Why Some Still Support the Invasion of Iraq

Jeb Bush is making news today for saying that he still supports the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  He says this, even while acknowledging that the intelligence that justified the invasion was faulty.  Political scientists have studied this resistance among Republicans to call the invasion a mistake or to accept that there were no WMDs in Iraq.  I have watched CNN’s Wolf Blitzer many times interview Republicans and conservative think tank experts on this topic and repeatedly ask them to acknowledge that the invasion was a mistake, and they never do.

This drives a lot of people crazy because they don’t understand why these people cannot just admit that the invasion was a mistake.  And it isn’t just Democrats that are annoyed by this.  Plenty of conservatives are strongly critical of George W. Bush and the Iraq war, and today they are going after Jeb Bush for supporting his brother and the war he started.  A large portion of the Republican party has worked very hard to disassociate themselves from W. and Iraq, and Jeb is threatening to undo much of that.

The question is can reasonable people still disagree about the invasion, or are supporters simply biased (some might say blinded) by partisanship or ideology?  Here are some thoughts:

There are hard implications to calling the invasion a mistake and saying it shouldn’t have happened.  This wasn’t a failed green energy investment like Solyndra.  This was a major world event that changed the course of history.  So much is now a direct or indirect effect of that event, that to deny it is to deny the world we live in today.  If the world were all bad, then maybe that would be an easier thing to do.  Maybe we (the exclusive “we”, the righteous “we”) would need to start over with a clean slate, and somehow re-construct the world with more moral nations and networks.  But most agree that this isn’t the case, that the world isn’t all bad, and that it would be suicidal to start from scratch.  Rather, the world is fully engaged in a major ongoing conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil, and the good need our support.

Many Americans view the United States as leading the forces of good, and they want us to be victorious.  This conflict is incredibly messy and requires a certain kind of attitude to persevere.  Mistakes are made, but these mistakes must be turned into opportunities.  All weaknesses must be turned into strengths.  All defeats must be turned into victories.  From every evil event we must pivot our attention to the heroes that emerge in response.  If we surrender our belief that this is possible, then we will lose strength and resolve.  But it is of no use overly embracing shame to vainly restore innocence, to return to a mythical Eden which, if ever existed, we were all banished from long ago.

This is why the shifting justification for the war came so natural to so many.  The point was no longer that there were no WMD; the point was that an evil dictator had been removed from power, and democracy had been introduced, and with our help, democracy could take root and eventually stand on its own.  Without the invasion, this never would have happened.  So, we are left to choose — do we sacrifice our lives for Iraqi democracy, or do we wish that this Iraqi democracy never was?  It is obvious how psychologically different these two attitudes are from each other.  It is not easy to support a fight where you, your loved ones, your fellow countrymen (and women) are sacrificing life and limb.  The fight must be justified.  It must be noble.  It must be honorable.  It must be a contribution to the good of America, the good of Iraq, and the good of the world.

Is this a dangerous fact about political psychology — that at this level of national action, we can’t so easily sacrifice our own life and well-being for causes that are mired in regret, despair, and self-doubt?  Yes, probably.  And that’s why those who can easily state that the invasion was a mistake are right to say so and serve as crucial shapers of public opinion.  Yet at the same time, such people inherently devalue the specific type of honor and nobility that participants in this war and their supporters believed they were fighting for all along.  We need to find a balanced understanding where we can continue fighting and winning the fight against evil, both around the world and within our souls.  Right now, it often seems like we can’t advance on one front without retreating on the other.

6 thoughts on “Why Some Still Support the Invasion of Iraq

  1. The relevant facts that distinguish Saddam Hussein from other evil dictators and make him a special case are: first, a record of past acts of genocide(the Anfal campaign against the Kurds of 1988 which included the use of chemical WMD at Halabja); second , a record of aggressive wars launched against his neighbors(Iran in 1980 Kuwait in 1990); third , support for armed terrorism ( not Al Qaeda but others—the mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking was discovered by U.S. troops hiding in Baghdad);four ,repeated violations of UN Security Council resolutions calling for him to divest himself of WMD(Hussein Kamel revealed details in 1995 during his temporary defection from the regime);five, repeated acts of aggression against U.S. warplanes enforcing the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq(Iraqi radar routinely “painted” and targeted those planes forcing them to respond with air strikes taking the radars out–this happened almost every day up to the time of the 2003 invasion); six, the unraveling of sanctions(as the Oil for Food scandal showed); seven , his own deceptive behavior( he admitted while in custody after the war that he deliberately tried to create the impression he still had WMD so he could overawe internal Shiite opposition and foreign enemies such as Iran); eight, his geographical position and oil resources which made it more likely that once sanctions were finally removed he would be in a position to embark again on his past policies of aggression and genocide. These factors distinguished him from bad actors such as Omar al-Bashir (who confined his acts of genocide to within Sudan’s borders and did not attack his neighbors) and Kim Jong Un(who to date has not launched a war against South Korea or Japan and is not in a geographical position to attack any other countries and hope to survive–its a safe bet he wont attack Russia or China)—and make him much more akin to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge(who not only committed genocide against the Muslim Chams and ethnic Vietnamese within Kampuchea=Cambodia’s borders but also attacked their neighbor Vietnam committing atrocities on Vietnamese soil) and Adolf Hitler whose record of genocide and aggressive wars are too well known to relate in detail. The aggressive acts against U.S. warplanes enforcing the no-fly zone created a situation analogous to the undeclared U-boat war against America before Pearl Harbor. Saddam Hussein, in short , committed crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity and therefore was a prime candidate for application of the Nuremberg principles of international criminal liability. The absence of any other means to remove him such as internal revolt(the totalitarian control and surveillance of his regime rendered such attempts futile in a way not applicable to Assad) and special ops(for the same reason) meant that an armed invasion was the only way to put an end to his conduct and ensure it would not be repeated.

