IRAQ, IRAN AND WMD
In the beginning, only the U. S. had nuclear weapons. Then there was “mutual assured destruction,” the MAD policy which presumed any government with nuclear weapons capability would refrain from using them if the U. S. could retaliate before succumbing. Although a window of opportunity opened for the Soviet Union during which the U. S. was said to be vulnerable to a first strike, somehow the U. S. and the world survived the bipolar standoff through the 20th Century.
Searching for Rational Policy Post 9/11
By Wayne Jett © September 27, 2009
Proliferation of nuclear weapons among governments which might place low priority on self-preservation was a serious concern years before the terrorist attack by stealth on New York City on September 11, 2001. The combination of ruthless cruelty, stealth and reckless disregard for prospects of detection and retaliation displayed in destruction of the World Trade Center focused thinking. What must be done to avoid terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction?
The Bush Doctrine
In January, 2002, President George W. Bush announced to a joint session Congress that U. S. policy would no longer tolerate presumed absorption of a first strike by an enemy. When an identified enemy seeks WMD, the U. S. would strike preemptively to destroy the threat before it became imminent.
Bush named North Korea, Iran and Iraq as an “axis of evil,” and declared the U. S. “will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.” One year after 9/11, Bush told the United Nations “… our greatest fear is that terrorists will find a shortcut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale.”
In that UN speech, Bush listed “lethal and aggressive” conduct of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein violating rights of Iraqis and duties imposed by the UN. He said Saddam “continues to develop weapons of mass destruction,” and lamented “the first time we may be completely certain he has … nuclear weapons is when … he uses one.” With nuclear weapons in hand, he warned, Iraq might be the “outlaw regime” to provide them to terrorists.
Within a month after Bush’s UN speech, the political world nationally and globally united behind him. Domestically, Republicans and Democrats were nearly unanimous in support, with Senator Barack Obama notably the exception. Others, including Democratic Party presidential-candidate-to-be Senator John Kerry, Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Hillary Clinton and Representative Nancy Pelosi joined in calling for Saddam’s Iraq to be disarmed and expressed confidence biological and chemical WMD would be found together with budding plans for nuclear weapons. Republican officials likewise were nearly unanimous in calling for Saddam to be disarmed preemptively, before his threat became imminent.
Congress passed resolutions on October 10-11, 2002, authorizing Bush to take all appropriate actions to disarm Iraq if diplomacy proved unavailing, which strengthened the U. S. position in obtaining UN support for the action. The votes in each house were as bipartisan as seen post-Vietnam on such matters, with 77% in the Senate and 68% of the House concurring.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joseph Biden (D-Del.) said: "The speed and stealth with which an outlaw state or terrorists could use weapons of mass destruction, and the catastrophic damage they could inflict, require us to consider new ways of acting, not reacting.”
United Nations Ambivalence
The UN Security Council on November 8 unanimously adopted Resolution 1441 declaring Iraq was in material breach of existing duties and demanding prompt compliance with disclosure and inspection obligations. On February 5, 2003, U. S. secretary of state Colin Powell addressed the United Nations regarding Iraq’s refusal to disarm and presented evidence of Saddam’s WMD including use of chemical weapons against Iraqis.
On March 5, 2003, Russia, France and Germany jointly stated continuing desire that Iraq be disarmed, but declining to support authorizing force to do so and noting that Iraq was destroying missiles, disclosing biological and chemical information and granting interviews with scientists.
Policy Attrition After Invasion
The allied invasion of Iraq to disarm Saddam’s forces occurred March 23, 2003, nearly six months after Bush’s UN speech. Although the invasion and toppling of Saddam’s regime were accomplished swiftly and efficiently, finding evidence of WMD satisfactory to all concerned did not. Recriminations eventually arose that “Bush lied” about evidence of WMD programs in Iraq. Former Vice President Al Gore famously declared Bush had “played on our fears” in leading the U. S. into war in Iraq.
At least in retrospect, WMD was the linchpin of rationale for war. Absent WMD, Bush’s political opponents saw the war as illegitimate, and the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan called the invasion “illegal.”
Iran Builds Nukes, Tests Missiles,
This recent history bears importantly upon national defense policy as the U. S. and UN must deal with that second, more powerful element of the “axis of evil,” Iran. Iran just admitted belatedly (after the U. S. disclosed proof) its secret construction of a second underground nuclear facility for enriching weapons-grade uranium. Though Iran still claims its work is for “peaceful purposes,” no serious observer believes this is true. Iran is also testing missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons to targets as far away as Israel.
Denies Holocaust, Funds Terrorists
Major media reports Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has positions that the Holocaust never occurred, that Israel occupies Palestinian land, that Israel should be wiped off the map and, indeed, that Iran will act to destroy Israel as soon as the capability is at hand. This is denied in some quarters on grounds that Ahmadinejad merely quoted Ayatollah Khomeini to the effect Israel will in time “vanish from the pages of history.”
By all accounts, Iran organized and funds Hamas, the most radical and violent of the Palestinian Authority’s power centers, and Hezbollah, which meets the same description in Lebanon, Israel’s neighbor to the north. After its June presidential election, Iran's regime shot and killed citizens protesting voting fraud. September 18 demonstrations against the regime were the largest in Iranian history.
Thirty years ago, Iran’s predecessor regime attacked the U. S embassy, taking American hostages and holding them captive 444 days. To conclude that Iran’s regime is less belligerent towards its neighbors and the U. S. than was Saddam’s in Iraq is difficult, if not impossible. But, for sake of discussion, presume the two are equally reckless towards the rest of the world.
Policy Reversal on Iran
If Iraq’s Saddam was discovered after the invasion to be as far along the path to a nuclear weapon as Iran is now universally conceded to be, the entire U. S. political establishment (with the possible exception of Barack Obama) presumably would have agreed the Iraq invasion was wisely launched and well completed. Yet, with Iran drawing inexorably closer to building nuclear weapons while having direct ties with known, militarized terrorist groups, no thought of invading to disarm Iran is evident.
A military option akin to air strikes of nuclear facilities is said to be “on the table” in the Obama administration. Yet the man who was President Carter's national security adviser when Iran’s shah fell to Khomeini publicly counsels that U. S. forces in Iraq should shoot down Israeli aircraft if they undertake such a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. What are we to make of this complete reversal of publicly announced bipartisan national policy within seven years?
Gaping Hole in Policy
Were policy statements by Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate during October, 2002, clouded by passions remaining from the attack on the twin towers, or were they more perceptive of dangers and the means of addressing them? Policy-makers now may be de-sensitized by passage of time or diverted by political expediency.
This is a gaping hole in rationality of U. S. foreign and defense policies, which should be addressed and repaired without delay. Malicious economic policies led the American middle class to a cliff in 2008. The U. S. can ill afford a similar calamity in national security. ~