This is the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, and I would like to evaluate its cause and impacts on Middle East and global security, and discuss policy lessons for the future. The cause and impacts are closely related. Let me mention commentaries from policymaking insiders. The focal debate to start the war against Saddam Hussein was the threat of nuclear proliferation and its terrorist connections. David Frum, the speech writer of “The Axis of Evil Speech” by President then George W. Bush, narrates deep connections among anti-Western state and nonstate actors. Some people were skeptic to ties between Shiite Iran and Sunni Hamas, and Islamist Iran and communist North Korea. However, they have already turned out to be true. Moreover, the Khan network sold nuclear technology to Al Qaeda, and North Korea helped Syria build a nuclear facility in 2007 (The Speechwriter: David Frum on the Rhetoric of Iraq”; News Week; March 19, 2013).
Saddam Hussein may not have had nuclear weapons when he was defeated by the US-UK coalition. However, IAEA revealed a document that the Khan network offered extensive help for Iraq to build nuclear bomb within three years in 1990 (“Khan’s Bomb Offer to Saddam’s Iraq: Document Showing Iraq’s Interest in Nuclear Weapon Design”; ISIS Online News; April 1, 2010). The Axis of Evil including Iraq was real. Sectarian difference between Iran and Hamas means nothing. The United with Israel, a pro-Israeli civic organization in New York, releases a promotion video to compare Ahmadenejad’s Iran with Hitler’s Germany. Adolf Hitler committed the holocaust as he declared to annihilate Jewish people from Europe. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared to wipe out Israel from the map, and his Iran pursues the nuclear project despite worldwide pressure and criticism. Both Iran and Hamas have common enemies beyond sectarianism. Also, the Fordow accident has revealed deep ties between Iran and North Korea to develop nuclear weapons.
In addition to nuclear threats, democracy and geopolitics are also important. Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton presents an overview of the Iraq War, and he argues that Saddam Hussein should have been removed after the Gulf War for Iraqi and regional stability. Therefore, he argues that it was a necessary mission. Furthermore, the United States faces challenges in Iran and Syria now, because it failed to turn attention to regime changes in both of them after toppling Saddam. Quite importantly, he stresses that Bush never manipulated information about Iraq’s nuclear weapon. It was common understanding among observers that Iraq hid nuclear weapons in those days, and even without WMDs, Iraq could have resumed the project to develop them to become a security threat to the region and the global community (“Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the right move for the US and its allies”; Guardian; 26 February, 2013). Conspiracy theory is still wide spread, but we have to understand that it does not make sense from well outlined analysis presented by Bolton.
For right evaluation of the Iraq War, it is necessary to examine US Middle East policy after liberating Kuwait from Saddam’s invasion in the Gulf War. Like John Bolton, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz comments that the Bush Sr. administration did not help anti-Saddam uprisings, which prolonged continual oppression by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and undermined America’s moral standings. In other words, hyper sensitivity to casualties left confusions in the region untouched, which exacerbated things happening there. Therefore, he criticizes the Obama administration for leaving Iraq too early. See the video of AEI interview on March 19 below.
Non-interventionists may argue that Saddam Hussein could have been toppled by his own people, but Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair comments that popular uprisings could have led to conflicts in Iraq much more bloodier than those in Syria (“Blair: Iraq uprising would have been 'worse than Syria'”; BBC News; 19 March, 2013). Blair’s case for intervention gives insightful lessons to Obama’s disengagement policy. For US allies, the Iraq War was a critical occasion to think of relations with the United States. But that is not enough. In acting with America, Blair had a vision of the Middle East after Saddam. However, it seems that the Japanese government did not have such a vision, and simply responded receptively to American and British requests, judging from an interview with Chief Cabinet Secretary-then Yasuo Fukuda. Furthermore, Fukuda even remarked the possibility of information manipulation about nuclear weapons by the Bush administration to start the war with Iraq (“10 Years from Iraq War: Interview with Yasuo Fukuda”; Asahi Shimbun; March 20, 2013). This is what Bolton denies flatly in his article to the Guardian.
I have no idea whether the above argument is Fukuda’s personal view, or the Koizumi administration’s view. Whatever the reason is, there is a sharp contrast between Fukuda and Blair. Apparently, Fukuda speaks as a bystander lacking confidence in the war, while Blair does as a stakeholder. This reflects the positions of both countries. Britain acts as a normal country having the special relationship with the United States, while Japan acts as a non-interventionist country upholding the pacifist constitution. Therefore, Britain joins the American world order, but Japan acts receptively just to solicit security umbrella to the United States. Blair talked about democracy promotion and conflict prevention in the Middle East upon acting with the United States, while Fukuda just talked about strengthening the US-Japanese alliance. Such a stark contrast should be born in mind when we discuss the series of the Armitage-Nye Report.
Above all, Saddam Hussein was overthrown, and nuclear threats of Iraq were removed. In view of the Arab Spring, let me talk about democracy promotion in the Middle East. Despite bitter criticism to Bush’s imperialistic policy, particularly among liberal civil societies, the Iraq War was a real start for the global community to discuss Middle East democratization. Nadim Shehadi, Associate Fellow at the Chatham House, points out that the media are biased with Obama’s policy directions to defy Bush legacies, but he argues that America’s soft power has risen in the Middle East from the time when it was allied with conservative monarchies and police states. An increasing number of Arab youth share American value of democracy, and enjoy American pop culture since the fall of Saddam. The critical point is, Democrats opposed the surge in 2007 to rescue Iraq from sectarian conflicts and terrorism. Today, we know that the surge worked. As Shehadi argues, Bush’s intervention will be reevaluated (“One day the world will thank Bush for shaking up the Arab region”; World Today; February 2013).
Remember the Green Movement in Iran in 2009, which is one year before the Arab Spring. Iranian people chanted for American help to support their quest for democracy, but Obama refused to do so. Senator John McCain criticized such a disengagement policy that disappointed freedom fighters in Iran. However, the quest for democracy is advancing. Even in Saudi Arabia, people are beginning to become aware of socio-economic inequality, and demanding political reforms. Accumulated wealth and religiously conservative mindsets in this country does not divert the passion for freedom away （“A growing divide in Saudi Arabia between rulers, ruled”; Washington Post; March 15, 2013).
Despite such invaluable gains through long and enduring involvement in Iraq, the Obama administration decided to pull out US forces while sectarian divisions make political progress stagnant and Iran’s influence grows in the Shiite region. Charles Krauthammer, Columnist at the Washington Post, comments that the United States lost a key ally that should have been a show case for democracy and a partner to curb terrorist and Iranian threats in the region, because Obama is reluctant to fulfill the role of the superpower. That ruins great sacrifices made during the Bush era. See the video of an interview by National Review Online on March 19.
The implication of Iraq is not just regional but global. Let me quote a final part of John Bolton’s article to the Guardian to conclude this post.
If Obama has his way in Washington's ongoing policy and budgetary debates, America will be withdrawing around the world and reducing its military capacity. This is what opponents of the 2003 Iraq war have long professed to want. If they actually get their wishes, it won't be long before they start complaining about it. You heard it here first.