This is the fourth of a four-part debate between Robert R. Reilly and Russell Shaw on the question, “Was the Iraq War just?”
It simply will not do to demote the importance of enforcing treaties at the end of wars to some kind of adolescent “need to save face.” After World War I, the Allies failed to enforce the provision of the Versailles Treaty that forbade German forces from remilitarizing the Rhineland. The cost of that failure was not simply “humiliation,” but World War II.
To not enforce the 1991 cease-fire agreement with Iraq would have been to abandon the political goals for which the war had been fought. Russell Shaw does not bother to address the potential costs of such a defeat, probably because he thinks Saddam was “a pipsqueak tyrant,” who offered no real threat.
Hitler was a pipsqueak in 1936, until he faced down the Allies, whose military forces were at that time far superior to the German. In the former Yugoslavia, Milosevic was kept a pipsqueak because the United States and NATO forces prevented his designs (without UN authorization). In North Korea, Kim Jong-Il is a pipsqueak with nuclear weapons, to whom we send tribute in the form of energy supplies and grain. Pipsqueak tyrants are as powerful as we allow them to become. However, once they become powerful, as when they possess weapons of mass destruction, the costs go way up.
I do not believe that if Shaw saw the incontrovertible evidence of what Saddam had done and was doing, along with an examination of the malign principles of his regime, that he could maintain his insouciance at the prospect of Saddam’s survival — indeed, of his potentially empowering success against us.
As for the UN, it is hardly “extravagant” to assert that a treaty contains the authority to enforce its provisions, without the requirement of a separate authorization to do so. In fact, it is a rather respectable legal view. Also, how could UN Resolution 1441, in 2002, threaten “grave consequences” for non-compliance if there were not to be any? Saddam was directly in violation of 15 UN resolutions. Would the number 16 do the trick? This is daydreaming.
As for the assertion that the United States “did nothing” to halt Saddam’s slaughter of the Iraqi people after the 1991 Gulf War, I would agree that Bush senior was culpable in not going to the rescue of the Shia in the south, but can Shaw have forgotten that Bush then instituted the northern and southern no-fly zones in Iraq that were maintained for 13 years precisely to protect the Iraqi people?
I think that a great deal of the harm that Shaw rightly objects to from the 2003 war comes not so much from the invasion, but from the bungled occupation. I share his distress and outrage on this matter, and I hope some people will be held accountable for it. The United States achieved a great military success, but then changed in midstream from liberation to (UN-sanctioned) occupation. We were not prepared to occupy this country, nor had we led the Iraqis to think that that was our objective. I think this was a huge and costly political mistake, as was our not being sufficiently prepared to stop the gross interference in Iraq by Syria and Iran after Saddam’s fall.
However, these grave errors do not impugn the justness of the cause for which the war was fought, or the nobility of the sacrifices now being made to overcome those mistakes. I leave the last words to a brave Marine now serving in Fallujah: “We know that our efforts are appreciated by millions of Iraqis who now have choices and freedoms that they have never had the luxury of having before. To liberate a country and to free the citizens from years of torture are appreciated by the citizens of Iraq, and we (1st Battalion, 10th Marines) see that every day and are overwhelmed at the opportunity to take part.”