Operation Iraqi Freedom FAQ
Click on the questions or scroll down for my answers to these frequently asked questions about Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
- What were President Bush’s alternatives with Iraq?
- Why did Bush leave the ‘containment’ (status quo)?
- Why not remove the Iraq ceasefire enforcement and free Saddam?
- Why did resolution of the Saddam problem require a credible threat of regime change?
- Did Bush allow enough time for the UNMOVIC inspections?
- Did Iraq failing its compliance test justify the regime change?
- The reasons for OIF seemed to change. Was OIF about WMD or democracy?
- Was the invasion of Iraq perceived to be a nation-building effort?
- Did Bush lie his way to war with Iraq?
- Was Operation Iraqi Freedom legal?
- If a new UN authorization was not needed for OIF, then why did Bush go to the UN?
- Did Operation Iraqi Freedom really cost X trillions of dollars?
- Was Operation Iraqi Freedom a strategic blunder or a strategic victory?
Q: What were President Bush’s alternatives with Iraq?
A: By the close of the Clinton administration, after ten years of struggle as chief enforcer of the Gulf War ceasefire United Nations Security Council resolutions to disarm and rehabilitate Saddam Hussein, only 3 options remained for the US with Iraq: kick the can with ‘containment’ (status quo), remove the Iraq ceasefire enforcement and free Saddam, or resolve the Saddam problem with a final chance for Iraq to comply with the UNSC resolutions under credible threat of regime change.*
An intellectually honest argument against President Bush's decision to resolve the Saddam problem must include a compelling case for kicking the can and/or freeing Saddam.
* The Blix alternative, used by President Clinton to retreat from his support for President Bush and endorsement of OIF, was not realistic.
Q: Why did Bush leave the ‘containment’ (status quo)?
A: One, the purpose of the Gulf War ceasefire UNSC resolutions was the expeditious compliance and disarmament of Iraq, not a stalemated 'containment' of Saddam.
Two, the ‘containment’ was toxic and broken. The ad hoc 'containment' that followed Operation Desert Fox (ODF) was, in effect, a euphemism for failed disarmament. There was no substantive change in the enforcement measures after ODF from the strategy in place when President Clinton pronounced, "Iraq has abused its final chance." According to the Duelfer Report, Saddam responded to ODF by nullifying the Gulf War ceasefire UNSC resolutions in domestic Iraq policy, reconstituted Iraq’s NBC capabilities with a clandestine active program in the Iraqi intelligence services (IIS), fostered international opposition to the Iraq enforcement, and de facto neutralized the sanctions.
The Duelfer Report illustrates the evident collapse of the 'containment' before the 9/11 attacks:
By 2000-2001, Saddam had managed to mitigate many of the effects of sanctions and undermine their international support. Iraq was within striking distance of a de facto end to the sanctions regime, both in terms of oil exports and the trade embargo, by the end of 1999.Three, the pre-9/11 threat calculation for Saddam was based primarily on a conventional military-based "imminent" threat standard. The 9/11 attacks, coupled with the uncovering of an international WMD black market, shifted the threat calculation to a "grave and gathering" threat standard with a focus on Saddam’s unconventional capabilities, such as the IIS and terrorist ties.
… There is an extensive, yet fragmentary and circumstantial, body of evidence suggesting that Saddam pursued a strategy to maintain a capability to return to WMD after sanctions were lifted by preserving assets and expertise. In addition to preserved capability, we have clear evidence of his intent to resume WMD as soon as sanctions were lifted.
... The successful implementation of the Protocols, continued oil smuggling efforts, and the manipulation of UN OFF [Oil for Food] contracts emboldened Saddam to pursue his military reconstitution efforts starting in 1997 and peaking in 2001. These efforts covered conventional arms, dual-use goods acquisition, and some WMD-related programs.
... Prohibited goods and weapons were being shipped into Iraq with virtually no problem. The only notable items stopped in this flow were some aluminum tubes, which became the center of debate over the existence of a nuclear enrichment effort in Iraq. Major items had no trouble getting across the border, including 380 liquid-fuel rocket engines. Indeed, Iraq was designing missile systems with the assumption that sanctioned material would be readily available.
... From Baghdad the long struggle to outlast the containment policy of the United States imposed through the UN sanctions seemed tantalizingly close. There was considerable commitment and involvement on the part of states like Russia and Syria, who had developed economic and political stakes in the success of the Regime. From Baghdad’s perspective, they had firm allies, and it appeared the United States was in retreat. The United Nations mechanism to implement the Oil For Food program was being corrupted and undermined. The collapse or removal of sanctions was foreseeable. This goal, always foremost in Saddam’s eyes, was within reach.
After the Gulf War, Saddam had continued to sponsor terrorists in material breach of the Gulf War ceasefire. Consequent to 9/11, the priority that President Bush assigned to preventing the acquisition of Iraqi weapon by terrorists followed President Clinton's Presidential Decision Directive/NSC-39 of 1995:
[The] United States shall seek to identify groups or states that sponsor or support such terrorists, isolate them and extract a heavy price for their actions.Bush explained the changed threat calculation for Saddam in the 2003 State of the Union:
... The United States shall seek to deter terrorism through a clear public position that our policies will not be affected by terrorist acts and that we will act vigorously to deal with terrorists and their sponsors.
... The United States shall give the highest priority to developing effective capabilities to detect, prevent, defeat and manage the consequences of nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) materials or weapons use by terrorists.
... The acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by a terrorist group, through theft or manufacture, is unacceptable. There is no higher priority than preventing the acquisition of this capability or removing this capability from terrorist groups potentially opposed to the U.S.
Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. ... Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.Citing to his own experience as President with the Iraq enforcement, Clinton endorsed Bush acting to resolve the heightened threat:
I thought it was prudent for the president to go to the U.N. and for the U.N. to say you got to let these inspectors in, and this time if you don't cooperate the penalty could be regime change ... I mean, we're all more sensitive to any possible stocks of chemical and biological weapons ... it is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted for stocks of biological and chemical weapons. (CNN, July 3, 2003)and
Noting that Bush had to be "reeling" in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Clinton said Bush's first priority was to keep al Qaeda and other terrorist networks from obtaining "chemical and biological weapons or small amounts of fissile material."These Duelfer Report findings illustrate the threat posed by the broken 'containment':
"That's why I supported the Iraq thing. There was a lot of stuff unaccounted for," Clinton said in reference to Iraq and the fact that U.N. weapons inspectors left the country in 1998.
"So I thought the president had an absolute responsibility to go to the U.N. and say, 'Look, guys, after 9/11, you have got to demand that Saddam Hussein lets us finish the inspection process.' You couldn't responsibly ignore [the possibility that] a tyrant had these stocks," Clinton said. (CNN, June 19, 2004)
Saddam had direct command of the Iraqi intelligence services [which] ... ran a large covert procurement program, undeclared chemical laboratories, and supported denial and deception operations.The IIS was, of course, Saddam's regime arm notorious for working with terrorists and carrying out Saddam's in-house black ops. In fact, Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs started in the IIS. The ISG found Saddam was evidently capable of secretly producing weapon for covert precision attacks, whether in league with terrorists like al Qaeda or by his own means.
