was delivered on March 17, 2004, as part of the Heritage Foundation
event Iraq: One Year
One year after the
onset of the war in Iraq, I think it is safe to say that the United
States is better off than it was before the war. Moreover, our
allies are better off and the Iraqi people are certainly better
For the United
States, the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime pays considerable
strategic dividends that too often are glossed over or given short
shrift by critics of the Bush Administration. True, these strategic
gains have come at a considerable cost in blood and treasure: over
550 Americans killed and economic costs of about $120 billion.
There are other
troubling downsides to the war, which I will examine later, but on
balance the war has enhanced U.S. national security interests in
the volatile Middle East and has been a net plus in the war against
foremost, Iraq has been transformed from a bitter foe into a
potential ally. Saddam is no longer a menace to the United States
or its allies. It is important to remember that he was a brutal
dictator who invaded three of his neighbors, fired SCUD missiles at
four of his neighbors, and used chemical weapons against Iran and
even against his own people. It is worth noting that yesterday was
the anniversary of the Iraqi chemical attack on the Kurdish village
of Halabja, an atrocity that left at least 5,000 civilians
defeated militarily in the 1991 Gulf War, but he remained a
dangerous foe. He had a finely honed sense of vengeance, as
evidenced by the videos of the torture of political prisoners that
he reportedly enjoyed watching. This is a man, after all, who tried
to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush in Kuwait in
April 1993, just two years after the 1991 Gulf War.
Saddam also had a
long record of supporting terrorism. His regime provided funds,
sanctuary, or other support for a wide variety of terrorist groups,
including the PLO, HAMAS, Palestine Islamic Jihad, the Abu Nidal
Group, the Palestine Liberation Front, and the Arab Liberation
Front. There is also mounting evidence of numerous contacts between
Iraqi intelligence officials and al-Qaeda.
After 9/11, no
prudent American President could have ignored the continuing threat
posed by Saddam's clandestine programs to attain weapons of mass
destruction and the regime's collusion with terrorism. There was a
considerable risk that Saddam's regime would at some point pass the
ultimate terrorist weapons to al-Qaeda or other terrorists. As
President George W. Bush said in his 2003 State of the Union
said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have
terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting
us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to
fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all
recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and
restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an
True, weapons of
mass destruction (WMD) have not yet been found, but that does not
necessarily mean they are not there. The United States has found
banned missiles and weapons programs with surge production
capabilities for the rapid creation of chemical and biological
could still be concealed. Iraq is as big as California, and the
regime had considerable experience in hiding illegal materials from
U.N. inspectors. Weapons of mass destruction were Saddam's crown
jewels and were entrusted to his most loyal henchmen, such as the
Special Republican Guard and other elite units who would be least
likely to give them up.
Some of the
weapons in question could be hidden in a relatively small space.
For example, biological weapons, capable of killing everyone in
Washington, D.C., could easily fit into this room. In addition, WMD
could have been moved out of country. In fact, in the run-up to the
war, and during the war itself, hundreds of trucks were observed
crossing the Syrian border. Some argue that Saddam would not have
exported his crown jewels, but in 1991 there was a precedent. Prior
to the 1991 Gulf War, Baghdad dispatched the most sophisticated
warplanes in its air force to Iran to escape destruction, even
though Iran was a bitter enemy that it had fought in a bloody
eight-year war only a short time before.
What became of
Iraq's banned weapons remains a mystery. Kenneth Pollock probably
has come up with the most coherent theory explaining what happened
to them. He argues that Saddam downscaled his banned weapons
programs to better hide them while retaining a "just in time"
manufacturing capability. Others have speculated that Iraqi
scientists misled Saddam by building scientific Potemkin villages
to extract scarce funds.
However, it is
hard to believe that scientists would lie to Saddam and risk
torture and death, not only for themselves, but also for their
extended families. But if this assessment is accurate and Saddam's
weapons programs were that much out of control, they still posed a
danger of leakage-similar to the Pakistani smuggling network that
sold nuclear technology to Libya and North Korea. David Kay, who
led the Iraq Survey Group that is searching for Saddam's weapons,
provided this sobering view in January:
think…we will paint a picture of Iraq that was far more
dangerous than even we thought it was before the war. It was a
system collapsing. It was a country that had the capability in
weapons of mass destruction areas and, in which terrorists, like
ants to honey, were going after it.
