Dec 03, 2008
George Bush's candid interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson
has one moment of awful truth - when the president, asked if he'd have
gone to war had he known there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, stated: "That's a do-over that I can't do." If only he could.
than 4,207 US service members, 314 coalition troops (including 176
British fatalities) and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis
might be alive, including, of course, Saddam Hussein, the former ruler
of Iraq whom Bush promised to disarm together with America's "friends
of freedom". Saddam, Bush proclaimed in the weeks leading up to his
decision to invade, and subsequently occupy, Iraq, was "a dangerous,
dangerous man with dangerous, dangerous weapons." The Iraqi dictator
was "a danger to America and our friends and allies, and that is why
the world has said 'disarm'".
Bush, in his revealing
interview, claimed he wished "that the intelligence had been
different", but that was never really the point. Bush, like so many
others, had made up his mind regarding Saddam independent of the facts
of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Try as he might to spread
responsibility for his actions by pointing out that "a lot of people
put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass
destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein," the fact is WMD was
simply an excuse used by the president to fulfil his self-proclaimed
destiny as a war-time president who would avenge his father's inability
(or, more accurately, sage unwillingness) to finish the job back in
1991, in the aftermath of the first Gulf war.
As pre-war British
government discussions with Bush administration officials reveal, there
was never a solid case to be made on Iraq's possession of WMD in the
months leading up to the decision to invade, simply a sophomoric
cause-effect relationship linking regime change (the preferred policy)
and WMD (the excuse) "in the sense that it was the regime that was
producing the WMD" (quoting Blair).
The intelligence on
Iraq's WMD was whatever the president and his cronies (including his
erstwhile ally at 10 Downing Street) wanted it to be. Over seven years
of UN-mandated weapons inspection activity, conducted from 1991 until
1998, had produced a well-defined (and documented) record of
disarmament which, while not providing absolute verification of the
disposition of every aspect of Saddam's WMD programmes, did allow any
observer interested in the facts to ascertain that Iraq was
fundamentally disarmed from a qualitative perspective. This, coupled
with the presence of the world's most technologically advanced and
intrusive arms control regime monitoring the totality of Iraq's
industrial infrastructure, provided a high degree of confidence that
Saddam had neither retained nor reconstituted his WMD programme.
was a gap in inspection coverage of Iraq from December 1998 until
November 2002, brought on by the removal of weapons inspectors at the
behest of the United States
(during the administration of Bill Clinton). However, no verifiable
intelligence emerged during this time to credibly suggest that Iraq had
sought to reconstitute its WMD programme. Instead, the Bush
administration developed arguments that spoke of a "re-examination" of
the "facts" from the perspective of a "post-9/11 world".
diversionary tactic of bait and switch, where the so-called global war
on terror was used to justify an attack on Iraq, did not in any
meaningful way alter the reality that Iraq had been disarmed. The
Pentagon tried to provide glossy satellite images and hyped-up
speculation about what Saddam was up to in September 2002 (and the
British followed suit, publishing their since-discredited "dossier"),
but by that November UN weapons inspectors were back in Iraq, and by
January 2003 had discredited the entire intelligence case the Pentagon
(and the British) had so clumsily cobbled together.
I and others
did our very best to highlight the factual vacuum in which Bush and
Blair operated while making their case for war, but to no avail. The
decision to invade had been made months before the UN weapons
inspectors returned to Iraq. Their work, and the intelligence they
provided, was not only ignored, but indeed was never relevant to the
larger issue, centred as it was on regime change, not disarmament.
most important aspect of Bush's interview rests not in what he admits,
but rather in what he avoids, when he stated that the failure to find
WMD in Iraq was "the biggest regret of all the presidency." He doesn't
regret the decision that led America to war, or the processes that
facilitated the falsification of a case for war. He doesn't regret the
violation of international law, the deaths of so many innocents, the
physical destruction of Iraq or America's loss of its moral high
ground. He merely regrets the fact that his "gut feel" on Saddam's WMD
arsenal was wrong.
In this, truth be told, Bush is no different
from the majority of society in both America and Great Britain. It is
easy to moralise today, armed with the certainty of 20/20 hindsight,
that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, the case for war a fabrication.
But how many people will admit that Iraq was better off under Saddam
than it is today, ruined by conflict generated by the destruction of
Iraqi society prompted by the toppling of the Iraqi dictator? How many
people will decry the kangaroo court and the lynch mob that convicted
and executed Saddam as a travesty of both law and justice? Unless one
is willing to repudiate all aspects of the US-led invasion and
occupation of Iraq, inclusive of the termination of Saddam's regime,
then any indignation shown over the so-called intelligence failure
represents nothing more than hypocrisy.
American policy in Iraq must not be viewed in isolation, but rather as part of a larger problem set, one that Barack Obama
will have to deal with if he is to avoid repeating Bush's mistakes.
America, and indeed the world, may very well have serious issues with
the governments of nations such as Syria, North Korea and Iran.
However, the solutions to these problems rest not in the form of
unilateral policies formulated and implemented from Washington DC. That
is how we got into Iraq to begin with. Rather, Obama must put action to
his promise to embrace multilateral solutions to the problems of the
This means foregoing ideologically (or politically)
driven pressure to act void of international consensus driven by a
collective appreciation of international law (ie, no regime change,
unless the world properly mandates it). It means trusting in the
integrity and ability of organisations such as the UN Special
Commission (the UN weapons inspectors), even if their product
contradicts US intelligence sources. It also means trusting such
organisations enough to share such intelligence so that it might be
thoroughly investigated. And, if and when a rogue regime is overthrown
and its leaders brought to justice, it means supporting an
international court of law in which to try them for any of their
The latter is of particular importance,
especially when it comes to Obama, given his proclivity for announcing
his intention to "hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden". Such bravado
could become his undoing, just as gunning for Saddam was the undoing of
Bush. America seemed content to let the perpetrators of the Srebrenica
atrocities, who murdered some 8,000 Bosnian men and boys, be
apprehended in accordance with accepted international practice, and be
tried in an international court. Yet somehow the murderer of 3,000
Americans deserves special, unilateral American justice. There is an
inherent inconsistency here.
In order for a multilateral
solution to be genuine, it must be the product of a multilateral
consensus driven by accepted ideals and principles, and not simply a
unilateral dictate imposed on others by the strong. Let there be no
doubt, the Iraq war was a product of American bullying, not just of
Iraq, but the entire world. The current conflict in Afghanistan,
threatening as it is to spill over into neighbouring Pakistan, is no
The unilateral desire of the US to exact revenge
disguised as justice for the crimes committed on 9/11 has overshadowed
the mission of creating a stable and moderate government in
post-Taliban Afghanistan, to the detriment of both missions and the
people of the region. Obama's singular focus on bringing bin Laden to
heel will simply perpetuate this failure.
Obama would do well to
embrace those international multilateral institutions, such as the UN
and the International Court of Justice in the Hague, which his
predecessor eschewed. Subordinating the American desire for revenge in
the interest of regional and international stability would represent
the living manifestation of the multilateralism Obama has stated he
wants to pursue. Leadership is the product of much more than simple
rhetoric, and simply saying something "is" does not make it so. Putting
action to words is the challenge, and the mark, of any true leader. I
am hopeful Barack Obama can be the genuine leader he aspires to be.
America, and the world, will much better for it.
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