… ISG [Iraq Survey Group] uncovered information that the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) maintained throughout 1991 to 2003 a set of undeclared covert laboratories to research and test various chemicals and poisons, primarily for intelligence operations. The network of laboratories could have provided an ideal, compartmented platform from which to continue CW agent R&D or small-scale production efforts …
... • The existence, function, and purpose of the laboratories were never declared to the UN.
• The IIS program included the use of human subjects for testing purposes.
... [The] following are of particular concern, as they relate to the possibility of a retained BW [biological weapons] capability or the ability to initiate a new one.
• ISG cannot determine the fate of Iraq’s stocks of bulk BW agents remaining after Desert Storm and subsequent unilateral destruction. There is a very limited chance that continuing investigation may provide evidence to resolve this issue.
• The fate of the missing bulk agent storage tanks.
• The fate of a portion of Iraq’s BW agent seed-stocks.
• The nature, purpose and who was involved in the secret biological work in the small IIS laboratories discovered by ISG.
While it was the 9/11 attacks that pushed President Bush to resolve the Saddam problem, the Iraq enforcement was in a terminal state. With or without 9/11, the Saddam problem had come to a head with the ‘containment’ broken.
Q: Why not remove the Iraq ceasefire enforcement and free Saddam?
A: See Saddam’s history from 1980 onward with the instigation of successive wars and the continued malfeasant behavior causing a humanitarian crisis within Iraq and threatening a region critical to international security and stability.
Dealing cautiously with unsavory competitors that are rational actors is normal for the US and shaped the initial American approach to the Iran-Iraq War. However, Saddam proved to be an aggressive irrational actor with dangerously poor judgement.
A common misconception is that the US was allied with Iraq against Iran in the Iran-Iraq War, like the US relationship with the Soviet Union during World War 2. Actually, the US priority was containing the conflict pursuant to the Reagan Corollary to the Carter Doctrine, which established the security and stability of the Middle East as a US national security interest. The US view on Iraq was cautiously favorable neutrality. However, Iran had recently become an enemy and, among other countries, US firms traded some "dual-use" biological and chemical items with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. Opposing Khomeini's regime in Iran was justified, but favoring Saddam's regime was a mistake. Saddam was warned over his actions in the Iran-Iraq War, yet he followed them by brutalizing Kuwait, defying international demands to stop, even attempting to expand the conflict during the Gulf War, and viciously suppressing the uprising by the Iraqi people. Saddam acted as though proscriptive international law and custom was a guide for what to do, rather than what not to do as a national leader.
As such, the Gulf War ceasefire was purposefully designed to rehabilitate Saddam so he could be trusted with the peace. If Saddam failed to comply with the UNSC resolutions, then he could not be trusted with the peace; in that case, the ceasefire was breached and the Gulf War would resume and be completed. As chief enforcer, the US simply could not trust Saddam with any less than full compliance on Iraq's ceasefire obligations, weapons and non-weapons related, especially after 9/11.
On September 12, 2002, President Bush explained the heightened stakes and reiterated the compliance basis of the Iraq enforcement to the U.N. General Assembly:
Above all, our principles and our security are challenged today by outlaw groups and regimes that accept no law of morality and have no limit to their violent ambitions. In the attacks on America a year ago, we saw the destructive intentions of our enemies. This threat hides within many nations, including my own. In cells and camps, terrorists are plotting further destruction, and building new bases for their war against civilization. And our greatest fear is that terrorists will find a shortcut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale. In one place -- in one regime -- we find all these dangers, in their most lethal and aggressive forms, exactly the kind of aggressive threat the United Nations was born to confront. Twelve years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait without provocation. And the regime's forces were poised to continue their march to seize other countries and their resources. Had Saddam Hussein been appeased instead of stopped, he would have endangered the peace and stability of the world. Yet this aggression was stopped -- by the might of coalition forces and the will of the United Nations. To suspend hostilities, to spare himself, Iraq's dictator accepted a series of commitments. The terms were clear, to him and to all. And he agreed to prove he is complying with every one of those obligations. He has proven instead only his contempt for the United Nations, and for all his pledges. By breaking every pledge -- by his deceptions, and by his cruelties -- Saddam Hussein has made the case against himself.Freeing a noncompliant Saddam was out of the question. The Duelfer Report confirms that Saddam was not rehabilitated.
IR realists like to claim US interests, including regional stability, were better served with Saddam countering Iran. The faulty premise of IR realists is Saddam could be trusted, yet Saddam acting out of control, destabilizing, and against US interests is the reason for the US intervention with Iraq in the first place. I think they're stuck in 1980 with our ally, the Shah, only just replaced by our enemy, the Ayatollah, and Baathist Iraq, led by then-new President Saddam Hussein, thought to be the lesser of 2 evils. IR liberals understand that by the time of the Bush administration (either one works), the Iran-Iraq conflict was a source of the region's problems, not a stabilizer. IR realists are effectively proposing an unreconstructed Hitler should have been propped up in Germany following World War 2 in order to serve as a regional counter to the Soviet Union. Hitler + USSR = the worst of World War 2, not peace in our time. The IR realist belief that after 9/11 we should have trusted and empowered a noncompliant Saddam to deal with Iran on our behalf is madness.
By the same token, the claim that Saddam's regime was the antidote for the post-war insurgency seems incredible when considering Saddam's "systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law by the Government of Iraq, resulting in an all-pervasive repression and oppression sustained by broad-based discrimination and widespread terror" (UN Commission on Human Rights) that were a primary focus of the Gulf War ceasefire per UNSCR 688 and related resolutions. Saddam, his sons, and their loyalists were the original cause and major driver of the terroristic insurgency that attacked the Iraqi people, which was adapted from Saddam's terroristic governance of Iraq. Saddam was a vector of the disease, not the cure for it. Saddam, his sons, and their loyalists were not people who should hold authority over any civilized society.
Nonetheless, the fact is that Saddam was given opportunities throughout the Iraq enforcement to rehabilitate and stay in power, yet refused. The Duelfer Report describes Saddam growing increasingly irrational in his thinking even as he consolidated power, abused his nation's people, and reconstituted his WMD capabilities. Saddam was convinced Iraq needed WMD in order to realize his ambitions and counter Iran as well as his other enemies. Iran’s WMD development is bad enough by itself. An irrational Saddam with dangerously poor judgement spurring an urgent Iran-Iraq WMD arms race was neither the way for the US to counter Iran nor a formula for regional stability.
Q: Why did resolution of the Saddam problem require a credible threat of regime change?
A: One, because every non-military and lesser military enforcement measure had been used up during the Clinton administration. The Operation Desert Fox bombing campaign was the penultimate military enforcement. When Saddam was debriefed after his capture, he confirmed that he had been ready and willing to absorb another bombing campaign like ODF. By progressive sequence, the next - and last - step up from the ODF bombing campaign was the OIF ground invasion, the ultimate military enforcement.
Two, as the lesser enforcement measures were exhausted against Saddam's persistent subversion of the disarmament process and open violation of non-weapons mandates, President Clinton concluded regime change was the only realistic way to bring Iraq into compliance. The object of regime change for Iraq was made into US law along with active measures. Clinton also reinforced the US legal authority to use military force to bring Iraq into compliance.
Three, according to Hans Blix (UNMOVIC) and confirmed by the Duelfer Report, the credible threat of regime change was necessary to compel Saddam to cooperate at all. Again, Saddam had de facto neutralized the sanctions and, after ODF, set domestic Iraq policy nullifying the Gulf War ceasefire UNSC resolutions, and determined another bombing campaign like ODF could be absorbed.
In the end, even the threat of regime change was not enough incentive for Saddam to comply, disarm, and rehabilitate.
Q: Did Bush allow enough time for the UNMOVIC inspections?
A: Yes. UNMOVIC's presentation of the Cluster Document to the UN Security Council on March 7, 2003 concluded the UNSCR 1441 inspection period with the finding of "about 100 unresolved disarmament issues".
The UN inspectors' role has often been misunderstood as searching for proof that Iraqi possession matched pre-war intelligence estimates. In fact, UNSCOM and UNMOVIC's role was not to find WMD in Iraq but rather to verify whether Iraq was compliant with UNSCR 687 and related resolutions.
UNSCOM and UNMOVIC's role was originally set out in UNSCR 687 (1991):
9. Decides, for the implementation of paragraph 8 above, the following:President Bush attempted to correct the pervasive mischaracterization of UNMOVIC's role in the 2003 State of the Union:
(i) The forming of a Special Commission, which shall carry out immediate on-site inspection of Iraq's biological, chemical and missile capabilities, based on Iraq's declarations and the designation of any additional locations by the Special Commission itself;
(ii) The yielding by Iraq of possession to the Special Commission for destruction, removal or rendering harmless, taking into account the requirements of public safety, of all items specified under paragraph 8 (a) above, including items at the additional locations designated by the Special Commission under paragraph 9 (b) (i) above and the destruction by Iraq, under the supervision of the Special Commission, of all its missile capabilities, including launchers, as specified under paragraph 8 (b) above;
(iii) The provision by the Special Commission of the assistance and cooperation to the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency required in paragraphs 12 and 13 below;
The 108 U.N. inspectors ... were not sent to conduct a scavenger hunt for hidden materials across a country the size of California. The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq's regime is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see, and destroy them as directed. Nothing like this has happened.The nearly 4-month inspection period - tacked onto the preceding 12 years Saddam had been obligated to comply and disarm - was more than enough time for UNMOVIC to confirm that "Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687" (UNSCR 1441). In comparison, President Clinton ordered Operation Desert Fox when the UNSCOM Butler Report confirmed Iraq's material breach based on a 3-week compliance test. Clinton had set a hard line with ODF due to Saddam's recidivist pattern of signaling cooperation in the face of American force and then subverting the inspections. Bush carried forward Clinton's hard line to OIF when Saddam resumed his pattern of signaling cooperation then subverting the inspections with UNMOVIC.
However, when the UNSCR 1441 inspection period ended with Saddam failing the compliance test, Hans Blix requested an indefinite number of additional months to change the UNMOVIC mission. While relying on the unreasonable presumption of an indefinitely sustained credible military threat of regime change to underlay a "reinforced system of ongoing monitoring and verification" over an indefinitely extended trial period - despite the failure of the OIF invasion force itself to compel the requisite Iraqi cooperation for the baseline UNMOVIC inspections - Blix also proposed tacitly complying with Saddam's undermining strategy by relaxing the theretofore strict standard of disarmament for Iraq mandated by the UNSC resolutions.
In other words, Clinton's assessment of the UNSCOM inspections preceding ODF applied to the UNMOVIC inspections preceding OIF:
Saddam's deception has defeated their effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, Saddam has disarmed the inspectors.Bush rightly recognized that the Blix alternative was impractical in its military requirements, failed to account for the untrustworthiness of Iraq's basic declarations and UNMOVIC's lack of sufficient coverage due to Saddam's "denial and deception operations" (Duelfer Report), and substituted an unreliable standard of compliance that fell short of curing Saddam's - as President Clinton had determined with ODF - "clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere."
Blix has implied that with a grant of an indefinitely extended trial period, he would have found Saddam in compliance by "devis[ing] other ways in which UNMOVIC can gain confidence that Iraq’s declarations are correct and comprehensive" (Cluster Document). But lowering the bar from "provide the requisite information" (Cluster Document) to "devise other ways" meant deviating from the standard of compliance mandated in the UNSC resolutions with a lower ad hoc standard of proof. With Saddam in charge, we had to be sure. The Duelfer Report confirms Saddam did not intend to comply with the mandated standard and strongly suggests Blix's proposed alternative would have failed to make Iraq compliant and disarmed, for example:
Through an investigation of the history of Iraq’s bulk BW agent stocks, it has become evident to ISG that officials were involved in concealment and deception activities.Notably, Western intelligence agencies failed to indicate the clandestine IIS laboratories in the pre-war intelligence estimates. Neither did UNMOVIC uncover any indication of them. It’s conceivable that had Bush allowed Blix to relax the burden of proof for Iraq, UNMOVIC could have certified Iraq while the very Iraqi capability that concerned us the most after 9/11 passed through unchecked.
• ISG judges that Iraq failed to comply with UNSCRs up to OIF by failing to disclose accurate production totals for B. anthracis and probably other BW agents and for not providing the true details of its alleged 1991 disposal of stocks of bulk BW agent.
• Officials within the BW program knowingly continued this deception right up to OIF and beyond, only revealing some details well after the conflict.
The regime change did not end the UNMOVIC mission in Iraq. UNMOVIC concluded its mission in 2007.
Q: Did Iraq failing its compliance test justify the regime change?
One, the “clear and present danger" (Clinton) of Saddam was imputed from Iraq’s noncompliance with the UN mandates, not Iraq's demonstrated possession of WMD stocks. With the broad spectrum of mandates and proven success of Saddam's "denial and deception operations" (Duelfer Report), which included hidden stocks, a large covert procurement program, and undeclared chemical and biological laboratories, Iraq's compliance with the UNSC resolutions was determined by necessity with measures other than demonstrated possession. Demonstration of Iraq's noncompliance, e.g., the UNMOVIC Cluster Document, imputed continued possession by Iraq.
Once Saddam pulled the trigger by failing his "final opportunity" (UNSCR 1441) to prove compliance with the Gulf War ceasefire, President Bush had to make his decision while weighing Iraq’s unaccounted for weapons and other violations, the intelligence at hand, and Saddam's track record with the heightened threat consideration induced by 9/11.
Two, Bush’s decision either way was final. After Operation Desert Fox, the credible threat of regime change was the last remaining leverage to compel Saddam’s cooperation. The threat of regime change would no longer have been credible if it had been a dud when triggered by Saddam. President Clinton's justification for ODF applied to OIF:
When Saddam still failed to comply, we prepared to act militarily. It was only then at the last possible moment that Iraq backed down. It pledged to the UN that it had made, and I quote, a clear and unconditional decision to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors.Calling off the regime change when Saddam pulled the trigger would have meant either a return to ‘containment’ or ending the Iraq enforcement altogether with a noncompliant Saddam. If returning to ‘containment’ was even practical at that point, the ‘containment’ option was broken. The failure to follow through on the threat of regime change would have left only freeing Saddam.
. . . I made it very clear at that time what unconditional cooperation meant, based on existing UN resolutions and Iraq’s own commitments. And along with Prime Minister Blair of Great Britain, I made it equally clear that if Saddam failed to cooperate fully, we would be prepared to act without delay, diplomacy or warning.
. . . Now over the past three weeks, the UN weapons inspectors have carried out their plan for testing Iraq’s cooperation. The testing period ended this weekend, and last night, UNSCOM’s chairman, Richard Butler, reported the results to UN Secretary-General Annan. The conclusions are stark, sobering and profoundly disturbing.
. . . Saddam’s deception has defeated their effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, Saddam has disarmed the inspectors. This situation presents a clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere. The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors. Saddam has failed to seize the chance. And so we had to act, and act now. Let me explain why. First, without a strong inspections system, Iraq would be free to retain and begin to rebuild its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs in months, not years. Second, if Saddam can cripple the weapons inspections system and get away with it, he would conclude that the international community, led by the United States, has simply lost its will. He will surmise that he has free rein to rebuild his arsenal of destruction. And some day, make no mistake, he will use it again, as he has in the past. Third, in halting our air strikes in November, I gave Saddam a chance, not a license. If we turn our backs on his defiance, the credibility of U.S. power as a check against Saddam will be destroyed. We will not only have allowed Saddam to shatter the inspections system that controls his weapons of mass destruction program; we also will have fatally undercut the fear of force that stops Saddam from acting to gain domination in the region.
In hindsight, the Duelfer Report shows that a free Saddam meant an unreconstructed Saddam rearmed with WMD. Saddam’s motive was defeating the US-led Iraq enforcement and rearming Iraq, not compliance and rehabilitation. He was already reconstituting Iraq’s NBC capabilities, with an active program in the IIS, and was intent on fully restoring Iraq’s WMD, which he believed was necessary for Iraq’s national security, countering Iran, countering Israel, countering the US, and advancing his regional ambitions.
Three, the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement was the defining UN enforcement of the post-Cold War. In an address to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Pentagon staff on February 17, 1998, Clinton warned against the broader consequences of tolerating Saddam's noncompliance:
If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow by the knowledge that they can act with impunity, even in the face of a clear message from the United Nations Security Council and clear evidence of a weapons of mass destruction program.The UN had been unreliable during the Clinton administration, and Bush tried to reform the UN as a credible enforcer for the 9/11 era. If the US had backed down when Saddam failed to comply, then UN enforcement of international norms with rogue actors and WMD proscription would have been undermined, perhaps beyond recovery.
Q: The reasons for OIF seemed to change. Was OIF about WMD or democracy?
A: OIF was about both. The issues of Iraq’s WMD and regime change in Iraq were tied together. There was a bundle of reasons in the body of US laws and UNSC resolutions on Iraq. The short answer to ‘Why OIF?’ is ‘All of the above’.
President Clinton explained the union of the issues with Operation Desert Fox:
The hard fact is that so long as Saddam remains in power, he threatens the well-being of his people, the peace of his region, the security of the world. The best way to end that threat once and for all is with the new Iraqi government, a government ready to live in peace with its neighbors, a government that respects the rights of its people. ... Heavy as they are, the costs of action must be weighed against the price of inaction. If Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond, we will face a far greater threat in the future. Saddam will strike again at his neighbors; he will make war on his own people. And mark my words, he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them, and he will use them.Before ODF, regime change for Iraq had become a legal mandate with Public Law 105-338, the Iraq Liberation Act (1998). Clinton explained the US policy when he signed the Iraq Liberation Act:
Let me be clear on what the U.S. objectives are: The United States wants Iraq to rejoin the family of nations as a freedom-loving and lawabiding member. This is in our interest and that of our allies within the region. The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian makeup. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else. The United States looks forward to a democratically supported regime that would permit us to enter into a dialogue leading to the reintegration of Iraq into normal international life.The regime change mandate was based on Clinton’s conclusion that achieving Iraq's compliance with the UNSC resolutions would require regime change either with a voluntarily rehabilitated Saddam complying or, the much likelier way, Saddam removed from power. The source of the “clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere” was not Iraq’s WMD, but rather the intrinsic nature of Saddam’s regime within and outside Iraq. Iraq’s WMD was a symptom only, albeit a very dangerous symptom, of the cancer afflicting Iraq: Saddam's rule, unreconstructed.
When Saddam failed to comply volitionally in his "final opportunity" (UNSCR 1441), the objectives set by Clinton to resolve the Saddam problem were achieved by OIF: Iraq in compliance with the UNSC resolutions, Iraq at peace with its neighbors and the international community, and Iraq internally reformed with regime change.
For America the liberal hegemonic leader of the free world, the regime change that brought Iraq into compliance meant shepherding post-Saddam Iraq to a pluralistic liberal society, commonly called democracy.
Q: Was the invasion of Iraq perceived to be a nation-building effort?
A: Yes. OIF enforced the credible threat of regime change that enabled the "final opportunity" (UNSCR 1441) given Saddam to prove Iraq's compliance with the UN mandates. In the event that Saddam failed to comply with the UN mandates, Iraq would be made compliant following regime change with peace operations* that were “expected” in US statute and policy. The UN position on post-war peace operations was also clear.
President Bush confirmed the American commitment to peace operations with Iraq on October 7, 2002:
If military action is necessary, the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi people rebuild their economy, and create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq at peace with its neighbors.Public Law 107-243 "expected" peace operations (2002):
SEC. 4. REPORTS TO CONGRESS.Public Law 105-338, the Iraq Liberation Act (1998):
(a) REPORTS.—The President shall, at least once every 60 days, submit to the Congress a report on matters relevant to this joint resolution, including actions taken pursuant to the exercise of authority granted in section 3 and the status of planning for efforts that are expected to be required after such actions are completed, including those actions described in section 7 of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (Public Law 105–338).
SEC. 7. ASSISTANCE FOR IRAQ UPON REPLACEMENT OF SADDAM HUSSEIN REGIME.* "Peace operations: (DOD) A broad term that encompasses multiagency and multinational crisis response and limited contingency operations involving all instruments of national power with military missions to contain conflict, redress the peace, and shape the environment to support reconciliation and rebuilding and facilitate the transition to legitimate governance. Also called PO. See also peace building; peace enforcement; peacekeeping; and peacemaking. Source: JP 3-07.3" (source)
It is the sense of the Congress that once the Saddam Hussein regime is removed from power in Iraq, the United States should support Iraq’s transition to democracy by providing immediate and substantial humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people, by providing democracy transition assistance to Iraqi parties and movements with democratic goals, and by convening Iraq’s foreign creditors to develop a multilateral response to Iraq’s foreign debt incurred by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Q: Did Bush lie his way to war with Iraq?
One, the law and policy of the Gulf War ceasefire plainly show the Iraq enforcement was compliance-based. President Bush's presentation of intelligence did not and could not trigger OIF. By procedure, only Iraq’s noncompliance could trigger enforcement, and only Iraq’s compliance could switch off the enforcement.
The prevalent myth that Operation Iraqi Freedom was based on a lie relies on a false premise that shifted the burden of proof from Iraq proving compliance with the UNSC resolutions to the US proving Iraqi possession matched the pre-war intelligence estimates. In fact, neither the intelligence nor demonstration of Iraqi possession was a required element of the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement because it pivoted solely on whether Iraq proved compliance with the UNSC resolutions. The US as the chief enforcer of the UNSC resolutions held no burden of proof in the Iraq enforcement. From the outset of the Gulf War ceasefire, Saddam as the probationary party held the entire burden of proof to prove Iraq was disarmed and compliant with the standard mandated by UNSCRs 687, 688, and related resolutions. The question of "Where is Iraq's WMD?" was never for the US and UN to answer; it was always one of the questions Saddam was required to answer to the mandated standard in order to pass the compliance test.
OIF is often isolated out of context and misrepresented as a new policy by Bush. In fact, OIF was the coda of the US-led enforcement of the Gulf War ceasefire that began in 1991. President Bush inherited Saddam’s "clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere" (Clinton) and carried forward the Iraq enforcement from President Clinton. Demonstration of Iraqi possession of WMD was not necessary to confirm Saddam's noncompliance because, from the outset, Iraq's guilt of possession was established in the factual baseline of the Gulf War ceasefire as the foundational premise of the disarmament process. The basic presumption of the disarmament process was anywhere Iraq provided deficient account of its weapons imputed continued possession. Thus, had Bush presented no intelligence on Iraq's weapons, the compliance-based enforcement procedure would have been the same. Saddam was guilty until he proved Iraq was compliant. If Iraq was not compliant, then Saddam continued to be armed and dangerous.
Two, it is undisputed that Iraq was noncompliant at the decision point for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The main trigger for OIF was the UNMOVIC Cluster Document, which confirmed Iraq's material breach and triggered OIF in March 2003 in the same way that the UNSCOM Butler Report triggered Operation Desert Fox in December 1998.
On September 12, 2002, President Bush pledged to the UN General Assembly that the Gulf War ceasefire UNSC resolutions would be enforced:
The Security Council resolutions will be enforced -- the just demands of peace and security will be met -- or action will be unavoidable.On November 8, 2002, UNSCR 1441 "determined to secure Iraq's full compliance with its [UNSC] decisions", including UNSCR 687:
Recognizing the threat Iraq’s non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security,UNSCR 687 (1991) mandated Iraq to declare and destroy all proscribed weapons under international supervision and permanently eliminate its WMD programs:
... Determined to secure full compliance with its decisions, Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,
1. Decides that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687 (1991), in particular through Iraq’s failure to cooperate with United Nations inspectors and the IAEA, and to complete the actions required under paragraphs 8 to 13 of resolution 687 (1991);
8. Decides that Iraq shall unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless, under international supervision, of:The compliance standard for Iraq was set by UNSC resolution (see, at minimum, UNSCRs 687, 688, and 1441) and enforced under US law (see, at minimum, P.L. 105-235 and P.L. 107-243). Pursuant to UNSCR 688 and related resolutions, numerous observers documented Saddam's "systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law by the Government of Iraq, resulting in an all-pervasive repression and oppression sustained by broad-based discrimination and widespread terror" (UN Commission on Human Rights). Pursuant to UNSCR 687 and related resolutions, UNMOVIC reports throughout the UNSCR 1441 inspection period made clear Iraq had failed to sufficiently account for proscribed weapons, including stocks, and cooperate to the mandated standard along with other violations.
(a) All chemical and biological weapons and all stocks of agents and all related subsystems and components and all research, development, support and manufacturing facilities;
(b) All ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres and related major parts, and repair and production facilities;
9. Decides, for the implementation of paragraph 8 above, the following:
(a) Iraq shall submit to the Secretary-General, within fifteen days of the adoption of the present resolution, a declaration of the locations, amounts and types of all items specified in paragraph 8 and agree to urgent, on-site inspection as specified below;
10. Decides that Iraq shall unconditionally undertake not to use, develop, construct or acquire any of the items specified in paragraphs 8 and 9 above ...
12. Decides that Iraq shall unconditionally agree not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons or nuclear-weapons-usable material or any subsystems or components or any research, development, support or manufacturing facilities related to the above;
On March 7, 2003, the UNSCR 1441 inspection period concluded when UNMOVIC presented the 173-page Cluster Document to the UN Security Council and confirmed "Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687" (UNSCR 1441) with "about 100 unresolved disarmament issues" (Cluster Document):
UNMOVIC evaluated and assessed this material as it has became available and ... produced an internal working document covering about 100 unresolved disarmament issues ... [for example] UNMOVIC has credible information that the total quantity of BW agent in bombs, warheads and in bulk at the time of the Gulf War was 7,000 litres more than declared by Iraq [and] ... With respect to stockpiles of bulk agent stated to have been destroyed, there is evidence to suggest that these was [sic] not destroyed as declared by Iraq.The public controversy is over Bush's presentation of intelligence on latter Iraqi NBC stocks and programs. Yet, the pre-war intelligence that Bush presented was simply the intelligence that was available. A partisan Democrat-slanted Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later analyzed pre-war statements by Bush administration officials and concluded they were largely "substantiated by intelligence". Congressmen, Democrats and Republicans, who independently reviewed the pre-war intelligence largely shared Bush's determination.
... UNMOVIC must verify the absence of any new activities or proscribed items, new or retained. The onus is clearly on Iraq to provide the requisite information or devise other ways in which UNMOVIC can gain confidence that Iraq’s declarations are correct and comprehensive.
In the context of the Saddam problem, Clinton and Bush officials were obligated to judge the intelligence in an unfavorable light for Iraq, and 9/11 compelled US officials to increase their wariness due to Saddam’s belligerence and guilt on terrorism. Again, the "clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere" (Clinton) was imputed from Iraq’s noncompliance, not Iraq's demonstrated possession of WMD stocks, due in part to the proven success of Saddam's "denial and deception operations" (Duelfer Report), which included hidden stocks, a large covert procurement program, and undeclared chemical and biological laboratories.
Bush’s mistake was presenting the pre-war intelligence to the public inapposite of its actual, circumscribed role in the operative enforcement procedure. The imprecision of intelligence due to Saddam's "concealment and deception activities" (Duelfer Report) was a known issue early in the disarmament process and accounted for with Iraq’s presumption of guilt, burden of proof, and standard of compliance. Bush should have followed Clinton's precedent in the public presentation: for Operation Desert Fox, President Clinton cited only to Iraq’s noncompliance in terms of insufficient cooperation and deficient account of weapons when he declared “Iraq has abused its final chance” and imputed the "clear and present danger" of Saddam. Clinton's citation of noncompliance as the reason for bombing Iraq matched the operative enforcement procedure. When Clinton endorsed Bush's Iraq enforcement, Clinton stayed consistent with his compliance-based justification for ODF by citing the threat, heightened by the 9/11 attacks, of Saddam's "unaccounted for stocks of biological and chemical weapons".
Bush cited properly to Iraq’s noncompliance with the UNSC resolutions as Clinton had done for ODF. But in a departure from Clinton's public presentation, Bush also cited the pre-war intelligence, despite that the intelligence could not trigger enforcement. Propagandists pounced on Bush’s error of presentation to shift the burden of proof from Iraq proving compliance with the UNSC resolutions to the US proving Iraqi possession matched the pre-war intelligence estimates. However, the mistake does not change that Iraqi possession was established in the factual baseline of the Gulf War ceasefire as the foundational premise of the disarmament process. The only legal and reliable way to know Saddam had disarmed was Iraq proving compliance with the standard mandated by the UNSC resolutions enforced under US law. Saddam's noncompliance - including Iraq's basic failure to declare and destroy all its as-of-Gulf-War WMD under international supervision - was confirmed by UNMOVIC with the Cluster Document, which imputed the continued possession of proscribed weapons by Iraq, whereupon Bush properly applied the operative enforcement procedure at the decision point for OIF.
Three, albeit irrelevant to the enforcement procedure at the decision point for OIF, the post-war findings in the Iraq Survey Group's Duelfer Report corroborate Iraq was in violation of its weapons obligations. Although Bush improperly characterized the pre-war intelligence estimates as "evidence", the normal and proper role of intelligence is indicators, and the pre-war intelligence correctly indicated Saddam was in breach of the Gulf War ceasefire. Among Iraq's violations of the UNSC resolutions, the ISG found "a large covert procurement program", "undeclared covert laboratories", "clear evidence of [Saddam's] intent to resume WMD", "preserved capability", "Saddam clearly intended to reconstitute long-range delivery systems and that the systems potentially were for WMD", and "denial and deception operations" (Duelfer Report).
Four, it is undisputed that Saddam was in violation on non-weapons issues, such as illicit trade outside the Oil for Food program (which funded Saddam's weapons procurement) and humanitarian and terrorism standards. They were also triggers for the military enforcement. Saddam's non-weapons obligations are often overlooked, yet they were as serious as Iraq's weapons obligations. For example, the no-fly zones were the most visible, dangerous, invasive, and provocative component of the 'containment', yet the no-fly zones were not part of weapons-related enforcement. Rather, they helped enforce UNSC Resolution 688, which demanded an immediate end to the repression of the Iraqi civilian population.
The truth is Saddam was rearming and noncompliant on the weapons and non-weapons mandates of the UNSC resolutions.
Q: Was Operation Iraqi Freedom legal?
A1: There is no domestic legal controversy. Under American law, the whole 1990-2011 Iraq mission, including the 1991-2003 ceasefire enforcement and 2003-2011 post-war peace operations, was legal.
Under Presidents HW Bush and Clinton, Congress had made clear the President was authorized per Public Law 102-1 (1991) to use military action to enforce Iraq's compliance with all relevant UNSC resolutions. The foundational UNSC resolutions of the Iraq enforcement were UNSCRs 678, 687, and 688.
Then in 1998, Congress passed Public Law 105-235, which states:
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Government of Iraq is in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations, and therefore the President is urged to take appropriate action, in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws of the United States, to bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations.In 2002, Congress passed Public Law 107-243, which states:
The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to—In 2002, the UN Security Council passed UNSCR 1441, which states:
(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.
Recognizing the threat Iraq’s non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security,In Spring 2003, Saddam failed his "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) with the UNSC resolutions when Iraq's continued material breach of the Gulf War ceasefire was confirmed by UNMOVIC with "about 100 unresolved disarmament issues" (Cluster Document).
… Recalling that its resolution 678 (1990) authorized Member States to use all necessary means to uphold and implement its resolution 660 (1990) of 2 August 1990 and all relevant resolutions subsequent to resolution 660 (1990) and to restore international peace and security in the area,
… Further recalling that its resolution 687 (1991) imposed obligations on Iraq as a necessary step for achievement of its stated objective of restoring international peace and security in the area,
1. Decides that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687 (1991), in particular through Iraq’s failure to cooperate with United Nations inspectors and the IAEA, and to complete the actions required under paragraphs 8 to 13 of resolution 687 (1991);
2. Decides, while acknowledging paragraph 1 above, to afford Iraq, by this resolution, a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council; and accordingly decides to set up an enhanced inspection regime with the aim of bringing to full and verified completion the disarmament process established by resolution 687 (1991) and subsequent resolutions of the Council;
Lawsuits against OIF have claimed P.L. 107-243 did not rise to a Congressional declaration of war or that Congress improperly delegated the power to declare war to President Bush. Yet P.L. 102-1 and P.L 107-243 fulfilled the "specific statutory authorization" standard of 50 USC 1541 (1973 War Powers Act), which is legally equivalent to a Congressional declaration of war. In fact, the statutory authorization for the 1991-2003 Iraq enforcement and 2003-2011 peace operations in Iraq conformed to the modern norm for US military deployment; the last Congressional declaration of war was in World War 2. Lawsuits against OIF have also attempted to carve out a novel and nowhere recorded distinction between the deployment of ground forces and every other military application the President was authorized to "[determine] to be necessary and appropriate" under P.L. 107-243. In short, the lawsuits against OIF have been emotionally forceful but legally flimsy and thus dismissed as ‘political question’, meaning whatever their political merit, President Bush’s decisions on Iraq were legally within the Constitutional scope of the Executive authority.
OIF was well grounded in the national interest, multiple US statutes and UNSC resolutions, as well as modern foreign-policy precedent. For example, P.L. 107-243 and UNSCR 1441 include strong humanitarian grounds. In 1999, while still firing on Iraqi air defenses in the wake of Operation Desert Fox, President Clinton used humanitarian grounds to bypass Congress and the UNSC altogether when he deployed airpower and ground forces in the Serbian regime change. Though not generally cited, the US President held standing legal authority to respond militarily to Iraq firing on American craft enforcing the no-fly zones pursuant to UNSCR 688.
A2: While there is no domestic legal controversy over OIF, there is an international legal controversy over the US-led military enforcement of the Gulf War ceasefire between 1991 and 2003, including but not limited to Operation Desert Fox and Operation Iraqi Freedom - i.e., the episodic view that UN authorization was required for each US military action, versus the American progressive view that a priori and de facto authority for the US-led military enforcement of the UNSC resolutions carried over the legal authority of the original Gulf War authorization to enforcement of the Gulf War ceasefire UNSC resolutions.
The United States was the chief enforcer of the UNSC resolutions with Iraq beginning in 1990 with the UN demand for Saddam to cease his aggression with Kuwait. The Iraq enforcement crossed the war threshold in 1991 with the US-led military enforcement of the UNSC resolutions in the Gulf War. The Gulf War was only suspended short of regime change by a ceasefire with strict conditions for Iraq. Iraq's ceasefire obligations under the UNSC resolutions were designed to assure the international community that Iraq was compliant and disarmed so that Saddam could be trusted with the peace. The initial expectation was Iraq's ceasefire obligations would be satisfied within 1-2 years.
