George H.W. Bush on Why Invading Iraq was a Bad Idea
George Gedda of AP reminds us of the opposition to an American invasion of Iraq expressed after the Gulf War by George Bush senior and his secretary of state, James Baker. Bush wrote in his memoirs:
‘ Incalculable human and political costs” would have been the result, the senior Bush has said, if his administration had pushed all the way to Baghdad and sought to overthrow Saddam Hussein after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Iraqi army from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf war in 1991.
“We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect rule Iraq,” Bush wrote. “The coalition would have instantly collapsed. … Going in and thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations mandate would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish.
“Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different – and perhaps barren – outcome.” ‘
Baker wrote an op-ed in 1996 that said,
“Iraqi soldiers and civilians could be expected to resist an enemy seizure of their own country with a ferocity not previously demonstrated on the battlefield in Kuwait.
“Even if Hussein were captured and his regime toppled, U.S. forces would still have been confronted with the specter of a military occupation of indefinite duration to pacify the country and sustain a new government in power.
“Removing him from power might well have plunged Iraq into civil war, sucking U.S. forces in to preserve order. Had we elected to march on Baghdad, our forces might still be there.”
One thing Gedda neglects in his account is the enormous pressure the first Bush administration received from Middle East allies not to go in. The Saudis were afraid the Shiites would take over, strengthening Iran and perhaps becoming influential in the oil-rich al-Hasa province of Saudi Arabia, which traditionally had a Shiite majority. The Turks were afraid of Kurdish nationalism being unleashed, such that it might spread back to Turkey. The Jordanians were also afraid of chaos, which might blow back on them. The Egyptians objected to a Western army invading a Muslim country.
Even more recently, in 2002 – 2003, King Abdullah II would have much preferred that the war had never been fought. He warned Bush that it might cast the entire region into flames. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak warned that it would produce a thousand Bin Ladens. Was he wrong?