Did Jeb Bush just commit a War Crime in Justifying the Iraq War?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | —

Jeb Bush’s people are trying to walk back his disastrous interview with Megyn Kelly in which he said that even if he knew then what we all know now, he would have launched the war on Iraq in 2003.

It is true that he doesn’t seem to have been very clear-headed in his answer. He blamed “the intelligence” for what he said was a consensus of himself and Hilary Clinton. But the question was not, would you have trusted intelligence agencies all over again, but rather would you still do it knowing what we know now. He said he would, even now.

We know now (actually we knew then) that there was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda or the attacks of September 11, 2001, and that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program.

But even before 9/11, in 1998, Jeb Bush signed the letter of the so-called “Project for a new American Century” trying to pressure Bill Clinton into an attack on Iraq. The signatories mostly came to power under W. and more or less made a coup.

The problem with his blaming “the intelligence” is that his brother, George W., actively disregarded or even dictated the intelligence. That is why he sourced the phony allegation that Saddam Hussain’s Iraq received uranium from the central African country of Niger to “British intelligence” in his 2002 State of the Union address. The CIA saw the same document and thought it was a forgery, and wouldn’t sign off on including it in a State of the Union speech. Moreover, the “intelligence” was being fixed around the policy, as the British head of MI-6, Sir Richard Dearlove, was disturbed to discover on a visit to Washington in summer of 2002.

As Lord Goldsmith tried to tell then British Prime Minister Tony Blair (who hid Goldstone’s cautions from his own cabinet), there are only three justifications for war in post-1945 international law. The first is self-defense, but Saddam Hussein had not attacked the United States. In fact, in the 1980s Saddam launched an illegal war of aggression on Iran, using chemical weapons, and the Reagan administration actively helped him pursue that war, as well as running interference for his chemical weapons use at the UN Security Council. So not only had Saddam not attacked the US but he had been a de facto US ally.

The second ground might be a humanitarian intervention under, e.g., the Genocide Convention. This one is controversial but has gained some momentum from the Rome Statute ratified in 2002 and establishing the International Criminal Court. But Iraq was not committing genocide in 2002, whatever had happened in earlier decades.

The third possibility was for the UN Security Council to designate a country a danger to international order, and to ask member states to implement a collective security action against it. (These were the grounds for the Gulf War of 1991, the Afghanistan War of 2001 and the Libya no-fly zone of 2011). Bush and Blair never got a UNSC resolution for a war on Iraq, despite pressure on the then members, and spying on them in New York in search of dirt that could be used to blackmail them. The two even tried to think up ways of getting Iraq to shoot down a UN plane, under a false flag, as a way of stampeding the UNSC into a war authorization, as a leaked memo showed.

Advocating a war of aggression in the absence of any of these three legitimate grounds for war is itself a war crime. At least one of the Nazis convicted and executed as a result of the Nuremberg trials was guilty of nothing more than war propaganda. The Tribunal there famously wrote:

“The charges in the indictment that the defendants planned and waged aggressive war are charges of the utmost gravity. War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” [emph. added]

After the end of the Nuremberg trials it became common in the US Congress to disregard all efforts to ensure that the massive crimes of the 1940s are never repeated. Small men from small states routinely proclaim that the Unites States of America will go to war against whomever it pleases whenever it pleases without let or hindrance from those pesky international tribunals. In short, their speeches sound better in the original German. (The US has invaded 50 countries since 1945.)

Jeb Bush and many other politicians routinely speak in this frankly fascist manner. What does it mean when they say they want to attack Iran or keep “all options on the table”? They mean that one of the options they want to keep on the table is a hitlerian invasion of some other hapless country, the equivalent of Poland in 1939. Iran also has not attacked the United States; and there is no UNSC authorization for the use of military force against Iran for any reason, including genocide.

The great tragedy that there was no trial for anyone guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity in the Bush administration is that this lawless and fascistic tradition of discourse can continue glibly on. As with Jeb Bush, saying he’d do it all over again.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The LipTV: “Jeb Bush Defends Iraq War and Brother George”

18 Responses

  1. The name GW Bush, even to his brother, is flypaper ( a word that shows how old I am) that Jeb would do well to steer clear of. It’s a bit like Hillary bringing up the name of Monica Lewinsky.

    Jon Stewart nails Jeb here for his comment….

    link to crooksandliars.com

  2. Good work on informing us of another dimension to the pervasive illegality fundamental to US foreign policy.

  3. Yes Juan everything you mention here is true, but the difference between the U.S. now and Germany then is that the U.S. Is exceptional and Germany was only superior.

  4. Indeed, the bottom line is that International law is for the rest of the world. It is not for America, which has the right to militarily invade any country it chooses, just as America can torture whomever America sees fit.
    Might makes right for the chosen exceptionalism of America.

  5. Jeb’s comments are a good set up for war and regime change in Iran. “All options remain on the table” just in case we need to bomb Iran if we think there is a possibility they still might be building nukes or have the capability of doing so. The United States might need to stop them from doing that if that is the case depending on our intelligence. That’s the reason we invaded Iraq and even in retrospect I think it was the right decision to make. Even though it was a difficult one I’m still glad we did it. We might have to do the same thing to Iran at some future date, again depending on the intelligence.

