Thursday, April 28, 2005

Rehashing the war

The justification for the war is back in the headlines again this week on both sides of the Atlantic. Over here, it's thanks to the leak that compelled the British government to release the advice of the Attorney General on the legality of the war (his full advice here). In the US it's the reemergence of the WMD issue thanks to the publication of the final report of the weapons inspectors.

All of this is somewhat tiresome, but at the same time I think it's good that we have as much information in the public domain as possible. And, it's good that people keep pressuring those with responsibility for making decisions on war or peace to ensure that they justify their decisions properly.

I was in favor of the war, but not for any of the reasons ever put forward by either the US or UK governments. I was in favor of the war because I felt it was the only way out of a bad situation created by some very bad decisions during the 1990s. The 1991* war with Iraq was a disaster because it was inconclusive (a conclusion would have required a new regime in Iraq) and because it tied our hands unnecessarily.

The result of the war was a a sanctions regime enforced by the US & UK and permanent US force in Saudi Arabia. The sanctions regime and the US forces in Saudi, combined with the collapse in oil prices during the 90s, helped fuel anti-Americanism in the Arab world. Additionally, the global conditions that allowed the UN Security Council to agree on the war with Iraq in 1990/91, changed drastically by 2001 and meant the Security Council was now like a pair of hand-cuffs on the US, and especially, the UK by then.

This situation was bad enough, but after September 11 it was unacceptable and required a solution. As far as I was concerned, there were only two possible solutions: abandon the sanctions regime and leave Saddam unchecked or remove him. I thought the former was too risky an option, so I favored the latter. I suspect that the Bush Administration was of the same mind-set, but didn't use that justification because it meant saying publicly that Bush senior was a disaster as a President.

However, they admitted as much with the justifications that they did put forward. Each of them – Saddam's a threat to the region; Saddam has links with terrorists; Saddam wants to acquire WMD, including nukes; Saddam terrorizes his own people – was also true in 1991, only more so. The only justification for the current war that ever made sense to me was that we dug ourselves into a big hole and we need to get out. This is the way out.

* Just to set the record straight, I was opposed to the first Gulf War.