Cole’s Opposition to Iraq War in January, 2003

The Neocons, masters of disinformation, keep trying to put it about (and it is in the current Wikipedia article on me) that I somehow was initially supportive of the idea of going to war with Iraq. I was not. I thought it was a horrible idea and would end badly. Basically my position was the same as the French government then, and I said so. I was going through my private email archives for January, 2003, and pulled out some excellent contemporary evidence for my opposition to the idea, below. Early in the history of Informed Comment I had set up an email announcement board, infoco@yahoogroups.com, to which I sent extra material that did not necessarily appear at the blog. Most of the messages below are from that board and so were quite public. The politics of reputation is not without an impact on one’s life. This smear (via Wikipedia) last winter caused a conference organizer to be attacked for inviting such a warmonger as myself. Since I took so many lumps for opposing the war in its early years when it was mysteriously popular in the United States, it is ironic that Karl Rove tactics could succeed in turning all this on its head.

It strikes me that with all the unknowns of January, 2003, I also was pretty good at calling the dangers.

I have addressed these issues before, to little avail. It is one reason I think wikipedia is sucky.

Maybe this file will help set the record straight (though what was already on the blog was clear enough).

Sat Jan 18 02:34:32 2003
To: infoco@yahoogroups.com
From: Juan Cole
Subject: Chirac warns on Iraq

French President Jacques Chirac issued a blunt and forceful warning today to the Bush administration that for it to launch a unilateral attack on Iraq without a second, explicit UN Security Council resolution would constitute a breach
of international law. Too right! It is absolutely unacceptable that the Bush administration should act in such a high-handed manner, and can only have bad repercussions on the US throughout the world. It is a horrible idea. Launching a war with a security council resolution is risky enough! But at least then it would have some legitimacy.

From ???@??? Wed Jan 15 02:14:21 2003
X-Sender: jrcole@j.imap.itd.umich.edu
X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Version 4.3
To: XXXXX@yahoogroups.com
In-Reply-To:
From: Juan Cole

Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2003 01:49:03 -0500
Subject: Re: Iraq

I don’t think there is much doubt that the US will go to war against Iraq this spring. I’d say the chances are 90%. And, I think this was decided on very early in the Bush administration as a plan, but only became feasible given the public mood after 9/11 and given that Afghanistan went so well.

There were two chances to stop it. One was the congressional vote last fall. The other was the Security Council vote in November. Probably only the Congressional vote could have effectively derailed it.

There is nothing in the world to stop Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld from going through with this now. Powell would probably like a second UN resolution, but the administration does not really need that.

cheers Juan

Wed Jan 29 02:58:49 2003
To: infoco@yahoogroups.com
From: Juan Cole
Subject: Wednesday, January 29, 2003
X-Eudora-Signature:
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

* Iraqi Vice President Tariq Aziz has warned Kuwait that Iraq would not rule out hitting it if it allows US troops to launch an invasion of Iraq from its soil. Such complicity, he said, would make this action legitimate. (It is not clear exactly what Aziz is threatening to do. However, if it involved the deliberate targetting of civilian populations, it would not be legitimate; it would be a war crime. Aziz should be careful; he may find himself in the docket.)
*Jabir al-Mubarak al-Sabah, Kuwait’s Minister of Defense, said he was not surprised by this threat, and that it revealed the sort of intentions Iraq had toward its neighbors. He pledged that the Kuwait armed forces stood ready to repel any threat. (Kuwait is a nice little country, but I’m afraid its armed forces aren’t exactly up to this, and that it is the American umbrella that emboldens the minister).

*Saddam Hussein asked his generals to be vigilant against traitors in their midst who might sell out to the Americans. He saw the same reports the rest of us did, that the Saudis and other neighbors have been trying to convince someone to make a coup and depose Saddam so as to avert the looming war. (I wouldn’t hold my breath. Saddam is not the resigning kind; he is a genocidal megalomaniac. And all the generals who even thought about a coup are pushing up daisies. Of course, if he and his circle of Tikritis actually cared about the country and the people they have looted and brutalized, they would go into exile. But they aren’t that sort of person to begin with, which is one of the reasons we stand on the brink of war).

