This week marks the fifth anniversary of the congressional
vote granting President George W. Bush unprecedented war-making authority to
invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his own choosing. Had a majority
of either the Republican-controlled House or the Democratic-controlled Senate
voted against the resolution or had they passed an alternative resolution conditioning
such authority on an authorization from the United Nations Security Council,
all the tragic events that have unfolded as a consequence of the March 2003
invasion would have never occurred.
The responsibility for the deaths of nearly 4,000 American soldiers, the deaths
of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, the waste of over a half trillion
dollars of our national treasury, and the rise of terrorism and Islamist extremism
that has come as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq rests as much
in the hands of the members in Congress who authorized the invasion as it does
with the administration that requested the lawmakers' approval.
Those who express surprise at the refusal of today's Democratic majority
in Congress to stop funding the war should remember this: the October 2002 resolution
authorizing the invasion had the support of the majority of Democratic senators
as well as the support of the Democratic Party leadership in both the House
and the Senate.
Seven of the 77 senators who voted to authorize
the invasion – Fred Thompson (R-TN), John McCain (R-AZ), Sam Brownback (R-KS),
Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and John
Edwards (D-NC) are now running for president. While the Republican candidates
remain unapologetic, the Democratic candidates have sought to distance themselves
from their vote, arguing that what is important in choosing a president is not
how they voted in the past, but what she or he would do now.
Such efforts to avoid responsibility should be rejected out of hand. While
I personally support a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as logistically
feasible, there is considerable debate among knowledgeable, ethical, and intelligent
people – including those who also opposed the invasion – as to what
to do now. No reasonable person, however, could have supported the resolution
authorizing the invasion five years ago.
On this and other web sites – as well as in many scores of policy reports,
newspaper articles, academic journals and other sources – the tragic consequences
of a U.S. invasion of Iraq and a refutation of falsehoods being put forward
by the Bush administration to justify it were made available to every member
of the House and Senate (see, for example, The
Case Against a War with Iraq). The 2003 vote authorizing the invasion was
not like the vote on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution on the use of force
against North Vietnam, for which Congress had no time for hearings or debate
and for which most of those supporting it (mistakenly) thought they were simply
authorizing limited short-term retaliatory strikes in response to a specific
series of alleged incidents. By contrast, in regard to the resolution authorizing
the use of force against Iraq, Congress had many months to investigate and debate
the administration's claims that Iraq was a threat as well as the likely
implications of a U.S. invasion; members of Congress also fully recognized that
the resolution authorized a full-scale invasion of a sovereign nation and a
subsequent military occupation of an indefinite period.
Violating International Legal Conventions
Those who voted in favor of the resolution authorizing
the invasion of Iraq did so despite the fact that it violated international
legal conventions to which the U.S. government is legally bound to uphold. The
resolution constituted a clear violation of the United Nations Charter that,
like other ratified international treaties, should be treated as supreme law
according to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. According to articles 41 and
42 of the UN Charter, no member state has the right to enforce any resolution
militarily unless the UN Security Council determines that there has been a material
breach of its resolution, decides that all nonmilitary means of enforcement
have been exhausted, and then specifically authorizes the use of military force.
This is what the Security Council did in November 1990 with Resolution 678
in response to Iraq's ongoing violations of UN Security Council resolutions
demanding its withdrawal from Kuwait, but the Security Council did not do so
for any subsequent lesser Iraqi violations. The only other exception for the
use of force authorized by the charter is in self-defense against armed attack,
which even the Bush administration admitted had not taken place.
This effective renunciation of the UN Charter's prohibition against such
wars of aggression constituted an effective repudiation of the post-WWII international
legal order. Alternative resolutions, such as one authorizing force against
Iraq if authorized by the UN Security Council, were voted down by a bipartisan
Some of those who voted for the war resolution and their supporters have since
tried to rewrite history by claiming the resolution had a stronger legal basis.
For example, in a recent interview
with The Progressive magazine, Elizabeth Edwards claimed that the resolution
supported by her husband, then-Senator John Edwards, involved "forcing
Bush to go to the U.N. first." In reality, not only was no such provision
included in the resolution that passed, Edwards voted against the resolution
amendment that would have required such a precondition, arguing that "our
national security requires" that "we must not tie our own hands
by requiring Security Council action."
Members of Congress were also alerted by large
numbers of scholars of the Middle East, Middle Eastern political leaders, former
State Department and intelligence officials and others who recognized that a
U.S. invasion would likely result in a bloody insurgency, a rise in Islamist
extremism and terrorism, increased sectarian and ethnic conflict, and related
problems. Few people I know who are familiar with Iraq have been at all surprised
that the U.S. invasion has become such a tragedy. Indeed, most of us were in
communication with congressional offices and often with individual members of
Congress themselves in the months leading up to the vote warning of the likely
consequences of an invasion and occupation. Therefore, claims by Senator Clinton
and other leading Democratic supporters of the war that they were unaware of
the likely consequences of the invasion are completely false.
The resolution also contained accusations that were known or widely assumed
to be false at that time, such as claims of Iraqi support for al-Qaeda terrorists
responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States. A
by the Department of Defense noted that not only did no such link exist, but
that no such link could have even been reasonably suggested based on the evidence
available at that time.
The resolution also falsely claimed that Iraq was "actively seeking a
nuclear weapons capability." In reality, Iraq had long eliminated its
nuclear program, a fact that was confirmed in a report by the International
Atomic Energy Agency in 1998, four years prior to the resolution.
The resolution also falsely claimed that Iraq at that time continued "to
possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability."
