War Guilt in Iraq

With tens, hundreds, of billions squandered, American men and women being killed by the day, not to speak of Iraqis, a country smashed and in ruins, an Islamic revolution threatening, and no end in sight to the unrelenting fiasco, the question becomes: just who is responsible for the disaster of the Iraq War?

I don’t mean which individuals. We know the answer to that question. As for Bush himself, he is so deluded about this war that he seems incapable of expressing anything resembling a truth about it. He is like a person who caused a 100-car pile up on a highway standing around claiming all is well. One doesn’t know whether to take the person to jail or the psychiatric ward.

War guilt addresses a broader question that historians and sometimes jurists like to ask: which government? Since war is generally considered an awful thing, it becomes crucially important to decide which country is finally responsible for its occurrence. It is a matter of justice, and important for trying to achieve peace on earth, that everyone understand which government is responsible.

We know the answer here too, but the war party is constantly trying to muddy the waters. The war party says that Saddam was uncooperative before the war, that he harbored WMDs, that he was itching for a war, and even George Bush said before the invasion that it was in Saddam’s power to stop a war if only he would comply with US demands. But was it really? Even if you believe that the US is granted some divine right to tell other countries what to do, could US ultimatums be taken seriously?

We’ve already seen how the WMD claim didn’t hold up. It is tough for Americans to admit it, but Saddam was telling the truth, and US leaders were not. It turns out that there is much more to the story. It seems that the Iraqi government did everything it could to avert a war, even aside from revealing all known details about its weapons’ programs in its accurate 12,000-page weapons declaration to the UN. It tried old-fashioned backdoor diplomatic maneuvers as well, further establishing that the issue of war guilt firmly lands on the US.

As has been widely reported, last March, as US troops gathered on Iraqi borders, Saddam sent a message to the Bush administration through Imad Hage, a Lebanese-American businessman, who had met with Saddam. It had first reached the office of the under secretary for planning and defense, in February. The message: Iraq has no WMDs, Saddam would permit US troops and experts to do a search of the country, and Saddam would even permit free elections — anything to avert a war. The same message was delivered in London a month later to Pentagon adviser Richard Perle.

In addition, the Iraqis were prepared to hand over a man being held in Baghdad on suspicion of involvement in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. They were ready to sign up in the US-led global war on terrorism. They were ready to offer “full support for any U.S. plan” in the Arab-Israeli peace process. It gets more astounding. Iraq was prepared to offer US companies “first priority as it relates to Iraq oil, mining rights.”

Maybe Iraq would not have followed through with all these promises, but the offer alone shows that Iraq wanted to make a deal, that it wanted to avert war. That is the crucial thing.

The list alone reveals another interesting component so far uncommented upon. As you go through the list of concessions — all now in the hands of Senate investigators — it seems that government leaders in Iraq, including Saddam himself, were as confused as anyone else was about the real reason the US was threatening war. Was it about terrorism? Ok, we’ll fight terrorism. Dictatorship? Ok, we’ll hold free elections. Iraqi support of the Palestinian cause? Ok, we’ll switch sides. WMDs? We would gladly dismantle them if we had them. Oil? You can have it.

The communications hit all the bases, just in case one of these reasons was the real reason for war. What we have here is a regime desperate to avert a war, ready to do anything and everything to stop destruction, invasion, mass death, and occupation. Moreover, members of the Iraqi regime must have been scratching their heads to figure out precisely what was really driving the Bush administration, and figured it was worth the effort to go all out for peace.

Was the communication credible? Mr. Hage was well connected and his method was consistent with old-time diplomatic standards in the Arab world. Those he contacted took it seriously. Those who have attempted to discredit Hage draw attention to the fact that he once tried to board an airline with a gun in his carry on. So what? This is a common occurrence in the South where people carry weapons all the time and sometimes forget to remove them before boarding.

Moreover, this turns out to be the final try made after a long line of attempts to communicate the anti-war message, after it became clear that Washington had every intention to go to war. The US response was mixed. There were signs of listening but also signs that such outreach was pointless.

Indeed it was. It was well known in the White House that Bush entered office with the purpose of getting Saddam, either because of a personal vendetta or because he believed he was called by God to dislodge Saddam from power, or both. Those who had a nose for subterfuge knew all along that the claims about Iraq and its compliance with UN mandates were nothing more than eyewash.

Many efforts will be made to discredit the flurry of stories that have belatedly covered these diplomatic overtures. The debate will involve every manner of partisanship and parsing. And yet, it was also increasingly clear to many of us during 2002 that nothing Iraq could do or would do was capable of averting the killing. It was a done deal.

Think of this. The US intended to go to war regardless of what the opposing country would or would not do. There is precedent of course — the US government has a long history of maneuvering itself into avoidable wars — but rarely has the hunger for war been more open or more voracious, more public and more aggressive.

Americans elected Bush because they thought he would cut government and pursue a humble foreign policy. When you read about the history of the war, in light of all these revelations, three points stand out. First, Bush is not the man people thought they were electing. Two, the Bush administration intended war all along and lied about it, and hence the war guilt rests with the US. Three, these are impeachable offenses by any constitutional standard.

Don’t tell me: I’m against aggressive war — the first crime in the indictment at Nuremberg — but this war was necessary. It was not necessary. If you are against aggressive war, you are against the Bush administration. What this suggests about the future is ominous. Something must be done to disarm the US, to bring the US state in compliance with widely accepted norms of conduct in international relations. It also means that no regime installed by the US in Iraq can ever have credibility.

Bush and the state he administers caused this pileup. Let justice be done.

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