Role of the US and UN in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

Central to developing any opinion regarding the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 is ascertaining the true motive behind Pres. Bush’s decision. The official line from the White House has long since become an object of scorn in part because the justifications change every time fact contradicts assurance from the administration. On the other side of the argument sits the camp that has always refused to believe the invasion of Iraq was motivated by anything other the control of the vast resources of oil in the Middle East. Almost four years after the invasion against Iraq was launched under the justification that the country presented an imminent threat to America, the real truth is beginning to finally be revealed. The invasion of Iraq was based on falsified and manipulated intelligence and has severely undermined America’s stature in the international community.

During the 2000 Presidential campaign, Pres. Bush was already making campaign promises easily confused with the sound of sabers rattling. As early as February 2000 Bush—who had not even won the Republican nomination yet—was forgetting the advice of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt to speak softly. During an interview on PBS Bush sounded anything like a man eager to explore every diplomatic option available before committing US troops to war when he said of Saddam Hussein, “If we catch him developing weapons of mass destruction in any way, shape, or form, I’ll deal with that in a way that he won’t like.” Perhaps Bush was simply engaging in typical Republican tough-guy bluster, but in light of later events his aggressive tone now seem to carry the promise of a plan who already possessed a plan for a pre-emptive invasion. Indeed, well before the attacks of 9/11, the very first order Bush executed as Commander-in-Chief resulted in air strikes in Iraq. The strikes were intended to send a quick message to Saddam Hussein that he would either respect the no-fly zones or pay the consequences.

The first eight and a half months of the Presidency of George W. Bush was an exercise in mediocrity. Pres. Bush enacted no sweeping policies and effected no great change in America. It almost seemed as if he was waiting for something to happen before he felt comfortable enough outlining his legacy. Controversy still swirls around Pres. Bush’s decision to ignore a memo warning him Osama Bin-Laden was allegedly planning to strike at the US using hijacked airplanes, and history may never know for sure whether the administration could have taken steps to prevent those attacks, but the fact remains that on the morning of September 11, 2001 Pres. Bush’s wait for something upon which to hang his legacy ended dramatically and horrifically.

The very same US intelligence system that Pres. Bush has put the onus on for false and misleading information about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was competent enough to almost immediately identify Al-Qaeda as being responsible for the plane attacks on 9/11. International intelligence agencies quickly seized upon Osama bin Laden as the mastermind behind the plot. Bin Laden had almost as long and complex a history with the US government as Saddam Hussein himself. His introduction upon the world stage was as one of the financiers of the men that Pres. Ronald Reagan had designated as “freedom fighters” in the Afghan war against Soviet aggression in the 1980s. The US and Osama Bin Laden shared much in common during that war as both were responsible for helping the Afghan Mujahadeen draw the Soviet Union into a Vietnam-style quagmire. Politics makes strange bedfellows, of course, and though effectively fighting on the same side, Osama was never exactly the friend of the Reagan administration that Saddam Hussein was; no photo has yet been uncovered showing Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Bin Laden the way he shook hands with Hussein. Following the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan and the transformation of the freedom fighting Mujahadeen into the terrorist government known as the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden welcome the scorn with which he was now treated by the US government. Bin Laden had many reasons to despise the US, but it was the stationing of military troops in his homeland of Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Persian Gulf War that fired up his Jihadist intentions.

Trading on both the politics of fear and the politics of reacting to an outside threat with one voice, Pres. Bush’s first steps in securing his legacy was to declare a war on terrorism. The personification of Islamic villainy may not have been his first choice, but Bush had little choice but to launch his opening salvo against the man recognized as the power behind the 9/11 attacks. Acknowledging the threat of Al Qaeda for virtually the first time since taking office, the initial phase of Bush’s war against terrorism focused on that organization’s base, headquartered in Afghanistan. Again, the US intelligence community proved to be suspiciously competent by being able to offer hard evidence of a single man taking refuge within a particular country. How these very same intelligence agents proved to be massively wrong when providing reports on the existence of large-scale weaponry in Iraq is a contradiction yet to be adequately answered by the Bush administration. Despite this contradiction, the Bush administration continues to shift the blame for unprecedented intelligence failure regarding WMDs in Iraq onto the security agencies.

The US government insisted that the Taliban government in Afghanistan turn Osama bin Laden over to authorities so that he can his accomplices could stand trial for their part in orchestrating the 9/11 attacks. When the Taliban refused, the US military launched Operation Enduring Freedom that initially consisted of targeted air attacks on suspected Al Qaeda terrorist training facilities. In addition, the US provided strategic military support for the Afghan opposition, the Northern Alliance. Ultimately, the combined assault succeed in toppling the Taliban government, but Osama bin Laden escaped. Despite this glaring failure in the mission, Pres. Bush declared the first battle in the war on terror to be a success (Dudley 2002).

Emboldened by the sweeping victory that only he seemed to recognize, Pres. Bush brashly expanded the boundaries of the war on terror to include countries nations that assisted terrorists by providing weapons, training, or financial backing of their activities. Three countries were singled out by George W. Bush as being a modern day axis of evil, a term used doubtlessly to form a subconscious connection among people to true axis of evil of Germany, Italy and Japan that attempted to wreak havoc around the globe during the 1940s. Such a tactic was a common one among the administration as the concerted effort began to ramp up support for a war against the one true target of the modern day axis. Iran and North Korean were included mostly likely for two purposes: to divert attention away from the fact that Iraq was already the target of a US invasion, and to form a foundation for further wars of capitalist imperialism should they become necessary (Dudley 2002).

Pres. Bush took advantage of the opportunity for a televised monopoly afforded by his State of the Union address in January of 2002 to brand accuse his axis of evil of posing a threat to the security of the entire world. In particular, he singled out Iraq with specific instances of terrorist intentions: “The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade…a regime that agreed to international inspections, then kicked out he inspectors…a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world…threaten the peace of the world” (Bush, 2002).

The months following this indictment of the axis of evil in general, the Bush White House began to focus specifically—perhaps even exclusively—on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Significantly, the language turned from outlining the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to toppling his regime. During one of the 2000 Presidential debates, candidate George W. Bush asserted that he didn’t “think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation building” (Dempsey and Fontaine 2001, 160). Those words echoed with irony as Pres. Bush sent various high-ranking officials in his administration out to build up a justification for a policy that went from opposition to building a new nation to what came to be described over and over again as “regime change” (Luck 2004, 148).

By late summer of 2002 Pres. Bush was ready to take his case to the UN, demanding that the international governing body step in to enforce the treaties and agreements that had been enacted following the end of the first Gulf War. Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein was repeatedly ignoring UN resolutions and his defiance was undermining the credibility of the United Nations. Another successful tactic used throughout the buildup to the invasion of Iraq by the White House was to divert the onus of responsibility for diplomacy onto the UN. Pres. Bush effectively asserted that the United Nations would become an irrelevant institution if it failed to enforce the resolutions against Iraq (Jones 2004, 218). After making the United Nations almost entirely responsible for a practically impossible diplomatic solution, Pres. Bush then pulled out his trump card, insisting that should the UN fail to enforce the resolutions against Iraq, the United States would act unilaterally to invade with purpose of disarming the country.

Facing what now appeared to be a very real possibility of a US invasion, Iraq agreed to allow the UN weapons inspectors to return unconditionally. The UN Security Council followed suit in November by unanimously passing Iraq Resolution 1441, which officially declared the country to be direct violation of previous UN resolutions, ordered a new series of weapons inspections, and warned Saddam Hussein that Iraq would face “serious consequences” for failure to comply.

On November 18, 2002 the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), headed by Hans Blix returned to Iraq to begin new inspections for weapons. Official reports indicated that their inspections were sometimes met with the full cooperation of the Iraqis, while other times they received no cooperation at all. The Bush administration discounted the reports that indicated no presence of banned weapons and began to push hard for an official authorization from the UN Security Council to forcibly removed Saddam Hussein from power (Enemark and Michaelsen 2005).

While the UN weapons inspectors who had actually been inside Iraq failed to find any evidence of massive stockpiles of weapons in the country, the Bush administration had been pressuring US intelligence agents to find them. Colin Powell went before the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003 armed with what appeared to be solid evidence supporting the Bush’s claims against Saddam Hussein. Powell asserted that not only did Saddam Hussein still possess the technology to produce both biological and chemical weapons, but that he was actively seeking to nuclear weapons.

The evidence used by Powell to support these claims included satellite photographs purportedly showing weapons facilities in Iraq, recorded phone conversations of Iraqi officials, and even statements from informants in the Iraqi government. The accusations made against Iraq painted a portrait of country that had been evading and deceiving UN weapons inspectors for over a decade. The report concluded that Iraq had been successfully hiding evidence of its multiple weapons programs from UN inspectors.

The final nail in the coffin for any chance for a halt to what was becoming an inexorable march toward war was when Colin Powell indicated that there could possibly be a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Up to that point, the conventional view was that Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein had never cooperated together. Al Qaeda was a terrorist organization unquestionably dedicated to fundamentalist Muslim beliefs and viewed Hussein secular manner of government with disdain. Regardless, Powell used this tenuous connection to call upon Security Council to pass a resolution allowing for the use of force to disarm Iraq. The evidence that Saddam Hussein did indeed appear to have massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction seemed incontrovertible. Even so, it would require nine of the fourteen other member countries of the UN Security Council to vote in favor the authorization of force. This would prove difficult as both Russia and France not only had doubts about the immediacy of the threat of Iraq, but had an economic interest in maintaining the status quo. Each representative of the nations on the UN Security Council was given the opportunity to respond to Powell’s presentation, as well as Iraq’s own UN ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri. Aldouri immediately attack Powell’s evidence as false and went on to accuse the White House of having manufactured much of the evidence. Powell failed to get the support necessary for UN authorization of force against Iraq.

Hans Blix issued a report in February 2003 that appeared to challenge the evidence presented by Powell and confirm the defense of Iraq. Rather than taking the word of inspectors at ground level, Pres. Bush remained committed to photographs taken by orbiting satellites miles above the ground. Bush began deploying thousands of US troops to the Persian Gulf. Although the United Kingdom and a handful of other countries supported the approaching invasion, for the most part the massive coalition that supported the US during Desert Storm in the early 90s essentially rejected any part this time around. The United States was able to gain the support of England, Portugal and Spain for one final attempt at getting official UN sanction for military intervention. The four countries asked the Security Council to issue an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein.

Following a series of discussions over the subject, France made it obvious it was planning any form of a resolution that included an authorization of force. A veto by France would conclusively halt any chance for the passage of a resolution because, as a result of its status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a vote against would result in an automatic rejection of the resolution. Rather than face what loomed as a public rejection, the US changed course and decided it would not pursue UN approval. There was an element of concern surrounding the potentiality of a military invasion of Iraq being declared illegal if the United Nations was on record as rejecting a resolution authorizing force. To further protect the invasion from charges that it was illegal, the White House argued that since Iraq had already violated UN Resolution 1441 the threat of consequences for doing so provided justification

In March 2003, the US forces launched a military invasion of Iraq on the basis of justification that Saddam Hussein presented an imminent threat to world peace due to his stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. In what was termed an operation designed to “shock and awe” Iraqi troops into surrendering to the mighty power of the US military, a massive bombing campaign was followed by the arrival of ground troops. To no one’s surprise, the US quickly defeated the Iraqi army, forcing Saddam Hussein to flee and liberating the country from the control of a despot (Hillstrom 2003). Following forty-three days of active engagement, Pres. Bush made a dramatic and now-infamous appearance in a flak jacket aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare and end to hostilities and that the mission was accomplished.

That was in the late spring of 2003. Three and a half years later US troops are still fighting and dying in Iraq and there is no end in sight to the American occupation. In addition, despite claims by Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the administration knew that the WMDs were “in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” (“Were They Even Looking?” 2003, 7) not a single shred of evidence was ever discovered to back up any claims made by the administration that Iraq possessed any weapons of mass destruction. When it became obvious that the justification upon which the invasion was built was thoroughly contradicted by the facts, the White House scrambled to justify the invasion as a humanitarian one that freed the Iraqi people from a regime that engaged in torture. When it was revealed that US soldiers were engaging in torture of Iraqi citizens, the White House scrambled to justify the invasion as retribution for Iraq’s support of the 9/11 hijackers. When it was revealed that there has never been any connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda most people simply stopped listening to the White House’s justifications (Howell 2005).

Instead, it became far more important to focus not on why Pres. Bush took the US to war in Iraq, but what he hoped to accomplish. Unfortunately, the answer to that question remains as big a mystery today as why the war was necessary. One of the justifications of the invasion was that Saddam Hussein was extending support to Al Qaeda terrorists. Today it is documented that Al Qaeda had no base in Iraq before the invasion, but is a major force in the country today. US troops, without any clear mission have devolved into a glorified police force whose main goal is to keep the warring Islamic factions from turning the entire country of Iraq into one large battlefield in a civil war.

Although re-elected narrowly in the 2004 Presidential election, Pres. Bush’s approval ratings and popularity have steadily slipped since then as the war appears to deteriorate with each passing day. More Americans have died since Pres. Bush declared an end to hostilities than before. Even the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein appears anticlimactic amid reports that many Iraqis say they feel less safe today than before their American liberators arrived. In the 2006 midterm elections, the sweep of Democrats into a position of control of both the House and Senate were seen as rejections of Pres. Bush’s decision to go to war.

Not only do most American citizens now question whether Iraq can ever become a democracy, but so do many top level officials in the military. Reports of unchecked corruption and the awarding of highly lucrative no-bid contracts to Halliburton, a company formerly headed by current Vice President Dick Cheney, has raised questions about whether the invasion of Iraq was intended from the beginning to provide economic opportunities for billion dollar contractors. The fact that a war against a country without an army has now dragged on longer than World War II has even raised the specter that the management of the war has not been as incompetent as it seems, but rather was designed from the beginning to prolong the opportunities for profit. As cynical as that argument may be, it has become clear that the depths of cynicism engaged in by the Bush administration knows no bounds. If the evidence that the White House used to justify the existence of WMDs was as solid as the evidence that the White House manipulated intelligence to further a pre-formed decision to invade Iraq, Pres. Bush’s approval ratings would be far higher because WMDs would have been found (Report on Review of the Pre-Iraqi War Activities of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, 2007).

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