    Jeb is mild mannered compared to almost all of the other war mongers in the GOP. They are ready to start bombing on DAY ONE.

    • Yes, Jack, ’tis a good thing we invaded Iraq. Factoring in health care and disability pay, it was a $3 trillion dollar bargain. Truly a great bang for the buck. America would have simply squandered the money on some frivolity if it were not for our opportunity to invade Iraq. Iran would be another great, sensible expenditure for America. Viva American conquests!

      • The defense industry made a lot of money in Iraq but they would make much more if the good ‘ol USA had to invade and regime changed Iran before they can build all the nukes Bibi Netanyahu talked about in Congress. Plus, the U.S. govt. would be able to use the NSA and really clamp down on civil rights. Living in America would be like living in Nazi Germany after the Reichstag fire.

        Peace on planet earth doesn’t help the defense industry stay in business. They need wars to make money. Saudi Arabia spent $8.4 billion on arms last year because they want war with Iran ASAP. They didn’t spend all that money just to attack a bunch of ragmuffins in Yemen.


    • The point of this article, and in a larger sense this site, is that US intelligence is so contaminated by criminal oligarchs like the Bushes with tentacles in the war racket, the oil racket, and the dictatorship racket that you should never trust any recommendation it makes to go to war with anyone. If you think GWB didn’t pressure US intel to produce the lies he wanted or punish people like Joe Wilson who resisted, you’ve been deaf to facts. And we have not made anyone’s life better in Iraq – even the Kurds were better off under the no-fly zone than they are having to fight off ISIS, which itself is the final spawn of the old Reagan alliance with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to manufacture Islamic fanaticism to destroy Communism.

      • It wasn’t just the Bush administration that wanted war with Iraq. John Kerry, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton thought Saddam could use his WMDs to launch an attack on the Homeland. Tony Blair said it only take “about 45 minutes” for the evildoer Saddam to hit England with his missiles.

        Scott Ritter claims both Bill and Hillary knew Saddam had destroyed all of his weapons after the first Gulf War. That’s what he repeatedly told POTUS Bill Clinton in the late 90s. Ritter says Bill Clinton knew Saddam had destroyed his WMDs BEFORE he attacked Baghdad in 1998. But Hillary Clinton still voted to invade Iraq in 2003, over five years later.

        They all knew it was IMPOSSIBLE for Saddam Hussein to launch a missile attack on targets thousands of miles away. He missiles did not have that range or anything close to it. The war in Iraq was total bullshit.

  6. Quibble, but Niger is, by basically every geographical and political categorization, a west African country not a central African country.

  7. Nothing in that NYTimes link refutes any of Juan’s points. Uranium from Niger? Nope.
    Defensive? Nope.
    Humanitarian? Nope.
    UN Security Council resolution? Nope.
    Please tell us how Juan was wrong.

  8. The NY Times on Iraq War II is little different from the NY Post. Or, Washington Times. Zero credibility.

  9. The tribunal’s predictive or determinative applicability (its propheticalness, one might call it) in the case in question suggests the possibility of a “reflect effect” whereby a consciousness of raisons d’État (both foreign and own) has (as would be expected) informed both and (problematically) even determined its proscriptive/descriptive effects, resulting in an almost predictive/prescriptive quality to the same in the matter of the Iraq war, its consequences, and even U.S. military strategy/policy more generally (which is has been far more openly and initiatorily belligerent than during the Cold War). For how else to explain the fact that in the matter of Iraq the U.S., in unleashing, as the tribunal famously states, “the accumulated evil of the whole [of the crimes of war],” fits the bill so perfectly through the “evil” it has directly or catalytically precipitated not only on Iraq, but on the wider region, and, indeed, on the loss of the sense of security of the entire world? Can it be mere coincidence or catastrophic incompetence alone that the effects of the U.S. invasion and intervention in the Middle East resemble, in their results, fascist total war (e.g. the second Battle of Fallujah), and that the very same, to boot, is occurring again in Ukraine, again with U.S. determinative involvement, with the allied assistance of very real, historically-linked, self-described fascists fighting the very nation, Russia, that so famously, reflexively, and existentially fought the original fascists in those same lands the first time around?

  10. Yet another dippy later generation dynastic decline.

    Two Bush, THREE wars.

    No more Bush in our White House.

  11. Every candidate needs to be upbeat about war. The vast majority of Americans are very proud of America’s war history. Being against war is like being against God in this country.

  12. The 45th anniversary of the National Guard murders at Kent State took place a few days ago. Millions of hippie types who grew up when LBJ and Nixon were president are as ANTIWAR today as they were back then. Somebody made a lot of money on that one too.

    If the Republicans can figure out a way to start a war against some bad guys and not put tens of thousands of troops into the meat grinder , they could keep it going and make a lot of money. If it gets too big and/or to bloody, the war will be stopped and the defense industry will quit making the big bucks.Too much blood is what killed the golden goose in Vietnam.

    That’s the thing with EMPIRES. If the wars stop, the empire collapses but once they start there is no way to back off. American politicians will keep creating new enemies in order to keep these wars going. Nobody will make any money if the empire fails and these wars are all about making money.

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