There is one
troubling problem with the theory that Saddam destroyed his weapons
of mass destruction: If he did abandon this endeavor, why didn't he
prove it to the inspectors? That would have led to the lifting of
economic sanctions, and he could have set about rebuilding his
programs again, free of international scrutiny. It is hard to
believe that Saddam walked away from more than $100 billion in oil
revenues if was not hiding something.
Some have leapt to
the conclusion that the Administration distorted intelligence to
make its case for war. This is a leap too far. Intelligence often
is inherently subjective. It provides a perspective that sometimes
looks more like a Rorschach test than a complete picture. The
lesson of the intelligence failure of 9/11 was deemed by many
critics to be that nobody connected the dots. Now some of these
same critics are complaining about the ways that the dots were
connected in Iraq.
may have been incomplete or misleading, but it was not purposefully
distorted. It was grounded on a common-sense reading of U.S.
intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. As the President
as they are, the costs of action must be weighed against the price
of inaction. If Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond, we
will face a far greater threat in the future. Saddam will strike
again at his neighbors; he will make war on his own people. And
mark my words he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will
deploy them, and he will use them.
These words were
uttered by William Jefferson Clinton, not by George W. Bush, to
explain why the U.S. launched air strikes against Saddam in 1998.
But no one has accused President Clinton of distorting
It is not just the
Bush and Clinton Administrations that believed Saddam had weapons
of mass destruction. The intelligence services of Britain, France,
Russia, Germany, and Israel, among many others, held similar
Regardless of what
happened to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, I think at least we
can now say that the U.S. and its allies no longer have to worry
about Saddam threatening us with them.
Another gain from
the war was the demonstration effect that it had on other rogue
regimes. Libya was induced to disarm because of the Iraq war. In
fact, Colonel Qaddaffi told Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi that he did so after seeing what happened to Saddam's
regime. Iran, also pushed by international pressure, decided to
open up to more inspections of its nuclear program. Syria, now the
world's only remaining Ba'athist regime, has suddenly found an
interest in the Arab-Israeli peace process.
The liberation of
Iraq, and Iraqi efforts to build a working democracy there, have
had positive ripple effects in the Middle East. Iraqis now have a
fighting chance to build a stable democracy that could become a
model for the Middle East. The Iraqi example already has encouraged
democratic reformers throughout the region. There has been a push
for long-overdue reforms, even in Saudi Arabia.
The liberation of
Iraq also has liberated the U.S. and its allies from the need to
contain Saddam's vengeful regime. This has freed the United States
from an open-ended deployment of ground, naval, and air forces that
cost the United States an estimated $19 billion per year. Moreover,
the American troops in Saudi Arabia that conducted this containment
effort became a lightning rod for terrorism that partly contributed
to the rise of al-Qaeda.
overlooked aspect of the war is its moral dimension. Saddam Hussein
is no longer killing Iraqis. After the war, mass graves were found
with an estimated 300,000 bodies in them. This humanitarian
calamity greatly exceeded the death toll in Kosovo, where the
Clinton Administration intervened in 1999-and, by the way, without
the support of a U.N. Security Council resolution.
Iraqis are much
better off and they know it. An Oxford/ABC poll released earlier
this week indicated that 56 percent of Iraqis believe they are
better off now than they were one year ago and that 71 percent
believe they will be better off one year from now.
gain from the war has been an improvement in global energy
security. Saddam's regime was at the center of several oil crises:
the 1973 Arab oil embargo; the 1980 invasion of Iran, which
disrupted oil production in Iran's Khuzestan province; the 1987
"Oil Tanker War," which disrupted oil exports after Iran tried to
interdict Kuwaiti oil exports; and Saddam's pre-war threats to use
oil as an economic weapon.
With the help of
the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Iraqi oil industry is
swiftly recovering. At present, Iraq is producing approximately 2.5
million barrels per day, compared to the pre-war level of 2.8
million. If Saddam had remained in power, Iraqi oil production
would have been suppressed for the indefinite future by sanctions
and failure to maintain the oil fields.