*Newsday reports that US Vice President Dick Cheney and special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad have been working to expand the expatriate committee of Iraqi politicians primed to succeed Saddam Hussein from 65 to 100, so as to dilute the influence of the pro-Iran bloc of 15 members from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Khalilzad is said to envisage a situation where policy makers will be drawn from the committee, but technocats from inside Iraq will also be given power if they are untainted by association with Saddam Hussein. Khalilzad is said to recognize that since some 60 percent of Iraqis are Shi`ite, a similar proportion of high government officials will be. But apparently he has come to realize that SCIRI’s support inside Iraq may actually be shallow. Many Iraqi Shi`ites are secularists. Apparently he will be looking for such secular Shi`ite technocrats as a counter-ballast to the clerical SCIRI.

One problem: If SCIRI’s troops, the 15,000-man al-Badr Brigade, plays a “northern-alliance” type role in this new Iraq war, it may well be positioned to garner enormous political power in the aftermath despite the planning on paper going on now. A SCIRI dominated Iraq would be a huge gift to the clerical hardliners in Tehran, and it has long puzzled me why the Bush administration was putting so many eggs in that basket. Now they are backing off, causing a furore. . .

*Bush’s State of the Union address gave specifics about what weapons of mass destruction the US thinks Saddam has and what he would have to prove he has destroyed to satisfy the Bush administration: 25,000 liters of anthrax; 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin; 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent; 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents; mobile biological weapons labs designed to produce germ warfare agents. But the wording was a little unclear, since the president kept saying Iraq had had materials sufficient to produce these quantities of these weapons, but seemed to sidestep the question as to whether it actually had done so. Apparently the anthrax and some of the chemicals were provided to Iraq in the 1980s by the Reagan administration to ensure that Iran did not win the Iran-Iraq war. I suppose that is how this administration is so sure Iraq has this stuff; it has people serving in it who provided the material to Saddam. Anyway, it seems clear to me that Bush is set on war. They are saying now it might not be until mid-March. . .

Wed Jan 29 11:43:49 2003
To: xxx
From: Juan Cole
Subject: Re: Fwd: Iraqi defectors?
X-Eudora-Signature:

Dear xxx:

Bush specifically mentioned information from Iraqi defectors as the basis for some of his WMD charges.

Since some of the defectors were scientists working for Saddam, they should know what they are talking about. On the other hand, they have a vested interest in overthrowing Saddam, and so may be tempted to exaggerate. As an example, Khidir Hamza insists that Saddam is very close to having a nuclear capability, but al-Baradei says the inspectors cannot find evidence that this is so. Since a nuclear program would require hundreds of scientists and lots of equipment and facilities, and would be awfully hard to hide from al-Baradei.

It seems to me that it would be easy enough to pass the defectors’ specific allegations over to the inspectors for verification, and that way we would know for sure.

Of course, one problem is that there hasn’t to my knowledge been much defection since 1998, and many of the defectors came before then, so that their information is old. There would have been time to move stockpiles and some may genuinely have been destroyed (or not created in the first place, since Bush kept talking about the *potential* for producing them).

This is what I said today:

Bush’s State of the Union address gave specifics about what weapons of mass destruction the US thinks Saddam has and what he would have to prove he has destroyed to satisfy the Bush administration: 25,000 liters of anthrax; 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin; 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent; 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents; mobile biological weapons labs designed to produce germ warfare agents. But the wording was a little unclear, since the president kept saying Iraq had had materials sufficient to produce these quantities of these weapons, but seemed to sidestep the question as to whether it actually had done so.

cheers Juan

Thu Jan 30 12:21:18 2003
To: [JP]
From: Juan Cole
Subject: Re: Iraq WMD – Potential or Actual?
X-Eudora-Signature:

Dear [J]:

Yes, I saw that. I am fairly cynical about all this. Cheney, Perle, Wolfowitz and Condi have wanted a war on Iraq for a long time, and the WMD stuff makes a nice pretext. I have concluded it is mainly about power politics; these “American Nationalists” just won’t put up with sass.

