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?
- 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 and UN 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 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 and 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 and 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.
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. President Bush explained the changed threat calculation in the 2003 State of the Union:
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 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."This Duelfer Report finding illustrated the "grave and gathering" danger of 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.Each of those violations by itself justified OIF, and the IIS was, of course, Saddam's regime arm notorious for working with terrorists and carrying out Saddam's in-house black ops. Saddam was ready to secretly produce weapon for covert precision attacks, whether in league with terrorists like al Qaeda or by his own means.
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, like the US relationship with the Soviet Union during World War 2. Actually, although Iran had recently become an enemy, the US viewed Iraq with, at best, cautiously favorable neutrality. The US priority was containing the conflict per the Reagan Corollary to the Carter Doctrine, which established the security and stability of the Middle East as a US national security interest. Saddam was warned over his actions in the Iran-Iraq War, yet followed them by brutalizing Kuwait, defying international demands to stop, and even attempting to expand the conflict. 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 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 was the antidote for the post-war insurgency seems incredible when considering the humanitarian crisis caused by Saddam's regime that was a primary focus of the Iraq enforcement, e.g., UNSCR 688. 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, 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 and 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.
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 establish that Iraq remained in breach of its weapons obligations. In comparison, President Clinton ordered Operation Desert Fox based on a 3-week compliance test by UNSCOM. 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. President 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 underlying a "reinforced system of ongoing monitoring and verification" - despite the failure of the OIF invasion force itself to compel the requisite Iraqi cooperation for the baseline UNMOVIC inspections - over an indefinitely extended trial period, Blix also proposed tacitly complying with Saddam's undermining strategy by relaxing the theretofore strict standard of disarmament for Iraq. 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 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 more time, he would have found Saddam in compliance, but achieving that would have required a lax standard of compliance. With Saddam in charge, we had to be sure. The Duelfer Report strongly suggests Blix's proposed alternative would have failed to disarm Saddam.
The regime change did not end the UNMOVIC disarmament mission in Iraq. UNMOVIC was able to complete its task after the regime change and 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, 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, Iraq's compliance with the UNSC resolutions was determined by necessity with measures other than demonstrated possession.
Once Saddam pulled the trigger by failing his "final opportunity" (UNSCR 1441) to prove compliance, 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 Iraq ceasefire enforcement was the defining UN enforcement of the post-Cold War. 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?’ 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 the Iraq Liberation Act. 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 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, 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: Did Bush lie his way to war with Iraq?
One, 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 OIF 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 Iraq possessed WMD. In fact, the US as the chief enforcer of the UNSC resolutions held no burden of proof in the Iraq enforcement. Iraq as the probationary party held the entire burden to prove Iraq was compliant and disarmed. The question of "Where is Iraq's WMD?" was never for the US President to answer; it was always one of the questions Saddam was required to answer to the chief enforcer's satisfaction 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 with Iraq that began in 1990. Iraq's guilt was established as fact from the outset of the Gulf War ceasefire and presumed in the enforcement of the UNSC resolutions. The basic presumption of the disarmament process was anywhere Iraq provided deficient account of its weapons imputed possession. Thus, had Bush presented no intelligence on Iraq's weapons, the compliance-based enforcement procedure would have been the same because Saddam was guilty until he proved Iraq was compliant and disarmed.
Two, it is undisputed that Iraq was noncompliant at the decision point for OIF. The compliance standard for Iraq was set by UNSC resolution (see UNSCRs 687, 688, and 1441) and US law (see P.L. 107-243). Inspectors' reports throughout the UNSCR 1441 inspection period made clear Iraq had failed to sufficiently account for documented NBC stocks and cooperate to the mandated standard along with other violations. On March 7, 2003, the UNSCR 1441 inspection period concluded with UNMOVIC's report to the UN Security Council that Iraq presented "about 100 unresolved disarmament issues".
The public controversy is over Bush's presentation of intelligence on latter Iraqi NBC stocks and programs. However, 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" (Clinton) of Saddam 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.
The pre-war intelligence that Bush presented was the intelligence that was available. Congressmen, Democrats and Republicans, who independently reviewed the pre-war intelligence largely shared Bush's determination. 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".
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 deception was a known issue from the beginning and accounted for with Iraq’s presumption of guilt, burden of proof, and standard of compliance. For Operation Desert Fox, President Clinton had 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 as Clinton had done for ODF, but Bush also cited the 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 to the US, but the mistake does not change that Saddam was noncompliant at the decision point for OIF and Bush properly applied the operative enforcement procedure.
Three, albeit irrelevant to the enforcement procedure at the decision point for OIF, the post-war findings in the Duelfer Report corroborate Iraq was in violation of its weapons obligations. Although Bush improperly characterized the pre-war intelligence as "evidence", the normal and proper role of intelligence is indicators, and the pre-war intelligence correctly indicated Saddam was in breach of Iraq's weapons obligations.
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, including the Gulf War ceasefire. The foundational UNSC resolutions of the Iraq enforcement were UNSCRs 678, 687, 688, and 1441. 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 Spring 2003, Saddam's continued material breach of the Gulf War ceasefire was confirmed when Iraq failed its "final opportunity" (UNSCR 1441) to comply with the weapons and non-weapons mandates of the UNSC resolutions.
(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.
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.
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 and subsequent 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 and UNSC resolutions in Spring 2003. The disagreement 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" (UNSCR 1441) to comply 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 applying for new UN authorization for military action. According to Clinton, the sovereign and ultimate authority to deploy US forces for the Iraq enforcement was vested in the US President by the US law and UNSC resolution in the original Gulf War authorization:
P.L. 102-1, passed on January 12, 1991, stated, “The President is authorized, subject to subsection (b), to use United States Armed Forces pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 678.”The standing legal authority for military enforcement with Iraq that 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. P.L. 107-243 and UNSCR 1441 summarized the existing US laws and UNSC resolutions on Iraq and reiterated with resolute language the legal authority for military enforcement and strict standard of compliance, respectively.
UNSC Resolution 678, adopted on November 29, 1990, stated, “[a]cting under Chapter VII of the Charter . . . [a]uthorizes Member States co-operating with the Government of Kuwait, unless Iraq on or before 15 January 1991 fully implements, as set forth in paragraph 1 above, the above-mentioned resolutions, 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.”
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 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 authority. 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. 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.
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 that 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 final chance to comply with Iraq’s weapons obligations via UNMOVIC.
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), President Clinton's announcement of Operation Desert Fox (the penultimate military enforcement step that set the baseline precedent for OIF), President Bush's remarks to the United Nations General Assembly and excerpts from the 2003 State of the Union, the March 2003 UNMOVIC Cluster Document (summary) that triggered Bush's 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).