In reality, as the U.S. government now admits, Iraq had rid itself of its chemical
and biological weapons nearly a decade earlier and no longer had any active
chemical and biological weapons programs. This likelihood that Iraq no longer
had operational chemical or biological weapons was brought to the attention
of members of Congress by a number of top arms control specialists, as well
as Scott Ritter, the American who headed UNSCOM's efforts to locate Iraq's
possible hidden caches of chemical and biological weapons, hidden supplies or
secret production facilities.
Virtually all of Iraq's known stockpiles of chemical
and biological agents had been accounted for and the shelf life of the small
amount of materiel that had not been accounted for – which, as it ends up, had
also been destroyed – had long since expired and was therefore no longer of
weapons grade. There was no evidence that Iraq had any delivery systems for
such weapons, either. In addition, the strict embargo, in effect since 1990,
against imports of any additional materials needed for the manufacture of WMDs,
combined with Iraq's inability to manufacture such weapons or delivery systems
themselves without detection, made any claims that Iraq constituted any "significant
chemical and biological weapons capability" transparently false to anyone who
cared to investigate the matter at that time. Indeed, even the classified full
version of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, while grossly overestimating
Iraq's military capability, was filled with extensive disagreements, doubts,
and caveats regarding President Bush's assertions regarding Iraq's WMDs, WMD
programs, and delivery systems.
The House and Senate members who now claim they were "misled" about
Iraq's alleged military threat fail to explain why they found the administration's
claims so much more convincing than the many other reports made available to
them from more objective sources that presumably made a much stronger case that
Iraq no longer had offensive WMD capability. Curiously, except for one excerpt
from a 2002 National Security Estimate released in July 2003 – widely
ridiculed at the time for its transparently manipulated content – not
a single member of Congress has agreed to allow me any access to any documents
they claim convinced them of the alleged Iraqi threat. In effect, they are using
the infamous Nixon defense from the Watergate scandal that claims that, while
they have evidence to vindicate themselves, making it public would somehow damage
national security. In reality, if such reports actually exist, they are clearly
inaccurate and outdated and would therefore be of no threat to national security
if made public.
The Democrats who voted to support the war and
rationalized for it by making false claims about Iraq's WMD programs are responsible
for allowing the Bush administration to get away with lying about Iraq's alleged
threat. For example, Bush has noted how "more than a hundred Democrats in the
House and the Senate – who had access to the same intelligence – voted to support
removing Saddam Hussein from power." In a speech attacking antiwar activists,
Bush noted how "Many of these critics supported my opponent during the last
election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress
this way: 'When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority
to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe
that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat,
and a grave threat, to our security.'"
Indeed, the fact that 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry voted
in favor of the resolution likely cost the Democrats the White House and, should
Senator Clinton – who claimed, in justification of her vote to authorize
the invasion, that Iraq's possession of such weapons was "not in
doubt" and was "undisputed" – get the nomination, it
could also threaten the Democrats' hopes for victory in 2008. Similarly,
should Senator Dodd, Senator Biden, or former Senator Edwards – who also
made false claims about Iraqi WMDs – get the nomination, it could have
a similarly deleterious impact to the Democrats' chances.
It's also important to recognize that not everyone in Congress voted to authorize
the invasion. There were the 21 Senate Democrats – along with one Republican
and one Independent – who voted against the war resolution. And 126 of 207 House
Democrats – including presidential contender Dennis Kucinich – voted against
the resolution as well. In total, then, a majority of Democrats in Congress
defied their leadership by saying no to war. This means that the Democrats who
did support the war, despite being over-represented in leadership positions
and among presidential contenders, were part of a pro-war minority and did not
represent the mainstream of their party.
The resolution also claimed that "the risk that the current Iraqi regime
will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United
States ... or provide them to international terrorists who would do so...
combine to justify action by the United States to defend itself." In other
words, those members of the House and Senate who supported this resolution believed,
or claimed to believe, that an impoverished country, which had eliminated its
stockpiles of banned weapons, destroyed its medium and long-range missiles,
and eliminated its WMD programs more than a decade earlier, and had been suffering
under the strictest international sanctions in world history for more than a
dozen years, somehow threatened the national security of a superpower located
more than 6,000 miles away. Furthermore, these members of Congress believed,
or claimed to believe, that this supposed threat was so great that the United
States had no choice but to launch an invasion of that country, overthrow its
government, and place its people under military occupation in the name of "self-defense,"
regardless of whether Iraq allowed inspectors back into the county to engage
in unfettered inspections to prove that the WMDs, WMD programs and weapons systems
no longer existed.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq was opposed by virtually
the entire international community, including Iraq's closest neighbors,
who presumably had the most to be concerned about in terms of any possible Iraqi
military threat. However, the members of Congress who voted to authorize the
invasion were determined to make the case that the United States – with
the strongest military the world has ever known and thousands of miles beyond
the range of Iraq's alleged weapons and delivery systems – was so
threatened by Iraq that the United States had to launch an invasion, overthrow
its government and occupy that country for an indefinite period.
This shows a frighteningly low threshold for effectively declaring war, especially
given that in most cases these members of Congress had been informed by knowledgeable
sources of the widespread human and material costs which would result from a
U.S. invasion. It also indicates that they would likely be just as willing to
send American forces off to another disastrous war again, also under false pretenses.
Indeed, those who voted for the war demonstrated their belief that:
- the United States need not abide by its international legal obligations,
including those prohibiting wars of aggression;
- claims by right-wing U.S. government officials and unreliable foreign exiles
regarding a foreign government's military capabilities are more trustworthy
than independent arms control analysts and United Nations inspectors;
- concerns expressed by scholars and others knowledgeable of the likely reaction
by the subjected population to a foreign conquest and the likely complications
that would result should be ignored; and, faith should instead be placed on
the occupation policies forcibly imposed on the population by a corrupt right-wing
As a result, support for the 2002 Iraq War resolution is not something that
can simply be forgiven and forgotten.
Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy