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RM Issue #030608

A just war regardless
Whether WMDs are found or not, the allies need offer no apologies for liberating Iraq

National Post
Wednesday, June 04, 2003

The war in Iraq is over. But the war of words over its justness is still going strong. Two thousand U.S. Special Forces are currently searching the country for hidden weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). To date, their largest catch consists of two mobile laboratories whose design lends itself to the production of biological weapons. But compared to the massive stores of WMDs U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair suggested Saddam Hussein might be hiding -- including 26,000 litres of anthrax and two tonnes of VX nerve agent -- that is small beer. Even U.S. Lieutenant-General James Conway, the senior Marine general in Iraq, has expressed surprise that no actual WMDs have yet turned up. "Believe me," Lt.-Gen. Conway said during a teleconference last Friday, "it's not for lack of trying. We've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between [Kuwait] and Baghdad."

Indeed, Messrs. Bush and Blair now face accusations that they willfully exaggerated the size of Saddam Hussein's WMD arsenal to justify the invasion launched in March. Even before the war began, Mr. Blair was embarrassed by the disclosure that portions of his September, 2002 "dossier" on Saddam's weapons were plagiarized wholesale from an obsolete academic thesis. Now, members of his own Labour Party are aggressively pressing him to explain why the dossier's claims have not been vindicated. Last week, Clare Short, Mr. Blair's former international development secretary, even accused her old boss of having "duped" the U.K. into going to war against Iraq. Meanwhile, in Washington, Robert Byrd, a Senate Democrat, has publicly questioned whether "countless thousands of Iraqi civilians [were] killed and maimed when war was not really necessary?" His campaign against Mr. Bush is bolstered by a coterie of CIA whistleblowers who feel their agency's research was cynically distorted by a warmongering White House.

A lightening-quick rush to accuse Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush of distorting intelligence reports on Saddam would be imprudent: The search for Saddam's WMDs is just beginning, and will likely take many more months to complete. Still, it seems the Allies are going to have to eventually acknowledge some intelligence failures -- and perhaps even some significant overstatements.

Specifically, in some cases, they presented as fact what were really uncorroborated claims by Iraqi exiles. Mr. Blair, for example, will likely rue his claim, made on Sept. 24, that Saddam had the capacity to weaponize chemical and biological agents for use against Allied soldiers within 45 minutes. That information was supposedly passed to British intelligence by an anti-Saddam defector who, according to a prominent British newspaper, is known to the CIA as an unreliable source. From this incautious reliance on dubious sources will flow some painful diplomatic consequences. It may, for one thing, make it more difficult for the United States and Britain to summon international support when multilateral action against a rogue state again becomes necessary.

That said, however, it would be wrong to conclude that this alleged U.S. and British overreaching in the propaganda war against Saddam discredits the liberation of Iraq post facto. While U.S. and British claims about the nature and extent of Saddam's armoury helped rally the public, they were always tangential to the legal and moral case for war.

It is a fallacy to assume that Iraq's possession of WMDs comprised the legal basis for the allies' military campaign. According to UN Security Council Resolution 687, among others, Iraq was not only obligated to destroy its WMD stockpile in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, but also to facilitate a thorough program of international inspections. Yet even the European doves who pleaded for Hans Blix to be given more time back in March admit that Saddam never fully complied with this requirement. It was this behaviour on the Iraqi leader's part -- not the weapons the behaviour may or not have concealed -- that provided the legal basis for war.

As for the moral case for war, that has been proven a hundred times over since war's end -- and is reproven every time yet another Iraqi torture victim is interviewed by a Western journalist. No CIA reports are implicated on this file -- because Saddam never concealed his bloodthirsty style of rule, and his capacity for cruelty seems to have exceeded anything a Western leader or intelligence analyst might have imagined in any case. There was, for instance, the giant plastic shredder that was used to kill men, kicking and screaming; the torture chamber for athletes in the basement of the Iraqi Olympic offices; the women who were raped in front of their husbands by Baathist enforcers; the apartheid-style suppression of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, and the draining of its ancient marshlands; the use of gas and helicopter gunships to slaughter whole Kurdish villages; the open support for anti-Israel terror movements; and the conscription of teenagers into Saddam's murderous fedayeen. Saddam turned Iraq into one enormous gulag -- and the United States and Britain need offer no apologies for freeing the millions of Iraqis confined, until recently, inside its walls.

As Mr. Bush himself has plainly admitted, the war was always about more than WMDs. It was about creating a new political environment in the Middle East, destroying the cult of militant Arabism that kept the Palestinian-Israeli conflict simmering, extinguishing a possible nexus between rogue power and terrorism; and, perhaps, in the long term, democratizing the Arab world. Given that these are large, ambitious projects, the U.S. and British leaders would have had a difficult time using them as an explicit basis to justify war. Thus the two government focused, perhaps overly so, on the threat of WMDs and links to al-Qaeda -- which are simpler, more tangible themes. But over time, as the larger benefits of Iraq's liberation unfold, we are confident the paucity of WMDs found in the country will come to be regarded in the West as an insignificant footnote to the region's history -- much as it already is to the many ordinary Iraqis freed of Saddam's tyranny.

Copyright 2003 National Post

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