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  2. Very few dictators will meet ALL of the key criteria of a past record of acts of genocide,aggressive wars against neighbors,repeated ; ongoing violations of international law and invulnerability to internal overthrow. Finally, the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998( Pub. L. 105-338, 112 Stat. 3178–codified in a note to 22 USCS section 2151)signed into law by President Bill Clinton made regime change in Iraq official U.S. policy. This Act was a basis of the Authorization for Use of military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002( Pub. L. 107-243, 116Stat. 1498) which authorized military action in Iraq and laid out in detail the reasons therefore–which were not limited to Saddam’s supposed possession of WMD but included Iraq’s brutal repression of its civilian population, its support of international terrorist organizations including those that threatened the U.S.<hostile acts toward the U.S. such as firing on U.S. aircraft in no-fly zones–and the fear Saddam Hussein inspired in his neighbors such as Turkey,Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait ;all of whom wanted him removed from power. All of these considerations aligned with and offered support for the moral imperatives of honor and nobility evinced by our fighting men (as well as those of allies such as Great Britain) in Iraq.

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  3. Interestingly, Rand Paul was on CNN today disputing the idea that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. I think he could really turn this into a big issue in the election. It allows him to go on offense against a Republican field of candidates anxious to label him an isolationist.


  4. Rand Paul is laboring under the fallacious assumption that had Saddam Hussein been left in power ; the region would have remained stable for the indefinite future. However, Saddam had already shown by his rash acts of aggression that he was prone to repeated miscalculations thinking he could get away with conduct that jeopardized the peace and security of the Gulf region. As long as he retained the brains and personnel necessary , he could , at some point , have reconstituted his WMD program–if necessary with the help of some other rogue nation like North Korea. Moreover, stability, while a chief goal of U.S. foreign policy , is not the only goal. The United Nations owes its very existence to the civilized world’s reaction to the unprecedented crimes committed by Adolf Hitler and his followers. The Nuremberg judgments defined and recognized crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity as crimes under international law ;to be proceeded against , if necessary, by armed intervention. The Nuremberg judgments were confirmed by the United Nations General Assembly as integral parts of international criminal law binding on all UN members. Enforcement of the provisions of international criminal law is also an obligation assumed by members of the UN. If those obligations are not to degenerate into mere aspirational goals member states must be prepared to enforce those obligations when the opportunity arises. Imagine if the Western allies had decided, at the beginning of 1945 after the Battle of the Bulge that balance of power considerations made it prudent upon expelling the Germans from France and the Low Countries ; to offer peace terms to Hitler on the ground that Nazi Grrmany was needed as a counterweight to the Communist Soviet Union. Even if Hitler could have been trusted to honor the terms of such a treaty ( which given his record of broken treaties was dubious to say the least) the moral costs would have been unacceptable. For this would have meant that he and his followers would have escaped punishment for the war crimes , crimes against peace and crimes against humanity committed by them. One of the most awful photographic images resulting from the Anfal campaign shows a Kurdish infant gassed to death by Saddam’s troops. One cannot help thinking of Jewish infants gassed to death by Adolf Hitler. If the principles of Nuremberg are to have any meaning we must take such opprtunities as present themselves to enforce them lest they become a dead letter.


  5. The task for policy makers of balancing considerations of political and regional stability with considerations of international law and morality is an exceedingly difficult one to be sure. But that does not afford them an excuse to take the easy way out by resolving to take into account “only” one factor or the other.

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  6. I think Paul is primarily looking at the bad consequences of the Arab Spring and concluding that everybody’s better off without these governments toppling. What he’s failing to acknowledge is that the U.S. stayed and filled a large part of the power vacuum created by toppling Saddam. And that was creating stability, which is why so many Americans, and the president, felt comfortable leaving in the first place. If Saddam was removed from power and then the U.S. hadn’t filled the void, Paul’s argument makes more sense and is more analogous to what happened in other Arab Spring countries. So when people say against Paul that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, they should also point to the degree of social and political order maintained by American presence and sacrifice, something that was not available to the Arab Spring nations.


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