The U.S. War on Iraq

Turning to Iraq, Matt reiterates “a series of American blunders and crimes over the past 30 years” that I had mentioned and argues that Saddam Hussein “mercilessly committed an entire catalogue of the most heinous crimes imaginable,” but “was left in power” while “the Iraqi people were punished with the slow, cruel decay of sanctions.” Immediately following this remark, he comments, “And this is the status quo Jeremy Hammond and Congressman Paul would have adhered to.” He says that “the folly of Congressman Paul’s thinking” is that “not only is he indifferent to the plight of the most threatened people on earth; he can’t even support the rectification of past American injustices”.

This argument, of course, simply ignores all of the previous comments that I had made that prompted this attempt at a rebuttal in the first place. It is not possible that Matt missed the parts where I wrote that if a Ron Paul had been president, “the U.S. wouldn’t have supported Saddam Hussein in the first place”, “wouldn’t have encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up to overthrow their dictator with the promise of U.S. military backing only to then stand idly by and watch the regime use helicopter gunships to slaughter those who responded to this call”, “wouldn’t have given Saddam a green light to invade Kuwait”, and “wouldn’t have then strengthened Saddam’s regime by implementing draconian sanctions that killed Iraqi civilians and made the Iraqi people dependent on the regime for survival”. In fact, Matt acknowledges the “American complicity with Saddam Hussein’s crimes” and the U.S. policy to “punish the Iraqi population with sanctions”, which he agrees was “immoral” (Matt hasn’t been completely turned to the dark side; there is good in him yet). And yet the fact that Ron Paul wouldn’t have committed these immoral crimes in the first place if he had been president is not enough to convince him that Ron Paul is not “indifferent” to the suffering of Iraqis.

Rather, he uses these past actions of the U.S. as the basis for his argument that “the only decent course” to answer for these past American failings was to launch a war on Iraq in 2003 to overthrow the dictator. He is repeating a familiar argument, identified by Noam Chomsky as the “change of course” doctrine, according to which U.S. policymakers do sometimes make “blunders”, but only ever with benevolent intent. We must therefore not dwell on history and past “blunders”, but press forward in our efforts and take on the “weighty responsibility” of setting aside our own self-interests and continuing and improving upon our efforts to do good in the world, to “claim responsibility for our actions and correct them”. Thus, atoning for our past sins by waging an illegal war of aggression, “the supreme international crimes, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”, was “the only decent course”, according to Matt Johnson. Waging a war in violation of the U.S. Constitution on a false pretext consisting of blatant lies was “the only decent course”. Destroying Iraq and inflicting sociocide upon the country was “the only decent course”. Killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, tearing the country asunder with sectarian violence, and establishing it as a base of operations for al-Qaeda was “the only decent course”. This is the “only decent course” because in Matt’s equation, Saddam = bad and therefore the U.S. overthrow of Saddam = good, and that is all anyone need to consider. Everything else is irrelevant, and if anyone thinks that the war on Iraq was wrong, it is proof positive that they are just “indifferent to the plight of the most threatened people on earth”. Ron Paul has “trumpeted the line of stubborn self-interest” by failing to get on board with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which may have been “ineptly managed”, but was nevertheless a selfless act of benevolence.

Turning to the policy papers of the architects of the war, of course, tells a different story. A document drafted in 1992 under the supervision of Paul Wolfowitz under then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, titled “Defense Planning Guidance”, 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.” The “second objective” is to “address sources of regional conflict and instability in such a way as to promote increasing respect for international law, limit international violence, and encourage the spread of democratic forms of government and open economic systems.” Of course, the phrases here were being used in their usual euphemistic sense. For instance, “Respect for international law” means that the rest of the world must behave, although the U.S. is free to make its own rules and may choose to allow certain friendly nations to apply a different set of rules, as well, if it serves some U.S. interest (e.g. Israel). Thus neocon Richard Perle could declare following the invasion of Iraq that, “I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.” Similarly, “International violence” means their violence, not ours (e.g., Palestinians must “renounce violence”, including the internationally recognized right to armed resistance to foreign occupation, but Israel need not similarly renounce violence). And “democratic forms of government” goes hand in hand with “open economic systems”. So if a nation with a closed economic system like Iraq is threatening to cut off its supply of oil to the West or threaten dollar hegemony by trading in euros or some other currency, its government must be overthrown and replaced with a more “democratic” one that will open the spigots and let the oil flow. Thus, the document naturally added, “Various types of U.S. interests may be involved in such instances”, such as “access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian Gulf oil”. With regard to the Middle East and Southwest Asia, “our overall objective is to remain predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region’s oil.”

