Politics & Policy

Containment & Context

Remember what an upstanding, cooperative, trustworthy country Iraq was before the war? Neither do I.

In a recent interview on Meet the Press, retired General Anthony Zinni recycled the tired argument that President Bush didn’t need to oust Saddam Hussein and his scummy regime in Iraq. “Containment,” Zinni told Tim Russert, “worked remarkably well.”

Well, yes, the policy of containment worked remarkably well, if by “remarkably well” you mean:

‐ Saddam continued to fleece the U.N. Oil-for-Food Program out of billions of dollars–money which was supposed to be used to provide humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people, but which Saddam used instead to buy influence among European politicians and American and European businessmen in an effort to undermine U.N. sanctions…while hundreds of Iraqi children, under the age of five, died every month for lack of food and medicine that the Oil-for-Food program was supposed to supply.

That last number, the body count of Iraqi children, should settle the argument by itself, and utterly put to rest the idea that the pre-invasion status quo in Iraq was acceptable. It doesn’t, because critics of the war no longer recognize it; the number has conveniently “disappeared” from the collective mind of the political Left. Before 9/11, moonbats like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Ward Churchill regularly cited grotesquely inflated World Health Organization and UNICEF statistics, which put the body count of Iraqi children at 4,500 to 5,000 per month, in order to bash whatever aspect of corporate capitalism they had targeted at a given rally. Even if the actual number of dead children was a tenth of the WHO/UNICEF numbers–let’s say 450 to 500 per month–that still makes the wanton murder sprees of the current insurgency a humanitarian respite from what came before.

So if the Iraqi status quo was unacceptable–and it was–what were President Bush’s options in March 2003? Three come to mind: He could have asked the U.N. to lift the sanctions on Iraq, and thereby reward Saddam for his non-compliance with the cease-fire agreement; he could have demanded Saddam dissolve his government, pick up his homicidal brood at the airport, and go into exile; or he could have invaded Iraq to oust Saddam. Bush tried the second option. When Saddam refused to depart, he moved on to the third.

Now, I can already hear the keening on the Left: What right did we have to demand Saddam depart Iraq?

That question, of course, returns us to the cease-fire agreement of 1991, the one Saddam signed after coalition forces, led by the United States, chased his army out of Kuwait. The cease-fire agreement permitted Saddam to remain in power on the condition that Iraq provide full and accurate disclosure of all long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq allow U.N. inspectors unobstructed access to weapons facilities to verify Iraq’s disarmament, and that Iraq

not commit or support any act of international terrorism or allow any organization directed towards commission of such acts to operate within its territory and to condemn unequivocally and renounce all acts, methods and practices of terrorism.

No sentient human being believes Saddam ever complied with the cease-fire agreement of 1991, which is why there were 17 unanimous Security Council resolutions demanding that he come into compliance. When the U.N. wouldn’t authorize the use of force, the United States invoked its right, as leader of the 1991 coalition–and thus the principal aggrieved contracting party to the cease fire–to resume hostilities with Saddam’s regime and remove him from power.

This is a critical point–and, again, a perpetual blind spot for critics of the war. The U.S. did not oust Saddam only because we thought he had, or was developing, WMD. Rather, the U.S. ousted Saddam because we thought he had, or was developing, WMD, which, along with other violations, put him in breach of the 1991 cease-fire agreement. Critics of the war, including Democratic-party hacks and Hollywood mouth-breathers, continually omit that last clause. That omission lies behind their smirks as they inquire: “Well, if we’re going to topple Saddam because he’s a bad guy, why don’t we go after all the other bad guys?”

Answer: Because the other bad guys aren’t in breach of a cease-fire agreement.

History, of course, will sort out whether President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was a wise one. If Iraq stabilizes anytime in the next ten years, and if it thereafter evolves into a decent liberal democracy, Bush–despite his domestic failures–will surely go down as a great or near-great president, ranking with Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan. Indeed, even if Iraq degenerates into chaos, and the chaos precipitates a pan-Islamic civil war–the worst-case scenario–the judgment of history will still likely be favorable for Bush’s presidency, because he did not simply kick the can down the road. History teaches that civil wars are not “sparked”; they are bred, over the course of decades, or even centuries, until collective differences become irreconcilable and one side or both sides believe they finally have the upper hand. That’s when the wholesale bloodshed starts. The sooner they commence, they less bloody they are. A pan-Islamic civil war in 2010, if it comes, will be less horrific than a pan-Islamic civil war in 2050.

History will render its judgment in due time. What remains, meanwhile, is the incessant drumbeat of defeatism. The political Left, both in America and in Europe, has become a mindless, wandering rabble, a coalition of 1960s retreads and wannabes held together by a congealed psychic-mucous of rage, paranoia, and self-righteousness. They are desperate for Bush to fail in Iraq. Their irrational hatred for him resembles not so much the Right’s substantial hatred of Bill Clinton but the South’s pathological hatred of Lincoln–who, for the record, oversaw prisoner abuses far worse than those at Abu Ghraib, and who took liberties with the Constitution far beyond warrantless wiretapping.

The judgment of history on Bush-haters will not be kind.

Mark Goldblatt is author of Africa Speaks, a satire of black urban culture.

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