AP reports the resignation of three members of the White House Cultural Property Advisory Committee to protest the looting of Baghdad’s National Museum of Antiquities.

Martin E. Sullivan, Richard S. Lanier and Gary Vikan, each appointed by former President Clinton, said they were disappointed by the U.S. military’s failure to protect Iraq’s historical artifacts.

“The tragedy was not prevented, due to our nation’s inaction,” Sullivan, the committee’s chairman, wrote in his letter of resignation.

Noting that American scholars had told the State Department about the location of Iraqi museums and historic sites in Iraq, he said the president “is burdened by a compelling moral obligation to plan for and try to prevent indiscriminate looting and destruction.”

Lanier criticized “the administration’s total lack of sensitivity and forethought regarding the Iraq invasion and the loss of cultural treasures.”

While I noted that the loss of these antiquities is a tragedy as soon as I read about it, I’m not sure how exactly we would have prevented it. While granting that there were concerns over this destruction expressed well ahead of time, it is unclear how it is we could simultaneosly have protected the museum and fought the war–although there were measures taken to do just that. Further, the evidence continues to mount that the treasures were stolen or destroyed before our forces ever got to Baghdad and that many of the artifacts feared lost were actually squirreled away by museum staffers for safekeeping.

Update (21:46) Frank at Zogby Blog notes that there are effective techniques for stopping looting.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MommaBear says:

    Given that there is additional information available that the C.O. of the unit in the vicinity was unable to “protect” the contents of the museum because he and his unit were taking fire from within the museum compound is good and sufficient reason to explain this alleged “failure”.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I hadn’t seen that report. Interesting.

  3. Odie says:

    And just imagine the headlines if the U.S. troops had returned fire and caused some damage as a result..

    “U.S. Troops Destroy Iraqi Historical Treasures!”

    A sad case of damned if you, damned if you don’t.

  4. Fred Boness says:

    Clinton appointees are irreplaceble reminders of our history. No more are being made. Each one is precious and unique. Just ask them.

  5. MommaBear says:

    Now the beeb’s World Service [radio]{via BuzzMachine} reports that some antiquities have already shown up in Paris [gasp/shock] at the “informal bourse” dealing in [‘liberated’] art-work.

  6. Fred Boness says:

    Jordan has recovered 42 paintings from the museum found in the possession of journalists entering Jordan from Iraq. Journalists?