The Iraq Debate: Robert Reilly’s First Response

This is the third of a four-part debate between Robert R. Reilly and Russell Shaw on the question, “Was the Iraq War just?”

Russell Shaw is an eminently reasonable man, so I am not surprised that he acknowledges that the differences between our two positions are based not on principles but on the wisdom of the prudential judgments made. Certainly reasonable people can and do disagree about these.

Let me address his primary points. He claims that UN weapons inspections were cut short and should have been allowed to continue. Let us recall that Saddam had thrown the UN inspectors out of Iraq for a period of four years prior to their return in late 2002. The certain knowledge that Iraq had quantities of WMD came from the 1995 defection of Hussein Kemal, Saddam’s brother-in-law and the director of Iraq’s WMD programs. Saddam then admitted to having had 8,500 liters of anthrax, 80 tons of mustard gas, quantities of sarin and VX nerve agent, and some 6,500 unaccounted-for chemical bombs. What happened to them and, more importantly, to the programs that produced them? In 2002, the UN Security Council held Iraq in “material breach” of its disarmament obligations and offered a “final opportunity to comply.”
UN inspector Hans Blix admitted that the only reason Iraq allowed the inspectors back in was the gathering presence of coalition military forces in the immediate vicinity of Iraq. Those forces could not be maintained there indefinitely — either logistically or politically — as Saddam continued his games of hide and seek. That is why he was given 45 days to comply, after which would come the “serious consequences.” He did not comply, as was amply evident from what was found after the war.
As far as regime change is concerned, it was President Bill Clinton who signed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, which declared: “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” The huge mistake of the 1991 Gulf War was leaving Saddam in power, which made it possible for him to continue the war and made necessary the Operation Iraqi Freedom. It is hard to conceive of any just peace that would not have required the removal of his regime.
If the United States had no business attempting to create a democracy in Iraq, I wonder why Pope John Paul II, in a meeting in November 2004, said in a statement read by an aide to interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi: “I wish to encourage efforts made by the Iraqi people to establish democratic institutions which will be truly representative and committed to defending the rights for all.”
Did the United States act unilaterally? In 1991, some 34 countries participated in the coalition to liberate Kuwait. In 2003, 49 nations joined the “Coalition of the Willing” in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Five countries participated with troops during the initial invasion (the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Denmark), with a total of 22 nations eventually providing personnel on the ground in Iraq. How can 49 nations be unilateral, while the three opposing nations (Russian, Germany, and France) are multilateral? I do not understand this arithmetic.


Robert R. Reilly


Robert R. Reilly is the author of America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding, forthcoming from Ignatius Press.

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