cheers Juan

Thu Jan 30 13:44:34 2003
To: infoco@yahoogroups.com
From: Juan Cole
Subject: 30 Jan. 2003
X-Eudora-Signature:

*The question was raised on a list of what would happen if the US invaded Iraq and found there were not weapons of mass destruction there. I fear I replied somewhat cynically, but also called it as I see it. If Iraq turns out not to have much WMD, the administration will fall back on its other main argument, that Saddam is a monster who has killed and brutalized his own people and repeatedly invaded his neighbors. We already have had Halabja survivors among the Kurds protest the doubts some Westerners have expressed about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and willingness to use them. They say, basically, *we* know all about WMD. And, given the thousands of Shi`ites the Baath killed in the south, there are almost certainly mass graves that will provide a macabre justification ex post facto for the removal of that regime. Footage of the Iranian vets injured by mustard gas could also be put on television. How wars are justified before they are launched and how they are justified afterwards is frequently different. If there is a relatively quick victory, no one will inquire into the justifications too closely. If it becomes a quagmire, it won’t matter what the justification was: the public will turn against the war anyway if it goes badly…

14 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    I trust you have redcued all this electronic archive to a paper or microfiche form that will survive for hundreds of years.

    I am just a little dubious about the survival of Historical Primary sources that exist only in electronic form.

    Where will you find a DVD reader in three hundred years time?

  2. On march 17 2003, you stated that there was no evidence of nuclear weapons in Iraq, thereby debunking the justification for the war. That blogpost, written 3 days before the war, proves that you did not support the war.
    If you went through everything that your critics said in 2003, you might find something you could use to mischaracterize their positions.
    I would like to know what your critics were saying and doing when the Afghan War and the first Gulf War began. I presume they were all in jail for doing civil disobediene to protest those wars.

  3. I periodically download your archive just to have a record of what has actually happened. Can’t say that about many sites.

    Neocons are cowards (Goldberg et al), stupid (Feith et al) and evil (that campus watch lizard et al).

  4. I think that you missed the overall point.

    The neocons are telling lies about you: I would expect nothing less!

    But let us examine the lie: they are using support for the war as a smear. Thus they are admitting that spporting the war was wrong. Their smear is your vindication. It is a badge of honor. Wear it proudly.

    • The REAL overall point is that these guys JUST DON”T CARE, for the facts, or truth, or anything else, quite apart from their bad judgement and questionable values.

      THEY JUST DON’T CARE. It’s all about consolidating and extending their power while diminishing that of others. There is something to be said for stability, caution, and the prudence of conservatism. But these people, who have managed to get, and still hold enormous power. With the latest Iraq war there are a dozen individuals, without whom it never would have happened, and they have not gone away.

      That 100′s of thousands of people (Americans, Iraqis, and others) have been killed, permanently maimed, or had their lives destroyed, due to the latest Iraq war alone, simply does not matter to them: THEY JUST DON’T CARE.

  5. Two of the Right’s favorite places for slandering its opponents are Wikipedia and Amazon’s book reviews. The issue is long-standing and well known, and it has never been addressed. Wikipedia is a reliable reference for trivia only: when I need to know about a 17 year-old computer game, it is the first place I look.

  6. Juan is knowledgable and his comments are certainly worthwhile. But in his balanced discussion he leaves plenty of room for the justification for what amounts to plain acts of agression and war crimes.

    “Launching a war with a security council resolution is risky enough! But at least then it would have some legitimacy.” No it wouldn’t.

    “…and given that Afghanistan went so well.” No it didn’t – even then.

    “Powell would probably like a second UN resolution, but the administration does not really need that.” Because our elites do whatever they want.

    “Iraqi Vice President Tariq Aziz has warned Kuwait that Iraq would not rule out hitting it if it allows US troops to launch an invasion of Iraq from its soil. Such complicity, he said, would make this action legitimate.” They didn’t have the capability at that point, but Juan goes on to say that Aziz was probably talking about killing as many civilians in Kuwait as possible, rather than strike American staging areas actively engaged in military hostilities against his country. It’s blame the victim – the same thing Juan did with regard to Libya.

