In all of our briefings, our authors aim to make a reasonable case and supply the facts and referencing to support the argument made. But some briefings make a more controversial case than others. We consider this one of our more controversial briefings.
Ten questions and answers on America’s involvement in Iraq.
Did the US go to war for
No. In fact the United States imports only a small portion of its oil from the Middle East. Most US oil imports come from secure sources in Canada and Mexico. The primary reason for resuming hostilities against the regime of Saddam Hussein (halted after the ceasefire at the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991) was that Iraq failed to meet its obligations under the ceasefire agreement, particularly with regard to declaring the state of banned weapons programs. Iraq’s December 7, 2002 “full and complete” weapons declaration was particularly troubling, recycling past denials and containing little new information, making it clear that Saddam Hussein was unwilling to abide by the agreements signed in 1991. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC, the administration was deeply concerned that Iraq possessed nuclear, biological, and chemical and might share them with transnational terrorist groups.
Did President Bush lie about the
Iraqi regime having Weapons of Mass Destruction?
No. However, the United States based its belief that the Iraqi regime was continuing to develop and covertly maintain WMD stockpiles on deeply flawed assessments of available intelligence. In 2004, the Iraq Survey Group, headed by chief US weapons inspector Charles A. Duelfer, confirmed what weapons inspector David Kay had previously stated before Congress at the interim publication of the report: that Saddam Hussein did not at the time of the invasion have a major program for the production of weapons of mass destruction. Several official investigations including the Senate Select Committee’s 2004 ‘Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s prewar Intelligence Assessments of Iraq’ documented many failures. None, however, concluded that administration purposefully or maliciously misrepresented intelligence to make the case for war. Indeed, a five volume assessment of captured Iraqi documents by the US military called ‘Iraqi Perspectives Project: Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents’ demonstrated the extraordinary lengths to which the regime went to frustrate Western intelligence - attempting to appear to be cooperating with UN inspectors while at the same time attempting to signal Iraq remained a formidable power.
Did the United States and
coalition allies intentionally botch the occupation of Iraq, either to justify a
long-term military presence or to split-up or weaken Iraq?
This is frequently-voiced conspiracy theory in the Middle East does not withstand scrutiny. In fact, the United States lacked an adequate plan or the kinds of assets required to conduct an effective occupation. The original post-war strategy was deeply flawed, assuming only a short-term military commitment during which power would be handed over to an interim government. Coalition forces quickly discovered that without its dictatorship Iraq completely lacked the capacity for self-government. Thus, a long term occupation was required.
Wouldn’t more troops have
solved the problem?
No, the argument that simply more troops were needed for the occupation was wrongheaded. In fact, given that Iraq is the size of California, has porous borders, is awash with arms, and has a diverse population of about 25 million (with at least 10 million in eight major cities), it is amazing that any reputable defense analyst would confidently argue that numbers alone would have made all the difference. Considering the scope of the security challenge, 300,000 troops probably would have had just as much difficulty as 100,000. More troops would have helped, but numbers by themselves are not a silver-bullet solution. What was required was an effective post-war strategy. That took years to develop.
Did the US-led coalition simply
create more terrorists by invading Iraq?
Not really. Al Qaeda made Iraq a major battleground because it had been evicted from Afghanistan and had failed in all its other initiatives to spread transnational terrorism. The al Qaeda initiative in Iraq only serves to demonstrate they were a serious threat. Nor has terrorism result in a spread of the al Qaeda movement. In May 2008, the Human Security Report Project based at the School for International Studies (part of the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver) released its 2007 assessment of global terrorism trends. The assessment conclude that global terrorist attacks are declining—dropping by about 40 percent and matched by a dramatic crash in popular support for al-Qaeda throughout the Islamic world. Not only is terrorism in retreat, it has been on the run since 2003.
Has the surge
On the contrary, the increase in US combat forces combined with significant changes in strategy resulted in a drop in violence of around 80% over the course of the first year – with clear signs this has allowed for economic and political progress. It is true that sectarian violence before 2007 displaced over 4 million Iraqis, resulting in some ethnic cleansing’. The effectiveness of the surge, however, has shown this is not irreversible and there are already signs of reintegrating communities, though national reconciliation will be a long term endeavour.
The longer coalition forces stay
Won’t Iraqis become more dependent on coalition forces the longer they
This does not appear to be the case. Iraqi military and police forces have grown substantially over the last year. The police forces under the Ministry of the Interior have gone from about 60,000 to almost 400,000. The Iraqis are also spending more each year than the year before. The Iraqis now spend more on their own security forces than the United States. Nevertheless, it is true that Iraq’s budget surplus is likely to grow significantly over the course of 2008 (principally because of increasing oil revenues). The pace of spending has been held back by various factors, including deficiencies in capacity to oversee government spending projects.
Is failure in Iraq
No. In fact, the chances of a civil war, large scale humanitarian crisis, or an ethnically-based partition of the country now seems remote. Likewise, while Iraq remains a dangerous place, transnational terrorist groups, ethnic militias, or foreign powers are no longer capable of launching sustained campaigns to destabilize the government.
Will foreign combat troops have
to be in Iraq forever?
This is unlikely. Increasingly up to 2010, Iraqi forces will probably be capable of providing for most public safety and national security concerns. Foreign support will remain necessary for training and sustaining functions, like logistics.
Was it worth it?
That depends. On the one hand, Iraqis have suffered greatly during the occupation. On the other hand, life for many under Saddam’s regime was far more brutal. For the first time in a century, Iraqis now have the opportunity to secure their own future and serve as a force for freedom, security, and prosperity in the region.