Now Iraq is free
to expand production and is likely to attract considerable foreign
investment for doing so. This will provide downward pressure on
long-term oil prices that will benefit both the American economy
and the economies of all other oil-importing countries.
Post-war Iraq is
doing relatively well. Progress has been fast, compared to the
reconstruction efforts in post-war Germany and Japan. The security
situation is slowly improving, although problems remain,
particularly in the Sunni heartland. Coalition casualties have
fallen from 158 in November-December 2003 to 75 in January-February
of this year. But casualties are not an appropriate measurement of
progress. The coalition will sustain casualties until troops
finally withdraw, even in success.
Finally, Iraq has
switched sides in the war on terrorism. This is important because
the United States cannot win the war on terrorism unless it
eliminates or at least greatly reduces state support for terrorism.
When it comes to terrorism, "It's the regimes, stupid"-to
paraphrase the mantra of the 1992 Clinton election campaign.
Al-Qaeda, which often is held up as the premier example of
"stateless terrorism," actually was helped tremendously by the
support of rogue states. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the
radical Islamic regime in Sudan provided crucial help that allowed
al-Qaeda to develop into the global threat that it is today.
Now Osama bin
Laden has lost at least a potential ally, if not an actual ally, in
Saddam's regime. And free Iraqis increasingly are joining the fight
against terrorism. Osama bin Laden's associates in Iraq clearly are
worried about the expansion of the Iraqi security forces. A recent
message intercepted from Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian
terrorist affiliated with Al Qaeda who is operating in Iraq,
Our enemy is
growing stronger day after day and its intelligence information
increases. By God, this is suffocation.
The war to
liberate Iraq, coming after the successful war to liberate
Afghanistan from the Taliban, has disabused terrorists of the
notion that the United States is a paper tiger. This perception
unfortunately was created by American withdrawals due to terrorist
attacks from peacekeeping operations in Lebanon and Somalia that
did not involve vital American national interests. Like Colonel
Qadhafi, Zarqawi has been impressed by the Bush Administration's
firm resolution in Iraq.
The Iraq war
also has some notable drawbacks, aside from the continued losses of
American troops. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction
admittedly has hurt U.S. credibility and the Bush Administration's
preemptive doctrine, but this problem is frequently overstated
since the U.S. has always retained the right of self-defense under
international law. I would argue that the Iraq war was not a
preemptive war, but a continuation of the 1991 Gulf War-an
unfinished war that failed to defang Saddam.
downside of the war is the possibility that Iraq could become
another Afghanistan. Although Osama bin Laden has been deprived of
a possible ally, he has been given a new issue to exploit: the
occupation of Iraq. Many worry that Iraq could become a fertile
seedbed for the incubation of terrorists. The U.S. must counteract
this by turning responsibility over to Iraqis as soon as they prove
to be capable.
worry is that Syria and Iran are in positions to support terrorism
against the U.S. in Iraq as they once did in Lebanon during the
1980s, working through the Hezballah terrorist group. The coalition
must remain vigilant and take strong measures to deter Syrian and
that Iraq was a detour in the war on terrorism and a distraction
from the hunt for Osama bin Laden. This criticism is greatly
overstated. The war in Iraq was a different type of struggle than
the war against al-Qaeda. It required different kinds of resources.
Strategically, the U.S. is certainly capable of engaging in
multiple operations on a global level. It can "walk and chew gum at
the same time."
intelligence assets were diverted from the search for bin Laden to
Iraq. But bin Laden had already gone to ground, hunkering down on
the Afghan-Pakistan border 18 months before the Iraq war. And there
is no evidence that bin Laden would have been caught if there had
been no war in Iraq.
it is often said that war is evil. In the case of Iraq, it was a
lesser evil. War was forced on the U.S. by a brutal dictator who
put himself in a technical state of war with America by violating
the cease-fire that ended the 1991 war.
I think that
future historians will conclude that not only is the United States
better off after the war in Iraq, but our allies are better off,
particularly those in close proximity to Iraq, and the Iraqi people
are better off.
Phillips is Research Fellow in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom
Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage