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.

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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. Ken says:

    God save us from any more of your noble causes.

    I suppose I wouldn’t mind as much if it weren’t my taxes, my military, my country doing all the fighting and dying for your noble cause. But since it is, in the future, please try to undertake your noble causes on your own dime. Thanks.

  2. Meezer says:

    It’s not *your* military, money, etc., Ken, it’s *ours*. Enough of us wanted to do this that it was a majority. That’s called Democracy, son, and if you don’t care for it, there are lots of places where you don’t have to live under its tyrany.
    I don’t like the way money is spent on education, but until I convince enough of my *fellow* citizens to change things, I have to go along or leave. It is my choice.

  3. Todd says:

    Back in your hole, Ken. Put your hands over your ears and sing lalalala as loud as you can. The world will obligingly go away.

  4. IR says:

    Ahhh, perhaps we can apply Ken’s logic in a mirror. 86% of the citizens of New Mexico agreed with the Legislation that first time voters need show ID. Yet, the Secretary of State (who represents those citizens) filed suit claiming that only mail-in registrations required ID. The SOS won that case. Of course the DNC and a ‘non-partisan’ registration groups joined the suit in support of the SOS..and 14% of the electorate.

    Hey, stop using my tax dollars, my Country, and my public officials to circumvent Democracy…*chuckle*

  5. IR says:

    Enough slapping…The original focus of the blog…The WP piece….Nicely done…and reflective of our society as a whole that he would have to remind us of what was, and what could have been. We live in an “immediate gratification” vaccum. Anything short of instantaneous satisfaction sends the less focused and disciplined into a hand wringing exercise. I’m sure the same folks bough 8 Track Players…and some probably still use them…

  6. Ken says:

    Save your speeches for the Rotary Club. No one told us that we were going to Iraq for some ‘noble cause’. It was supposed to be because Iraq, with WMD, presented such a threat me and my family that my tax money and my countriy’s military should be expended to defend me from those WMD. Does anyone remember the mushroom cloud over America threat made repeatedly by the administration? THAT is why we went to war. It turned out to be a lie. And now you think some silly Rotary Club speechifying is going to make it all right. Pathetic.

  7. JakeV says:

    It seems so long ago that Bush was saying that his goal was to “disarm” Saddam. What’s more, he said that he hoped to “disarm” him peacefully.

    It seems so long ago.

  8. Attila Girl says:

    I love how the President is somehow expected to retroactively know something that no one else in the world knew: that Saddam was (probably) bluffing about what he had in the way of WMD.

    And he was, of course, supposed to ignore the legal problem presented by the fact that Saddam (WMDs or no) was flouting the terms of the agreement that ended the first Gulf War, and somehow figure out a way to make sanctions and inspections work (when they never had, not for a dozen years).

    And notwithstanding the fact that thousands of Americans died in 2001 because we “knew” terrorists wouldn’t ever do us serious harm, he was supposed to err on the side of risk-taking rather than caution.

    Ken would have done better. If only Ken had been in the White House then, he would have kept us safe on the cheap.

  9. Ken says:

    Stop patting yourselves on the back while you spend my tax money on your noble cause. If you haven’t noticed your noble cause is killing more innocent Iraqis, in the name of what – freedom? – than were killed on September 11, 2001. How about the freedom to be safe from an invading army and smart bombs? Or that asking too much?

    Iraq was a mistake. Trying to justify it as a noble cause, after the fact, is pathetic.

    Bush rushed to war when anyone could see that the sanctions were working. Everyone agreed before Bush started his propaganda campaign that Iraq was not a threat. Colin Powell, Condi Rice, everybody said that Saddam was contained.

    I was willing to listen, although with a great deal of scepticism, cause Bush was so fervent about it. Now it looks like he just out and out lied. HE LIED.

    There were plenty of credible people who had doubts about those WMD. Bush said there were none. HE LIED.

  10. McGehee says:

    Ken, save your speeches for people who don’t have any working brain cells.

  11. LJD says:

    Iraq DID present a threat to the U.S. At least, that’s what Kerry and Edwards told us. Hindsight always being 20/20, perhaps we should wait a few months for a new revelation.

    Unfortunately, the Commander in Chief does not have the luxury of waiting to see how things will pan out. Kerry scares the hell out of me. If he is elected, I will be traveling to Washington to do some medal-throwing of my own…

    I suppose his solution “knowing what we know now” would have been to wait to go to war, and continue to finance terrorism and Saddam’s torture chambers, with U.S. (oil-for-food) currency. Why hasn’t anybody called him on this?

    …And what about building the coalition? Does anybody believe that countries implicated in the U.N. ripoff, countries raking in money by violating sanctions, and profitting from Iraqi oil, would have ever supported the war, even if Saddam was proven to have stockpiles of WMD?

  12. Anjin-San says:

    Does anyone really buy the Bush admin’s pathetic attempts to re-brand the war? Bush told us it was about Saddam’s WMD. Period. Rumsfeld said we had “bulletproof” evidence of WMD. Rice (who knew better) warned us of mushroom clouds over US cities.

    The world has plenty of evil bastards running countries, including one who has built real, not fantasy WMD’s which threaten the West Coast at this very moment. All while Bush obsessed over Saddam.

    Funny how we just had to take out the evil bastard who was sitting atop an ocean of oil.

  13. LJD says:

    Lefties love the word “pathetic”…. perhaps distraught over the candidate they “settled for”.

    The only people “re-branding” the war effort are demoracts. The president gave many, many reasons to congress, and the U.N. Kerry and Edwards saw the same evidence and agreed, Saddam was a threat. If their argument is that they were “mislead” or “lied to”, I suppose the President can make the same case for himself. But, to now say they only authorized the “threat of war” is an absolute cop-out.

    The truth is, while the administration was attempting to satisfy those who would never endorse the war, Saddam had all the time in the world to export his arms. As a result, they are now very likely available to terrorists; because of the long and unsuccessful diplomacy battle.

    It was the right war, a little bit past the right time, at exactly the right place.

    Why is it that when the question of Iraq comes up, the case is made for war against Iran, North Korea, or in Sudan? Does any one against the Iraq war actually endorse a war anywhere else? These inflammatory hypotheticals aggrevate a situation that could result in world war, or the use of “nuke-u-lar” weapons. One step at a time. We have seen the effect of Clinton’s “containment” strategy on Saddam, Al Qaeda, and North Korea. All failures.

    President Bush has actually made strong arguments for Iraq being a component of the larger war on terror, and in sending a message to Islamist radicals in the Middle East. The democrats just aren’t listening- all he does is lie, right? SO, why listen to what your President has to say.
    They haven’t gotten over the “No Blood for Oil” thing either. I haven’t seen much of our focus on oil. I have seen a lot of focus on security, elections, schools, hospitals, infrastructure. Isn’t it REALLY the Russians and the French holding all the oil vouchers?