In 1996, a number of prominent neocons, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser, prepared a paper for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructively tiled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”. The report was the result of the Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000 from the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies and argued for “a clean break” from old policies and the forging of “a peace process and strategy based on an entirely new intellectual foundation” designed for “rebuilding Zionism”. One of the goals was to “Forge a new basis for relations with the United States” based in part on “strategic cooperation on areas of mutual concern”, such as with Iraq. “This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq—an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right—as a means of foiling regional ambitions.”

The neoconservative think-tank The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) was one prominent holdout for the architects of the Iraq war. PNAC’s Statement of Principles clearly outlined their “vision of America’s role in the world” and “guiding principles for American foreign policy”, which should be designed to “maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century.” The “United States stands as the world’s preeminent power” and should build up the military to maintain that power.

In 1998, PNAC wrote a letter to President Clinton stating that “American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding” and that U.S. “strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.” The reasons were given. “The policy of ‘containment’ of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding” and “we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections.” This would make it difficult “to determine with any reasonable level of confidence whether Iraq does or does not possess” weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Were Saddam to actually have a WMD capability, “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard.” Thus the real concern, again, was ensuring access to Iraq’s oil.

Another principle concern for the neocons was maintaining U.S. “credibility”. Another letter was sent from PNAC to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott in May 1998. The letter reiterated the points of the Clinton letter and the fear that “Saddam will be effectively liberated from constraints”—a reference to the sanctions that had resulted in widespread poverty, malnutrition, and disease, and the deaths of half a million children according to the U.N. The end of these sanctions would be “an incalculable blow to American leadership and credibility” and hence “the goal of U.S. policy should be to bring down Saddam and his regime.”

In September 2000, PNAC released its manifesto, entitled “Rebuilding Americas Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century”, which made the case for maintaining U.S. preeminence and global hegemony through a buildup of the military; to “extend the current Pax Americana”. The document states 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.” The goal was to “preserve American military preeminence”; however, “the process of transformation”—the strengthening of the military—”is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.”

This assessment echoed one from Andrew Krepinevich, Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on March 5, 1999. After stating that “There appears to be general agreement concerning the need to transform the U.S. military into a significantly different kind of force from that which emerged victorious from the Cold and Gulf Wars,” he noted that “this verbal support has not been translated into a defense program supporting transformation.” He stated further that “While there is growing support in Congress for transformation, the ‘critical mass’ needed to affect it has not yet been achieved.” In conclusion, “in the absence of a strong external shock to the United States—a latter-day ‘Pearl Harbor’ of sorts—surmounting the barriers to transformation will likely prove a long, arduous process.”

In other words, there was a widely held view among policy-makers that the military needed to be rebuilt, but in the wake of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the American public expected and wanted a decrease in military spending. The “transformation” of the military into a force able to enforce the U.S.’s will globally would therefore not occur unless a catastrophic event occurred that allowed policy-makers to shift American public opinion back towards increased military spending. Indeed, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were viewed as an opportunity by those favoring this “transformation” of the military to enforce U.S. global hegemony. Robert Kagan, a director of PNAC, wrote in the Washington Post that “Just as the Korean War, Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the Lusitania taught us that we can’t immunize ourselves against the world’s problems, Sept. 11 must spur us to launch a new era of American internationalism. Let’s not squander this opportunity.” National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice similarly stated, “No less than Pearl Harbor, September 11 forever changed the lives of every American and the strategic perspective of the United States.” Rice also stated that “an earthquake of the magnitude of 9/11 can shift the tectonic plates of international politics…. If that is right, if the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11 bookend a major shift in international politics, then this is a period not just of grave danger, but of enormous opportunity. Before the clay is dry again, America and our friends and our allies must move decisively to take advantage of these new opportunities. This is, then, a period akin to 1945 to 1947, when American leadership expanded the number of free and democratic states—Japan and Germany among the great powers—to create a new balance of power that favored freedom.”