no alternative, and the situation calls for immediate action. No American argument, either short or long-term, can possibly explain why the conflict simply had to take place.
Thus, it is clear that the invasion was unethical. But unethical things may not necessarily be unjust. The war seals itself as an act of grave injustice based on the way it was carried out, and the aftermath of American capture.
The unjust nature of the war can be understood in terms of the method adopted to win it, and the consequences of the actions taken. It’s here where U.S. intervention crosses the realm of unethical to outright illegal, and makes its case redundant to the point that their former president D.J. Trump accepted that the world was a better place with Hussein in charge of Iraq.
1. Means: The intent of the war and the justification Washington gave would have been irrelevant had the means it adopted to win the war been just and ethical. However, from the very beginning of the assault, America took an extremely disproportional approach to the war. Using heavy artillery, the American war machine unleashed 1,300 missiles on Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk. Though the U.S. army claimed that civilian casualties were very limited, a study found that the number of women and children killed in the air raids was disproportionately high, with almost 46 per cent of air strike victims being women and 39 per cent being children.
This was followed by battle after battle to capture individual cities, and a counter-terror operation in which the conduct of the American troops was outrageous. There was the infamous Mahmudiyah rape and killings, where a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl was raped and murdered, along with her family, by five American soldiers. The worst, however, were Abu Ghraib and Nisour Square.
Abu Ghraib was the prison complex where the most brutal incidents of torture, rape and killings happened during the war, the most infamous being the custodial killing of Iraqi national Manadel al-Jamadi. Despite 17 soldiers and officers being suspended from duty for the war crimes at Abu Ghraib, people at the very top were not persecuted. Even the people who were convicted in most cases were left with very mild sentences, and most of those sentenced were released before the completion of their term.
In the case of the Nisour Square massacre, employees of Blackwater Security Consulting, a private military contractor company, shot at Iraqi civilians, killing 17 and injuring 20 while escorting a U.S. embassy convoy. In this case, again the five people who were convicted were later pardoned by President Trump.
Its conduct during the war and occupation brought forth the lack of empathy, crudeness, vile hatred and absolute incompetence on America’s end.
On top of this, throughout the occupation, the U.S. administration was extremely corrupt, with billions of dollars of American money spent on the supposed reconstruction of Iraq without any commensurate gains. It was best summed up by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that “$55 billion could have brought a great change in Iraq.” The sheer scale of corruption is hard to state. This conduct brought forth the lack of empathy, crudeness, vile hatred and absolute incompetence on America’s end.
2. Aftermath: Analysis so far makes it clear that Americans had no plan apart from throwing Hussein out. With no vision, Iraq immediately fell into chaos. America’s massive artillery strikes had sabotaged everyday life and that meant everything had to be rebuilt. But because of excessive corruption and the failure to create a working State, that rebuilding never took place, which in turn caused a refugee crisis.
The U.S. government also immediately handed over power to the Shia majority, which decided to use the limited State machinery to indiscriminately persecute Sunnis; this drove a rift in Iraqi society, becoming one of the key reasons for the coming civil war.
The biggest failure of the U.S. was to disband the massive military that Hussein had built and kill the main source of livelihood in the country, the army. This resented class, which was now facing State persecution, decided to organise itself under the banner of the Islamic State, which became a fascist force that threatened the entire region. Such was the terror of the organisation that America was forced to lead another coalition into the country, this time to defeat the Caliphate.
The sheer loss of life that took place after the fall of Hussein’s regime falls on the head of Washington’s mismanagement of the entire invasion.
Today, the invasion has become an anecdote that gets a laugh from the American audience – a gaffe that people are supposed to move on from. The reality is that the region is still suffering. Every community is worse off than what it was before Americans entered the region. There have been no weapons of mass destruction found, no democracy established, no end to tyranny, and certainly no end to terrorist involvement in the nation.