Iraq’s Bigger Picture
Jim Hoagland has an excellent perspective piece on the Iraq conflict in today’s WaPo.
The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq eliminated a criminal regime that tortured and killed on a massive scale, used its oil money to buy foreign officials and illegal technology, and did not recently manufacture or stockpile the chemical weapons it flagrantly used 15 years ago on Iraqi Kurds and Iranian soldiers. All of those elements need to be taken into account by voters as the presidential campaign thrashes its way to resolution. Each campaign urges the electorate to buy its incomplete version of Iraq, past and present, rather than consider the total, uneven reality of that country.
The Bush administration cannot avoid the responsibility for having conflated Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs and ties to terrorism into an urgent threat to U.S. citizens and interests in 2003. The final report of the Iraq Survey Group delivered by Charles A. Duelfer establishes that the Bush case was seriously overstated in that respect. The fact that the invasion enabled us to know this conclusively goes largely unmentioned. But the emerging emphasis on what the Iraqi dictator did not do — an emphasis being pushed by the Kerry campaign — rushes past the lasting importance of what Hussein did do against his own people, his neighbors and the international community. He does not deserve next year’s Nobel Peace Prize for not providing al Qaeda with operational support that could be detected by a less-than-perfect CIA.
The moral responsibility that the United States, the United Nations and others continue to bear for turning a blind eye to the gangster behavior of Baghdad for so long must not be obscured in the election-year blizzard of self-interested facts, semi-facts and distortions. No statue of limitations, explicit or implicit, should be extended to war crimes and corruption of the enormity of those committed by the Baathist regime.
Iraq is an undeniable mess today. But Iraq has long been a mess, one that was getting more uncontrollable with every passing year of international sanctions and implosion. Hussein’s inability to stockpile weapons he coveted was a symptom of that mess, not a sign that he was reforming and would sin no more.
The remainder of the piece catalogs the despicable acts of Saddam’s regime and the cooperation from Western and Arab regimes that helped him commit them.
It’s worth reminding ourselves of just how bad things were in Iraq before the US-led invasion when we’re assessing the status quo. Whether toppling that regime and putting ourselves in the middle of a nasty terrorist-insurgency mess, given that Saddam apparently did not have a thriving WMD production program, was worth the enormous cost in US blood and treasure is certainly debatable. Much will depend on the success of the counter-insurgency and the follow-on regime that comes from next year’s elections. The cause itself was a noble one, however.