The imminent fighting in Iraq is not, in my view, a second Gulf War. It is the inevitable conclusion of the first one. The Bush administration’s inability to make this clear is one of its biggest failures.
The administration’s real aim, which it has admitted only intermittently, is to get rid of Saddam and his government. This is perfectly legitimate, because this same regime forced America and its allies to send half a million troops in 1991 to remove Iraq from a neighbor that it invaded without provocation.
That conflict halted only upon a number of conditions, none of which Saddam ultimately satisfied. He did not disarm. He did not cooperate with inspectors, whom he evicted from the country in 1998. He did not comply with international sanctions. He did not account for lost Kuwaiti property and abducted Kuwaiti citizens. He did not observe the no-fly zones in the northern and southern parts of the country.
Saddam’s game, which very nearly succeeded, was to wait until the international community became tired of the trouble and expense of enforcing these conditions, and until greed motivated some of the so-called allies, notably France and Russia, to support ending sanctions. To spur that along, Saddam did not hesitate to spread misery among his people and blame it on the sanctions.
The second phase of this conflict played in slow motion for years, until the Bush administration decided to make it a priority. September 11, 2001, did not show any link between Saddam and terrorism. It did show, however, that there is an unanticipated price to keeping a standing U.S. military force indefinitely in Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries to protect those countries and the global oil supply from Saddam’s depredations. Some residents simply cannot abide having American forces present that do nothing to benefit the local population. But thanks to Saddam, the Americans could not leave.
Saddam’s regime was forfeit with every tanker load of oil smuggled across his border, with every illegal purchase of materiel, with every instance in which an allied aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone was lit up by Iraqi radar. Twelve years of sanctions were more than enough for his powerless people to suffer. Parents and spouses of allied soldiers should not have to worry about their loved ones having to enforce an endless term of sanctions and inspections against an uncooperative regime.
It is too bad the administration allowed itself to be drawn into the irrelevant arguments about inspectors and terrorists. It should have thrown the hypocrisy of France, Germany and Russia into the faces of those governments by inviting them to take a turn enforcing the 1991 resolution to our satisfaction. Do they, in the interest of peace, care to assume the burden and the blame of enforcing sanctions against Iraq’s hapless population? I doubt it.
The simple truth is that the first Gulf War never really ended, the Iraqi population continued to suffer for it, and America and Britain continued to bear most of the burden continuing the battle against Saddam in slow motion. After a dozen years, it is past time for this conflict to end.