Monday, July 12, 2004

The Mounting Evidence

Bob Herbert, in today's column, succinctly captures in two paragraphs most of my beliefs regarding the wisdom of the invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent damage this debacle has caused to our foreign policy objectives in the Middle East and throughout the world:

"A government with even a nodding acquaintance with competence and good sense would have launched an all-out war against Al Qaeda, not Iraq, in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. After all, it was Al Qaeda, not Iraq, that carried out the sneak attack on American soil that destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon and killed 3,000 people. You might think that would have been enough to provoke an all-out response from the U.S. Instead we saved our best shot for the demented and already checkmated dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein...

I don't know what the administration was thinking when it invaded Iraq even as the direct threat from bin Laden and Al Qaeda continued to stare us in the face. That threat has only intensified. The war in Iraq consumed personnel and resources badly needed in the campaign against bin Laden and his allies. And it has fanned the hatred of the U.S. among Muslims around the world. Instead of destroying Al Qaeda, we have played right into its hands and contributed immeasurably to its support." [emphasis added]

These sentiments are further supported by the analysis appearing in a recent article published in Foreign Affairs, penned by two fellows from the Council on Foreign Relations, which calls into question the claims that Saddam and his WMDs represented an imminent threat, the primary justification for war used by the Bush administration (editor's note: the CFR is not exactly a liberal think tank nor is Foreign Affairs a leftist periodical).

The article focuses on how overwhelmingly successful the dual regime of inspections and sanctions had been at dismantling Saddam's conventional and unconventional weapons programs, and how this effective strategy of containment was preventing him from reconstituting these programs. The article also details how the administration systematically underplayed the evidence of disarmament and decay, instead using this same evidence to argue that Saddam was hiding his real cache of arms from inspectors. Here is a brief excerpt:

"Public debate has focused on the question of what went wrong with U.S. intelligence. Given the deteriorated state of Iraq's unconventional weapons programs and conventional military capabilities, this is only appropriate. But missing from the discussion is an equally important question: What went right with U.S. policy toward Iraq between 1990 and 2003? On the way to their misjudgments, it now appears, intelligence agencies and policymakers disregarded considerable evidence of the destruction and deterioration of Iraq's weapons programs, the result of a successful strategy of containment in place for a dozen years. They consistently ignored volumes of data about the impact of sanctions and inspections on Iraq's military strength.

The United Nations sanctions that began in August 1990 were the longest running, most comprehensive, and most controversial in the history of the world body. Most analysts argued prior to the Iraq war -- and, in many cases, continue to argue -- that sanctions were a failure. In reality, however, the system of containment that sanctions cemented did much to erode Iraqi military capabilities. Sanctions compelled Iraq to accept inspections and monitoring and won concessions from Baghdad on political issues such as the border dispute with Kuwait. They also drastically reduced the revenue available to Saddam, prevented the rebuilding of Iraqi defenses after the Persian Gulf War, and blocked the import of vital materials and technologies for producing WMD." [emphasis added]

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