Cole On Iraq 2002 2003 By Way It Has

Cole on Iraq, 2002-2003

By the way, it has been alleged by some of my detractors that I supported the Iraq War.

Someone wrote me quoting this passage:

“I remain convinced that, for all the concerns one might have about the aftermath, the removal of Saddam Hussein and the murderous Baath regime from power will be worth the sacrifices that are about to be made on all sides.”

This passage was not an endorsement of the Iraq War, which I held to be illegal, since there was no United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing it, and Iraq had not attacked the US.

I wrote the previous year,

“The key point is that in the wake of the two World Wars, the first of which cost 8.5 million soldiers’ lives, and the second of which cost 61 million lives altogether, an international community did come into existence. The United Nations Charter, the Security Council, and NATO were all set up as institutions in hopes of introducing some law and order into the jungle of unbridled state sovereignty. The United States is signatory to the UN Charter and to several other instruments of international law.

As a result, the United States may not unilaterally go to war against another state in the absence of a recognized casus belli without betraying the very ideals it championed in 1945. Everything alleged of Iraq with regard to WMD programs can also be alleged of India, Pakistan, France, China, Russia, Israel, and perhaps Kazakhstan. NATO has not invoked Article 5, indicating that Iraq is so much a threat to any NATO member that it may be regarded as a threat to all; and the Security Council likewise has not authorized military action against Iraq.”

I never wavered from this position.

The protracted deliberations of the UN Security Council in winter-spring 2003 did put me in a difficult position, since I did not know until almost the last minute whether there would be UNSC authorization for the war. When George W. Bush flew to the Azores and commenced the war without one, I was outraged.

The passage quoted at the beginning was not about whether the war was legal or not. Being from a military family, it mattered to me as an ethical issue whether troops lives were being lost for no good reason, in an illegal boondoggle. I decided on careful deliberation that even though the war was wrong, the lives lost would not be in vain, since a tyrannical regime would have fallen. To say that some good could come of an illegal act is not to endorse the illegal act.

My position on the war was in fact very complex. I thought it was a terrible idea, but declined to come out against it because I believed that if Saddam’s genocidal regime could be removed by the international community in a legal way, that some good would have been accomplished. But the bottom line is that I thought a war would be legal only if the United Nations Security Council authorized it. I can produce witnesses to my having said that if the UNSC did not authorize the war, I would protest it. When Bush threw aside the UNSC, I became a critic. I still resist the notion that US and UK troops have died in vain, but my conviction that they wouldn’t did not actually suggest support for the war on a political plane, as some have alleged.

This is what I was thinking in February, 2003, in response to someone at H-Diplo who demanded complete US control over Muslim radicals throughout the world. I’m not sure how anybody reads this as an endorsement of an Iraq war!

Nor is it clear that going about having serial wars with Iraq, Iran, Syria, N. Korea, and apparently ultimately China [these are the ideas thrown out by the Richard Perle/ Paul Wolfowitz circle that controls our Defense Department] is going in any way to help with this task of surveillance and infiltration. Surely serial wars in the region are a distraction from the struggle against terrorism, especially since those
countries are not doing anything to the US.

Moreover, the idea that a US military occupation of Iraq will deter as oppose to provoking more attacks on US interests is awfully optimistic. The main problem an organization like al-Qaeda has is to recruit further members and keep current members from melting away in fear. They recruit best when the young men are angriest. What are they angry about? The Israeli dispossession of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza; the almost daily shooting by the Israeli army of innocent noncombatants; the progressive colonization of Palestinian territory by–let us say–idiosyncratic settlers from Brooklyn (all of this is on t.v. every day over there); the harsh Indian police state erected over the Muslims of Kashmir; the economic stagnation and authoritarian policies of many Middle Eastern governments that are backed by the US; and the poverty and prejudice Muslim immigrants to places like France and Germany experience daily.

I don’t have any idea how to resolve all these grievances; but the young men are very angry about and humiliated by them, and al-Qaeda plays on that anger to seduce them into attacking US interests. A US occupation of Iraq is not going to address the grievances, and is likely to create new bitterness and so help the recruitment drive. If the US really wanted to stop terrorism, it would invade the West Bank and Gaza and liberate the Palestinians to have their own state and self-respect, instead of heading to Baghdad.

Iraq is rugged; tribal forces are still important; and the majority population is Shiite, as is that of neighboring Iran. What will happen if US bombs damage the Shiite shrines, the holiest places for 100 million Shiite Muslims in Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain? What will happen if there is a riot in a shrine city like Karbala and US marines put it down by killing rioters? Do we want 100 million Shiites angry at us again? (Lately they have calmed down and it is the radical Sunnis that
have given us the problems). What happens if the Iraqi Sunni middle classes lose faith in secular Arab nationalism because the Baath is overthrown, and they turn to al-Qaeda-type Islam, in part out of resentment at American hegemony over their country? What will happen if we give the Turks too much authority to intervene in Kurdistan, and fighting breaks out between the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds, and if the
Iraqi Kurds turn against the US?

Colin Powell explained in Qatar last week on an Arabic talk show that the US war will be followed by a period of US military administration of the country by a general, followed by a year or two of US civilian administration of the country. This plan is an abandonment of earlier pledges to Iraqi expatriate dissidents that there would be a direct transition to a new Iraqi government. There has been a howl of outrage and betrayal by Kanan Makiya and other dissidents, once close to the Bush White House. If our friends and supporters among Iraqi dissidents are so unhappy now, will everyone in Iraq be just delighted to still be under US administration a year or two from now?

So, this business about controlling everybody all around the world just sounds to me like pie in the sky, and the same sort of thinking that got us mired in the jungles of Vietnam.

I will be ecstatic to see Saddam go. But I have a bad feeling about this, as Han Solo once said prophetically.

posted by Juan @ 2/27/2003 08:28:45 AM