    The WMD charges made against Iraq were out right lies and were known to be so before the war and proved beyond doubt after the invasion. Yet Juan treated it equivocally. “But the wording was a little unclear, since the president kept saying Iraq had had materials sufficient to produce these quantities of these weapons, but seemed to sidestep the question as to whether it actually had done so.” “Since some of the defectors were scientists working for Saddam, they should know what they are talking about. On the other hand, they have a vested interest in overthrowing Saddam, and so may be tempted to exaggerate.”

    Yes, Saddam was a bad guy (our bad guy for most of the time) but who killed more Iraqis and did more and continuing damage to their country, Saddam or us? (Especially is we include the effects of the long economic blockade that preceded the 2003 invasion.)

    And another matter. The U.S., supporting Israel, has been engaged in a policy of assassination of Iranian academics who may have had an association with their nuclear energy program. Do you not think this is a risky policy? I think the assassination of academics and military attacks on universities as a means of covert warfare is immoral and a horrible policy. Why aren’t American academics speaking out loud and clear on this?

    So, Juan, I’m glad that you are writing your blog and I do learn things from you and take account when trying to understand what is happening. But when it comes to supporting illegal acts of aggression you are not white, nor black, but sort of light gray.

    • Well, I’m never going to satisfy persons of your views. If you can’t read my condemnation of illegal wars of aggression in my comment on Chirac and conclude that I am against illegal wars of aggression, then there is nothing I can do for you.

      Some of the sanctions on Iraq about which you complain came in response to its illegal war of aggression on Kuwait, but that one did not bother you in the least.

      • No it did bother me. Saddam was wrong on Kuwait and as is sometimes said: “it was worse than a crime, it was a blunder.” But didn’t he tell our ambassador about it before hand (and recorded it) and did she raise any strong objections? You know that there is a history to Iraq and Kuwait that is not black and white. There was also a dispute regarding pumping rates from a common oil field under both territories. I have read that this is the kind of situation that is common in the oil business and they have long ago learned how to handle it but Kuwait would not negotiate the issue.

        I also seem to recall a State Department representative testifying before Congress on the eve of the Kuwait invasion that we had no defense treaty with Kuwait and we were not obligated to come to their defense. (True, of course, but certainly misleading as to our actual intentions.) Am I mistaken about that?

        So is there not a tiny possibility that we suckered Saddam into the invasion and he was stupid enough to fall for it?

        And after pushing Saddam out of Kuwait was the 12 year economic blockade that struck directly at their infrastructure and the civilian population a moral act?

        • First of all, that the US wanted Saddam to invade Kuwait is a crazy conspiracy theory for which there is no evidence. That James Baker didn’t care very much one way or another is plausible.

          So when you say the invasion and brutal occupation bothered you, that means you staged demonstrations against Baathist Iraq in 1990-91, right? Wrote op-eds? Did something?

          Or maybe you were active protesting the Halabja massacre? The Najaf massacre? The aggression against Iran?

          You guys always give the authoritarians a pass, but want to police anyone who you view as insufficiently anti-imperialist. You’ve even managed to blame Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait not on the cupidity of the Baath elite but on the United States.

  7. I had a problem with someone posting article changes on my WikiPedia article that were not true. I’d change them back, and then it would be repeated. I eventually complained to one of the super-editors of WikiPedia, who protected the page and prevented further vandalism.

    Try the “contact us” link at the bottom of the page.

  8. Those of us who were reading your blog well before the invasion of April 2003 (I found out about it from a University Record article about you, on paper not on the web, in the fall of 2002) know very well that you opposed the war and the invasion, both before and during its many phases, and that the entry cited in the Wikipedia article was a hope on the day the invasion began that the invasion itself would go well with relatively little loss of life.

    Thanks Londo for that information about Wikipedia’s political biases; I guess I have only used it for trivia (although I have read that entries about evolution have also been made unreliable by creationists).

Comments are closed.