In 2002, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1441, in essence declaring Iraq to be in violation of a whole host of UN mandates and providing a justification for military intervention in Iraq. Behind this legal rationale, there was also a clear line of logic justifying both the original mandates and the later intervention:
- Iraq not only possessed weapons of mass destruction, but had utilized them on several occasions, including their war with Iran and against the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq.
- This country—with possession of weapons of mass destruction (“WMD”) and precedence for their use—was also an aggressor nation, having invaded Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which prompted the Gulf War.
- Thus, Iraq was considered so dangerous that the UN would not abide by anything less than full inspections of its WMD program. The world was hedging against any disastrous surprises.
Repeatedly throughout the ‘90s, Iraq refused to cooperate with UN inspections. President Clinton deemed the affair serious enough to launch air strikes against the Iraqi regime and their presumed WMD program. Yet, the inspections continued to be hindered and threat was left unmitigated.
As cliché as it might seem, the 9/11 attacks dramatically changed the dynamics of this situation. America was awakened to the ability of terrorist organizations to reach American shores. Iraq, with its sordid history, just happened to be the primary financier of Hamas. In violation of UN mandates, a country with a history of foreign aggression, WMD use, and clear terrorist connections was allowed to operate unfettered in the wake of 9/11.
It was not the presence of WMD that prompted the U.S. and the “Coalition of the Willing” to intervene in Iraq, it was that this regime left this matter to the imagination at this particular time. It was a slam dunk case, except for the bumbling of an inarticulate White House. Weapons of mass destruction were found, but not reported. Regardless, in this particular case, if you don’t know, you go.
Bogged down by the apparent failure to discover WMD, President Bush shifted the narrative to Saddam Hussein’s countless barbarities and human rights abuses. With that pivot, he lost the argument. Any reasonable person could ask, “Are not Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, etc. also chronic abusers of human rights? Why Iraq?” The war in Iraq became a millstone around the neck of the Bush presidency.
Why am I rehashing these old events and arguments? Isn’t this all just historical trivia at this point? No—this is extremely relevant for two reasons: To defend the legacy of our soldiers and to prepare us for the third round of warfare in Iraq.
First, the present generation of soldiers, like those of Vietnam, need to know that they fought for something meaningful. They were not pawns in a geopolitical scheme, or worse, “blood for oil.” Vietnam may have been a mistake, but it was a genuine attempt to check the rapid, violent advance of communism around the globe. Iraq was no mistake—and probably should’ve been done earlier—but even if it was poorly executed, it was still a clear-minded, morally justified attempt to neutralize a dire threat to U.S. security. It was a necessary counter-stroke in the War on Terror.
Second, we recently lost our first marine in Iraq since we formally “left” the country several years ago. He was stationed at a U.S. post in Iraq and was one of several thousand U.S. armed forces now in the country. The buildup is greatly underreported and the looming conflict against ISIS in Iraq will be bequeathed to the next president. Make no mistake—it is coming.
In order to honor our soldiers and gird are loins for the next conflict, we must understand the rationale behind the prior one. More than that, we must believe that we are still a country with moral ideals worth defending and a country with the capability of defending those ideals through morally justified means.