Gulf War II: "Was This Trip Really Necessary?"
A constant refrain in media since the most recent invasion of Iraq has been that the war in Iraq is either illegal, unnecessary, unprovoked or worse.
As someone called back into uniform to serve in what was later named "Operation Iraqi Freedom" (OIF), I found, at the time, within myself a certain sympathy with that view. Being mobilized was, to say the least, a matter of significant personal inconvenience as well as, later on, some hazard to myself and many others with whom I have considerable ties of affection and comradeship, one of whom did not survive our deployment.
In the course of my service I had lengthy opportunity to reflect upon and revise that perspective as to the war's necessity. Let me make and take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on the matter.
Following the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., it was at last crystal clear to America's citizenry and political leadership that we were at war.
The only question was with whom (or what) it was, exactly, that we were at war. The answer varies, depending upon whom is asked, from a network of trained terrorists, sympathizers, supporting governments and non-governmental organizations (i.e., Al-Qaida) to our own capitalist system and support for Israel which in some convolution of thought brought the attack upon ourselves. For further exploration of this tortuously convoluted and poisonous line of thought, consult the speeches of Ward Churchill.
As someone who'd been aware of Al-Qaida since the bombing attacks against our diplomatic missions in Kenya and Tanzania, learning they were responsible for the 9/11 attacks was considerably less of a shock than the attacks themselves. Therefore our attack against the Taliban regime of Afghanistan, the primary state sponsor of Al-Qaida, seemed clearly warranted, given several considerations:
First, that Al-Qaida was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
Second, that Afghanistan was a state sponsor of Al-Qaida. I would argue that Afghanistan was the primary state sponsor of Al-Qaida in terms of physical support such as national sanctuary, training establishments and the like. I would further argue that Sudan was, at least for certain periods, also a state sponsor in similar fashion, although by that late date, Afghanistan had replaced them in most, if not all, respects.
Third, that the U.S. Congress had, on September 15, 2001, made a joint resolution authorizing President Bush "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons." (http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/09/15/congress.terrorism/)
And so it was done. And let's keep the above congressional resolution in mind, as it, in my loose summation, authorizes the President to "put the smackdown" on pretty-much anyone or ones who had anything to do with supporting or facilitating the 9/11 attacks or who had sheltered or aided them.
And Iraq was to be next.
President Bush was fairly clear in his State of the Union address in January 2002, the famed "Axis of Evil" speech, wherein he named Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an "axis of evil".
"North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.
Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.
Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world." (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html).
Conspicuously absent from this list, this "axis," were both Libya and Syria.
One can argue against the axis of evil formulation of various grounds, such as, for instance, that of engineering: that an axis has only two ends. Historically that didn't matter, as when Tokyo was perceived to join the Berlin-Rome axis prior-to and during World War II.
Some have argued that North Korea doesn't belong on such an axis as that of Iran and Iraq, or even that Iran and Iraq, historic and recent enemies, don't belong on the same axis. Such arguments miss the point: each of these nation's leaderships saw us as their enemy and acted accordingly, even to the extremes of cooperating with one another from time to time, as it suits them. And two of them still do.
There are a number of rationales for Iraq being next, after Afghanistan, on the Global War On Terror (GWOT) "to-do" list.
First, I would mention that we (the original 1st Gulf War coalition) had been in a state of hostilities with Iraq from the time of Gulf War I (GW1).
GW1 was ended with a ceasefire and then a truce agreement. Not a capitulation and never a peace treaty.
Said truce agreement was violated constantly by the Hussein regime. For over the next decade, one found one's morning newspaper would periodically include a brief mention that U.S. or British warplanes had been fired upon or "lit-up" by Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) radar and responded. Usually they responded by destroying the radar transmitter arrays themselves. This is reminiscent of Soviet doctrine for jamming radio transmitters, which involved artillery barrages, but I digress . . .
The Kurdish north of Iraq was freed from Saddamite oppression and persecution (as well as aperiodic genocide) by the northern "No Fly" zone. This allowed a decade-long flowering of prosperity and peace.
So Iraq represented unfinished business for the U.S. That alone merited it the number one place on the "axis of evil" hit parade. Related factors included that U.S. forces were already familiar with the region and had considerable support and preparation already accomplished as part of contingency planning in the event of a resumption of active hostilities and pursuant to the security of both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Second, was the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) argument. Included in the rationale for going to war with Iraq was the claim that Iraq was developing WMDs and thus represented a clear threat to the U.S.
This rationale seemed to get the most ink and airtime in print and other media, to the exclusion of other legitimate reasons. My personal impression is that the media found this argument the most convincing, the most "sexy," and was possessed of the mistaken impression that it understood this rationale the best.
Saddam had used WMDs before, after all, against the Iranians during the long Iran-Iraq War and against his own, primarily Kurdish, Iraqi civilians.
He was supposed, pursuant to the truce agreement and a grab bag of U.N. resolutions, to cease WMD development, dismantle his development programs, and destroy any stocks of WMD he might possess.
Media coverage since the fall of Baghdad has proved the opposite of at least two of my three arguments as to just why the media finding the WMD rationale so alluring.
The post-war evidence proved to be less than convincing, particularly in light of the paucity of evidence of any WMD stockpiles or development programs by the Iraq Security Group (ISG).
This made the argument a lot less sexy.
And other developments made it clear that the media lacks any clear understanding of WMD.
On the other hand, I do have an understanding of WMD. Once upon a time, my original Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was that of Atomic Demolition and Munitions Specialist (12E). "Twelve Echos" were an elite group within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in those days before the development of the Sapper Leader Course. But I digress . . . suffice it to say that I have a hands-on knowledge of nuclear weapons at the tactical level as well as some understanding of their strategic employment and functional and theoretical workings. Additionally, as an undergraduate freshman engineering major the year prior to my enlistment, I had written a paper on the Manhatten Project, so I'm not utterly ignorant of the physics and engineering requirements for an atomic WMD program.
In the years since, my additional duties as a non-commissioned officer for a period of years included that of "NBC Decontamination Team Chief" for my Military Intelligence (MI) company in the Army Reserve. NBC is an acronym meaning "nuclear-biological-chemical." So I have a "greater-than-the-average-joe-on-the-street" understanding of the other forms of WMD as well.
WMD includes chemical and biological weapons as well as nuclear or radiological weapons.
Since CNN was unable to get footage of a ICBM's rolling off of a PANTEX-style assembly line (http://www.pantex.com/), then there must have been no WMDs.
There's a little thing like the difficulty (nearing an impossibility) of proving a negative, but we'll gloss over that for now.
WMDs were discovered in Iraq.
They just happened to be have been older, chemical (nerve agent) munitions. Which Saddam wasn't supposed to have either.
This leads me to my "moving the goalposts" gripe regarding the media.
These chemical WMDs weren't or aren't good enough, apparently, to prove that Saddam had WMDs, although they demonstrate he actually did possess them.
Their very existance proves that he had them. But we hear nothing but that he did not.
They were too old, although he wasn't supposed to have them at all.
They didn't represent an on-going WMD development program, although if he had them, he clearly didn't need to develop them much further, did he?
This is why I call this, moving the goalposts.
There are those who argue that WMD stockpiles and/or production facilities were either destroyed by Saddam before the U.S.-lead invasion or spirited out of Iraq, perhaps to Syria, perhaps by Russian special forces. Maybe. Maybe not. It's also argued that Iraq is a big place (it is) and these unfound facilities or weapons could still be hidden, perhaps buried in the desert, perhaps hidden, mislabeled, in one of the hundreds of ordinary munitions storage sites.
I don't care.
I don't care because, a.) a nerve agent weapon that wasn't supposed to be there did in fact exist and was discovered, more than once; and, b.) the WMD threat as rationale for invasion never impressed me that much anyways.
Others, of a more geopolitical bent, saw our regime-change in Iraq as the beginning of something beautiful: that democracy could be introduced there, nurtured there, and, like a contagion, would spread therefrom throughout the despotic Middle East in sort of a reverse "domino theory."
As a reason to invade, that argument never impressed me much either. It is, however, a much hoped-for side effect and benefit that seems to have legs of its own.
Libya has foresworn and disavowed, after, finally, admitting its own WMD development programs, and is seeking normalized relations with the Free World.
Saudi Arabia has had its first popular elections, for representative assemblies, in basically forever. Our Saudi friends have a long way to go in this regard, but every journey begins with, well, you know.
And Lebanon. The Cedar Revolution. Syria has today withdrawn the last of its military units from Lebanon, with intelligence units to follow.
None of these things suffices, even together, in my opinion as reason to invade Iraq in the first place, but they kind of make you glad that you did, after the fact.
The essential reason I believe that invading Iraq was the right thing to do is that I believe to have been a supporter of Al-Qaida.
I don't posit that Saddam anyone in Iraq necessarily knew of the planned 9/11 attacks. Nor do I even necessarily care whether specific support given by Iraq to Al-Qaida went towards the 9/11 attacks. But I do believe that agents and agencies of the Ba'athist government of Iraq, lead by Saddam Hussein, provided support to Al-Qaida and had continuing contacts with them, as they do today as part of the terrorist insurrection lead, at least in part by Al-Qaida's Usama Bin Ladin-appointed "emir" for Iraq, Al-Zarkawi.
Support is fungible, particularly financial support.
While in Iraq I read Stephen Hayes' article in The Weekly Standard (http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/003/378fmxyz.asp). I found that sufficient grounds to make the case of official Iraqi support to Al-Qaida. Recall my so-named "smackdown" authority cited above and provided to President Bush by Congress. Enough said.
Update: Mr. Hayes has published an update to his Weekly Standard article, again in the Weekly Standard; see: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/804yqqnr.asp; and http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2005/07/ws-mother-of-all-connections.html.
As a diplomat, I found the following portion of the Hayes article particularly compelling:
"One example. The memo contains only one paragraph on Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, the Iraqi facilitator who escorted two September 11 hijackers through customs in Kuala Lumpur. U.S. intelligence agencies have extensive reporting on his activities before and after the September 11 hijacking. That they would include only this brief overview suggests the 16-page memo, extensive as it is, just skims the surface of the reporting on Iraq-al Qaeda connections.
Other intelligence reports indicate that Shakir whisked not one but two September 11 hijackers--Khalid al Midhar and Nawaq al Hamzi--through the passport and customs process upon their arrival in Kuala Lumpur on January 5, 2000. Shakir then traveled with the hijackers to the Kuala Lumpur Hotel where they met with Ramzi bin al Shibh, one of the masterminds of the September 11 plot. The meeting lasted three days. Shakir returned to work on January 9 and January 10, and never again.
Shakir got his airport job through a contact at the Iraqi Embassy. (Iraq routinely used its embassies as staging grounds for its intelligence operations; in some cases, more than half of the alleged "diplomats" were intelligence operatives.) The Iraqi embassy, not his employer, controlled Shakir's schedule. He was detained in Qatar on September 17, 2001. Authorities found in his possession contact information for terrorists involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1998 embassy bombings, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and the September 11 hijackings. The CIA had previous reporting that Shakir had received a phone call from the safe house where the 1993 World Trade Center attacks had been plotted.
The Qataris released Shakir shortly after his arrest. On October 21, 2001, he flew to Amman, Jordan, where he was to change planes to a flight to Baghdad. He didn't make that flight. Shakir was detained in Jordan for three months, where the CIA interrogated him. His interrogators concluded that Shakir had received extensive training in counter-interrogation techniques. Not long after he was detained, according to an official familiar with the intelligence, the Iraqi regime began to "pressure" Jordanian intelligence to release him. At the same time, Amnesty International complained that Shakir was being held without charge. The Jordanians released him on January 28, 2002, at which point he is believed to have fled back to Iraq. "
This kind of official assistance to an Al-Qaida operative by Iraqi diplomatic agents put the finishing touch on my change-of-heart (not to mention mind) about the necessity for regime-change in Iraq, even if it meant invasion. I would note that the article was published in November 2003, some seven months after the invasion and six months into my year in Iraq.
I could go on to list Saddam's many crimes, against humanity, against the environment, against Iran, against the Kurds, against his own people and society; actually I couldn't really do that, other than by general categories. The mass graves should speak for themselves, but then we really always knew they were there, those who cared to know about it. Saddam was always a bad guy. Realpolitik dictated, once upon a time, that the U.S. deal with him when Iran was seen as the greater enemy, but even that eventually changed. Saddam being a bad guy was never enough of a reason to go to the other side of the world to invade his country, but it's a reason to be glad that eventually we did.
I should close by mentioning the most ludicrous reason that critics give for our having invaded Iraq.
Supposedly we were invading in order to steal Iraq's oil.
Unfortunately, some in the Bush administration fed into this fantasy by publicly speculating that our invasion, occupation, and/or reconstruction would somehow pay for itself through the sale of Iraqi oil.
That hasn't happened. For various reasons.
But I always thought believing it as a reason was just plain stupid.
Even today, the U.S. isn't stealing the oil; what Iraqi oil the U.S. might get is paid for in U.S. dollars. And, although I'm no economist or serious student of the world petroleum industry, but I suspect that the markets for Iraqi oil were and are a lot closer, say Europe and Asia, than the U.S.
I should further mention something about what Al-Qaida is, and what it is not.