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In August 1988, after the bloody Iran-Iraq War finally ended with a U.N.-mandated ceasefire, Saddam did not intend to preserve the status quo: His forces invaded
Kuwait in August 1990. The immediate objective of the resulting U.S.-led international coalition was to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and to avoid what President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker warned, “something that would result in the fragmentation of Iraq because we didn’t think that would be in our national interests.”
Washington’s larger aim was to prevent Iraq from dominating the Persian Gulf. For the next 12 years, no-fly zones and a sanctions regime contained Saddam’s expansionist tendencies. Iran’s strength grew, Iraq’s strength receded, and the balance of power in the Gulf remained reasonably intact. That all changed dramatically after March 2003.
Bush administration officials, and their Democratic and Republican supporters on Capitol Hill, underappreciated the wider geopolitical ramifications of dethroning Iran’s principal regional counterweight. Realist scholars pointed out at the time that no amount of prewar planning or “boots on the ground” could have prevented the Islamic Republic’s push into a neighboring country with a 60 percent Shiite majority. By 2010, leaders in Tehran helped create Prime Minister Maliki’s Shiite-led government, and according to reports, began “calling in favors among its allied factions in Iraq.”
It is useful to keep in mind that many prominent politicians and pundits who originally promoted the war have now seized on expanded Iranian power to press for action against its regime. These proponents of perpetual aggression convincingly illustrate what Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises described as the deception of government intervention: When the government perceives a problem, it intervenes to solve it, but instead of solving the initial problem, the intervention creates two or three further problems.
Those who blame America’s troop withdrawal for increased Iranian influence have their causation wrong. The preventive war of choice they were so confident would yield a positive outcome helped strengthen Iran’s geopolitical assertiveness and limit U.S. policy options across the region.
Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute.
The war in Iraq started 10 years ago, on March 20, 2003, pursuant, according to the Bush Administration, to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, as well as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq, which actually cited enforcement of Resolution 1441 and prior Iraq-related Security Council resolutions as a reason for the president to deploy the armed forces. Most international opinion viewed the invasion of Iraq as illegal, but the UN Security Council (of which the U.S. is a veto-wielding member) never repudiated the war and no decision in any federal or international court has ruled on the matter one way or the other. But the Iraq war, a.k.a. the Second Gulf War, is the U.N.’s baby even absent Resolution 1441. After all, nearly 800 resolutions earlier, in 1990, the U.N. Security Council authorized military action by the U.S. and its coalition of allies to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The 1991 (First) Gulf War was followed by a decade of UN weapons inspectors, tasked with ensuring Saddam Hussein did not continue to develop nuclear, chemical, and even biological weapons of mass destruction. Before democracy-building became the policy du jour in the Bush White House, WMDs were the modus operandi for war. Those WMDs were never found. It was later revealed Saddam Hussein was bluffing; he didn’t want Iraq’s regional enemies (and namely Iran, whom he considered a greater threat to Iraq than the U.S.) to know he didn’t have WMDs.
Iraq was put on the fast track to war in 2002, when George Bush identified it, along with Iran (that archnemesis of Iraq) and North Korea (4000 miles away), as an axis of evil. The intelligence community’s speculated on Iran going nuclear since the 1990s. By 2002, North Korea had been dabbling with nuclear weapons for years. In 2003, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and in 2009 it announced it had nuclear weapons. It has performed at least three tests in the last 16 months. North Korea, too, is the U.N.’s baby. The participation of U.S. forces in the Korean War in 1950 came as a result of U.N. Security Council Resolution 83. The war ended (?) in an armistice and stalemate along a boundary close to the one that existed at the beginning of the conflict. That armistice called for a “peaceful settlement of the Korean question,” which hasn’t happened yet.
U.N. Security Council resolutions were also used to support the U.S. pursuing Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan (Resolution 1368, passed on September 11, 2001) and, most recently, to authorize NATO-led intervention in Libya (Resolution 1973, passed March 17, 2011, just two days before NATO entered the civil war). That intervention, and the expansion of the drone war to as far as Yemen and Somalia, and the deployment of U.S. troops in Africa, from Uganda to Niger (in support of the French-led intervention in Mali), and the increased agitation for intervention in Syria suggest few real lessons were learned in Iraq.
Ed Krayewski is associate editor of Reason 24/7.
Peter Beinart was wrong about the Iraq war in 2003, when he was a leading liberal hawk. But today he’s right about the idea behind it: “The real Bush doctrine was neither about democracy nor terrorism; it was about containment and deterrence. Throughout the Cold War, hawks had repeatedly questioned both strategies.” Neoconservatives and other hardliners hated the realpolitik of Nixon, Ford, and even Reagan. They demanded direct confrontation with America’s enemies: regime-change by covert action or pre-emptive war. At last, after 9/11, they got to put the theory into practice.
Afghanistan wasn’t enough—that war was a reaction. Iraq would be a revolution, the first domino in a chain that would remake the Middle East. Saddam Hussein’s (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction supplied grounds for war. But its planners and promoters, from Dick Cheney to Christopher Hitchens, always imagined neutralizing a fictitious nuclear program as only the beginning of great things. The war would liberalize Islam, destroy Al Qaeda, bracket Iran, and create a hospitable environment for Israel. Advocates dismissed any question about the costs. They turned it around: What would be the cost of not intervening?