Iraq War II, Part 4: Surrender Denied
To mark the 20th anniversary of the "wholly unjustified and brutal invasion" of Iraq, as George W. Bush himself now characterizes it, we are serializing that chapter from my 2021 book Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism over the next few weeks exclusively here at Substack.
Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, Part Thirteen, Part Fourteen.
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Some Americans wondered, why not negotiate? No, we cannot talk to “evil” regimes. That would “legitimize” them, the administration claimed. But Bush’s secretary of state at the time was former four-star General Colin Powell. If Powell were not tough enough, they could have sent Hussein’s old acquaintance from the Reagan years, the gruff old Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over there to read Hussein the riot act and put his regime in line. The terms could have been as simple as they were obvious: keep al Qaeda down and out, stop sending money to Hamas and we will lift the blockade and let Iraq rejoin the international community. And no massacres.
It could have been. Eight months after the war began, the New York Times published a story about how Saddam Hussein had offered to surrender on virtually “unconditional terms.” Meeting with important neoconservative ringleader Richard Perle in London, Hussein’s emissary, Lebanese-American businessman Imad Hage, revealed that the Iraqis were not even sure what the problem really was, so they offered to concede on every imaginable point. Perle was told that if the conflict is truly about weapons, the U.S. can send in the FBI to look wherever they want. If the problem was Iraq’s role in the Israel-Palestine crisis, they offered “full support for any U.S. plan.” If the dispute was about mineral rights, they offered to make oil concessions to U.S. companies. If Bush’s motive was Hussein’s dictatorship itself, they even promised to hold elections under international supervision. On top of all this, the Iraqis promised to work with the U.S. in fighting against al Qaeda. Instead, Perle told Hussein’s representative to tell the dictator and his men, “we will see them in Baghdad.” In a separate story, journalist Seymour Hersh reported that Perle had been approached with an Iraqi peace offer by a Saudi industrialist named Harb Zuhair. He ignored it. Attempts by Hussein’s regime to negotiate “were all non-starters because they all involved Saddam staying in power,” a senior administration official told Knight-Ridder newspapers.
The Bush administration refused to accept victory without war. The president announced in his “48 hours” speech of March 17, 2003 that Hussein and his sons had two days to leave Iraq, but that even if they did so, the new regime would be expected to allow the “peaceful entry” of U.S. troops, making it clear that the U.S. was going to invade no matter what.
How could it be that if Saddam and his two sons left Iraq and moved to Cairo, and there was a brand-new general in charge in Baghdad, the administration would not give the guy a chance to dig through the records to see if he could come up with some mustard gas canisters? It was never really about the weapons. Why else would it be that Saddam and his sons leaving town would not be enough even to buy the Iraqis another few weeks’ delay on their death sentence?
As Paul Wolfowitz later admitted in an interview with Vanity Fair, for “bureaucratic reasons” the administration settled on weapons of mass destruction as the cause for launching the war. In other words, the lawyers in the U.S. State Department and British Foreign Ministry were afraid that some of them might go to prison for starting an aggressive war, which is against the law. They had to be able to pretend that the Iraqis were in violation of United Nations resolutions, that America was supporting the rule of law, and that it was invading not as an act of aggression, but as an act of fulfilling the UN’s mandates. This was not true. The U.S. refused to allow a Security Council vote on a resolution authorizing the attack because Russia, China and France would have not only abstained but voted no and vetoed it. So, they just went ahead anyway.
The traditional conservative criticism of the United Nations was that it infringed on American independence and made other countries’ small problems and disputes into international ones, constantly laying tripwires for intervention and causing the United States to get into disputes outside of, and even contrary to its interests. But the neoconservatives, like Richard Perle, were just mad that the UN Charter makes it a crime to start a war without the agreement of the Security Council. Shortly after the Iraq invasion, Perle wrote in the Guardian:
Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror is about to end. He will go quickly, but not alone: in a parting irony, he will take the UN down with him. Well, not the whole UN. The “good works” part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions.
Why bother with liberal-minded “governance” as an excuse for global hegemony when you have total power in the form of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division at your service, at war against a tactic and anyone you claim might use it?
Stay tuned to this space for the rest of Enough Already, Chapter 3 Iraq War II. They will be published every few days until the anniversary of the invasion in mid-March.
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