However, after Iraq agreed to the ceasefire and the Gulf War military threat was withdrawn, Saddam defied the compliance and disarmament process. As non-military enforcement measures proved inadequate to compel Saddam, it soon was apparent that Saddam's cooperation, let alone compliance required a credible military threat. The US, as chief enforcer of the UNSC resolutions, shouldered the responsibility of supplying the credible military threat necessary to compel Saddam's cooperation.
Limited military enforcement measures also proved inadequate to compel Saddam's compliance, and the penultimate military enforcement step of bombing Iraq was passed with Operation Desert Fox in 1998. After the ODF bombing campaign failed to move Saddam to comply and disarm, the only remaining military enforcement measure was the threat of regime change via ground invasion, which President Bush exercised in 2002.
International law is murky on the question of the US-led military enforcement of the Gulf War ceasefire due to the loosely ‘gray’ legal character and ad hoc nature of UN enforcement.
It is undisputed that Iraq was in material breach of the weapons and non-weapons mandates of the Gulf War ceasefire UNSC resolutions in Spring 2003. The UN Commission on Human Rights reported "systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law by the Government of Iraq" and the UNMOVIC Cluster Document confirmed "Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687" (UNSCR 1441). The disagreement at the decision point for OIF was whether the US President or the UN Security Council, which included Saddam's ally in Russia, held the ultimate authority to order the enforcement of the credible military threat of regime change in response to Saddam's failure to seize his "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) with the UNSC resolutions.
The objections to OIF were carried forward from opponents' objections to ODF and Clinton's military enforcement with Iraq. The claim that OIF was illegal under international law is based on language in UNSCR 1441 and other UNSC resolutions that the UNSC remained “seized” on the issue, which opponents have interpreted with the episodic view that each US military action with Iraq required a new UN authorization. However, the UNSC permanent members that led the opposition to a strict standard of compliance and enforcement for Iraq also held separate grievances with US-led international enforcement and were implicated in the Oil for Food scandal.
During his enforcement of the Gulf War ceasefire, President Clinton overcame the impasse in the UN Security Council by setting the precedent for US-led military enforcement without new UN authorization with the view that Iraq's breach of the Gulf War ceasefire, rather than concurrent specific UN authorization, activated the authority for military enforcement. According to Clinton, the sovereign and ultimate authority to deploy US forces "in response to Iraqi breaches of its obligations under resolutions of the United Nations Security Council" was vested in the US President by the US law and UNSC resolution in the original Gulf War authorization. Clinton explained his vested authority to enforce the Gulf War ceasefire in a letter to Congress on December 18, 1998:
At approximately 5:00 p.m. eastern standard time on December 16, 1998, at my direction, U.S. military forces conducted missile and aircraft strikes in Iraq in response to Iraqi breaches of its obligations under resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. ... [This action] is consistent with and has been taken in support of numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions, including Resolutions 678 and 687, which authorize U.N. Member States to use "all necessary means" to implement the Security Council resolutions and to restore peace and security in the region and establish the terms of the cease-fire mandated by the Council, including those related to the destruction of Iraq's WMD programs. ... I directed these actions pursuant to my authority under the Constitution as Commander in Chief and as Chief Executive, and to conduct U.S. foreign relations, as well as under the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution (Public Law 102-1) enacted in January 1991.P.L. 102-1, passed on January 12, 1991, states, “The President is authorized ... to use United States Armed Forces pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 678.”
UNSCR 678, adopted on November 29, 1990, states, “Determined to secure full compliance with its decisions, Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter, ... Authorizes Member States ... to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.”
The standing legal authority for military enforcement with Iraq that President Clinton inherited from President HW Bush was also inherited by Bush from Clinton. Under the American progressive view, OIF technically was not a new war at all, but rather a resumption of the Gulf War due to Iraq's failure to satisfy the terms of the Gulf War ceasefire.
For ODF, P.L. 105-235 set the judgement condition of breach that activated the authority for military enforcement; then the UNSCOM Butler Report confirmed the breach. For OIF, P.L. 107-243 and UNSCR 1441 summarized the existing US laws and UNSC resolutions on Iraq, reiterated with resolute language the legal authority for military enforcement and strict standard of compliance, respectively, and reset the breach status for Iraq; then the UNMOVIC Cluster Document confirmed the breach. UNSCR 1441 also "recall[ed]" UNSCR 678 from the original Gulf War authorization.
On balance, I believe the American progressive view wins out over the episodic view due to the over-decade-long precedent set by the US-led enforcement of the UNSC resolutions with Iraq pursuant to UNSCR 678 and the UN's reliance on sovereign authorities, especially American sovereign authority, for military enforcement.
For over a decade with Saddam's regime and other international enforcements, the US had consistently deployed the military with sovereign authority, and only at times with concurrent specific UN authorization. The US-led multilateral coalitions that conducted international enforcements had been galvanized by and organized around American leadership rather than UN imprimatur, a norm that continued with the US-led multilateral coalition in OIF.
Other than Operation Desert Fox, the nearest precedent for OIF is the US-led military intervention in the Balkans crisis under President Clinton. Like OIF, the Balkans intervention included airpower, ground forces, and a regime change followed by an occupation. Like OIF, the Balkans intervention contained a prominent humanitarian component. Like OIF, the Balkans intervention was not green-lit by the UNSC largely because, like OIF, the Balkans intervention was opposed by Russia. However, unlike OIF, the Balkans intervention did not rest on longstanding policy and a priori or de facto legal authority.
A3: There is neither a domestic nor international legal controversy over the 2003-2011 US-led occupation mandated to "take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq". As in the occupation following the Serbian regime change, the peace operations following regime change in Iraq were conducted with UN authorization. For example, see UNSCR 1511 (2003):
13. Determines that the provision of security and stability is essential to the successful completion of the political process as outlined in paragraph 7 above and to the ability of the United Nations to contribute effectively to that process and the implementation of resolution 1483 (2003), and authorizes a multinational force under unified command to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq, including for the purpose of ensuring necessary conditions for the implementation of the timetable and programme as well as to contribute to the security of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, the Governing Council of Iraq and other institutions of the Iraqi interim administration, and key humanitarian and economic infrastructure;Also see UNSCRs 1546 (2004), 1637 (2005), 1723 (2006), 1790 (2007), and the 17NOV08 agreement between the US and Iraq.
Q: If Bush inherited from Clinton the position that the Gulf War authorization was operative for Iraq's ongoing breach of the Gulf War ceasefire and a new UN authorization for military enforcement was not needed, and given that UNSCR 1441 merely summarized and restated existing UNSC resolutions, then why did Bush go to the UN?
A: Because President Bush’s primary intent was not to invade Iraq. Rather, Bush’s motive was to resolve the Saddam problem expeditiously and conclusively with Iraq's full compliance with the Gulf War ceasefire UNSC resolutions.
It only looks as though Bush was intent on invading Iraq because a credible threat of regime change was the necessary piece to compel Saddam’s cooperation. Inserting UNMOVIC into Iraq required the US going to the UN, and UNMOVIC functioning in Iraq required a credible threat of regime change. However, as Bush explained on October 7, 2002, Saddam could have prevented regime change by complying with Iraq's ceasefire obligations:
In addition to declaring and destroying all of its weapons of mass destruction, Iraq must end its support for terrorism. It must cease the persecution of its civilian population. It must stop all illicit trade outside the Oil For Food program. It must release or account for all Gulf War personnel, including an American pilot, whose fate is still unknown. By taking these steps, and by only taking these steps, the Iraqi regime has an opportunity to avoid conflict. Taking these steps would also change the nature of the Iraqi regime itself. America hopes the regime will make that choice. ... I hope this will not require military action, but it may. ... I have asked Congress to authorize the use of America's military, if it proves necessary, to enforce U.N. Security Council demands. Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable. The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean something.The record shows, despite President Clinton's declaration with Operation Desert Fox that “Iraq has abused its final chance,” Bush first gave Saddam the opportunity to prevent OIF and stay in power by proving compliance with all of Iraq’s ceasefire obligations, weapons and non-weapons related. The centerpiece of the opportunity that Bush gave to Saddam to switch off the threat of regime change was the second final chance to comply with Iraq’s weapons obligations via UNMOVIC. If Saddam had accepted the lifeline from Bush and fully complied with the Gulf War ceasefire in 2002-2003, there would have been no invasion of Iraq.
Galvanized by the 9/11 attacks, Bush also engaged the United Nations on Iraq with the hope that a united front with UNSCR 1441 and a strong resolution of the defining international enforcement of the post-Cold War would restore the UN as an effective enforcer on rogue actors, terrorism, and WMD proliferation.
Q: Did Operation Iraqi Freedom really cost X trillions of dollars?
According to the Congressional Research Service report, The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11 (March 29, 2011), which measured the "cumulative total appropriated [for Iraq and Afghanistan] ... war operations, diplomatic operations, and medical care for Iraq and Afghan war veterans", covering DOD, State/USAID, and VA Medical costs, the combined cost for Iraq totaled 805.5 billion dollars through FY2011 and 823.2 billion dollars estimated through FY2012. Within the combined cost, the DOD portion totaled 757.8 billion through FY2011 and 768.8 billion dollars estimated through FY2012. DOD funding for OIF peaked at 138.5 billion dollars in FY2008 for the Counterinsurgency "Surge" and dropped sharply every year thereafter to a low of 11 billion dollars in FY2012, the last year of OIF.
That's not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but it's also not X trillions of dollars.
For further perspective, the FY2008 peak year spending of 138.5 billion dollars for OIF was 1% of GDP. By that admittedly narrow metric, the only cheaper US wars by peak year spending have been Operation Enduring Freedom and the Gulf War. The next cheapest US war by peak year spending is the Spanish American War, which cost 1.1% of GDP in 1899. That fact is not dispositive about the cost of OIF, of course; however, it does illustrate relative dollar figures don’t look the same as isolated dollar figures.
Q: Was Operation Iraqi Freedom a strategic blunder or a strategic victory?
A: OIF was a strategic victory.
President Bush handed OIF to President Obama having resolved the festering Saddam problem (none too soon, according to the Duelfer Report), revitalized international enforcement in the defining international enforcement of the post-Cold War, and proved the mettle of American leadership and devastated the terrorists with the Counterinsurgency "Surge". The emerging pluralistic, liberalizing post-Saddam Iraq provided the US with a keystone "strategic partner" to reform the region.
Obama should have built upon the hard-won foundational progress made under Bush in geopolitically critical Iraq. However, instead of staying the course like President Eisenhower stayed the course from President Truman, Obama committed the strategic blunder of bungling the SOFA negotiation with Iraq and abandoning the Bush Freedom Agenda. The premature departure of US forces removed America's protection at the same time Iraq's vicinity was growing dangerously unstable as the Arab Spring disintegrated, particularly in neighboring Syria. In the singular pivotal moment that sure-handed American leadership could have changed the course of history, Obama's feckless 'lead from behind' approach to the Arab Spring, instead, opened great gaps for the terrorists to resurge. Iraq is suffering the consequences.
Misinformation and mischaracterization have distorted the public's understanding of the context, stakes, and achievements of the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement that President Bush carried forward from President Clinton and the ground-breaking peace operations by the US military in post-Saddam Iraq. The corrupted public perception of the Iraq mission has enabled Obama's elementary, catastrophic errors, undermined the enforcement of international norms, and curtailed the further development of peace operations.
Security is the necessary condition for securing and building the peace, and under the umbrella of vital American security, Iraq had turned the corner when Bush handed OIF over to Obama.
To wit, in May 2011, President Obama marked Iraq's "promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy ... poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress":
Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy. The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security. Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.In the same vein, the welcome statement on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad website anticipated "Iraq emerge as a strategic partner in a tumultuous region ... that can act as a force for moderation ... in the national security interests of the United States":
After a long and difficult conflict, we now have the opportunity to see Iraq emerge as a strategic partner in a tumultuous region. A sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq that can act as a force for moderation is profoundly in the national security interests of the United States and will ensure that Iraq can realize its full potential as a democratic society. Our civilian-led presence is helping us strengthen the strong strategic partnership that has developed up to this point.President Bush was right to enforce the Gulf War ceasefire and then stay in Iraq to secure the peace the same way the US stayed to secure the peace in Europe and Asia after World War 2. When Bush left office, the Iraq mission was a success.
President Obama was wrong to leave Iraq prematurely. America's protection was needed for the continued progression of Iraq’s pluralistic liberal reform and constructive role in the Middle East and the welfare of the Iraqi people. Instead, the feared danger of Obama's feckless 'lead from behind' approach to the Arab Spring and irresponsible exit from Iraq is being realized.
Operation Iraqi Freedom was right on the law and justified on the policy, yet distorted in the politics, despite that primary sources easily accessed on-line provide a straightforward explanation for OIF. Basic essentials for understanding OIF in the proper context include the 1990-2002 UNSC resolutions for Iraq (at minimum, see UNSCRs 687, 688, and 1441), Public Law 107-243 (the 2002 Congressional authorization for use of military force against Iraq), Public Law 105-235 ("Iraqi Breach of International Obligations", 14AUG98), President Clinton's February 1998 remarks on Iraq to Pentagon personnel and December 1998 announcement of Operation Desert Fox (the penultimate military enforcement step that set the baseline precedent for OIF), President Bush's September 2002 remarks to the United Nations General Assembly and excerpts from the 2003 State of the Union, the April 2002 UN Commission on Human Rights situation report on Iraq pursuant to UNSCR 688, the March 2003 UNMOVIC Cluster Document (summary) pursuant to UNSCR 687 that triggered the final decision for OIF, and the Iraq Survey Group's Duelfer Report.
Perspective on Operation Iraqi Freedom (table of sources);
Regime Change in Iraq from Clinton to Bush (law school paper with endnotes);
A problem of definition in the Iraq controversy: Was the issue Saddam's regime or Iraq's demonstrable WMD? (historical context);
10 year anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom: thoughts (retrospective survey).