Why the U.S. had no alternative.
The American Spectator, September 2005
Introduction by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.
WHAT FOLLOWS ARE THREE EXCERPTS from William Shawcross's updated postscript to the new edition of his very important book on the liberation of Iraq, Allies (reviewed by Al Regnery in our March 2004 issue). Section One is about Abu Ghraib, Section Two about the grisly heart of Islamic terror, and Section Three about the mystery of Saddam's WMDs, with special attention to the Duelfer report. Each section renders ever more plausible the case for our removal of Saddam until at the final curtain every sensate member of the audience is left wondering how anyone with a flicker of democratic fire could disagree with the decisions of President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Readers of AmSpec with long memories will recall the last time Shawcross appeared in our pages was July 1981. His appearance was as bold as it is in this issue. He was disputing our reviewer's review of his popular anti-Vietnam War book, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. Why, I wondered then, was he bothering? He was apparently on the left. No man of the left then or for the decades that followed ever acknowledged criticism, particularly intelligent criticism. Then, when his paperback edition of Sideshow appeared, Shawcross was bolder still. He included the whole exchange between himself and our reviewer, Peter Rodman, in the book. What kind of modern intellectual is this? A man who faces up to his opponents and does not blink at the facts or try to deface them? What gives?
Well, it turns out that William Shawcross is, despite a somewhat polite unpretentious exterior, a first-rate journalist guided by a social conscience and all the civilized values that go with it. His numerous visits from his London home to Iraq and other hellholes, such as Cambodia after its fall to Communism, have led him to oppose dictatorship and favor freedom however unpopular that might be with the liberal cognoscenti. Years ago he wrote, 'Those of us who were opposed to the U.S. effort in Indochina (as I was) should be at the least very humble in the face of the aftermath of America's defeat. The bloodbath theory was not, as leftists maintained in the 1960s and 1970s, CIA propaganda. It happened as soon as the Communists won in 1975.'
Elsewhere Shawcross has written, 'At the end of Sideshow I described America as 'the world's most vital democracy.' I believe that even more so today. The European Union is a nightmare of ineffectuality, and the anti-Americanism so rife in Europe is both shabby, shallow and self-destructive. Peter Rodman had a good line in one of The American Spectator criticisms of Sideshow -- to the effect that if it had not been for the USA in the 1940s 'Shawcross would have grown up speaking German.'...It is even more true today when no European power has the strength (and many do not have the will either) to resist the contemporary threats to our existence.'
A historian who has appeared in these pages many times, the great Paul Johnson, calls himself a 'radical empiricist.' An intelligent observation of reality, I think, also explains the work of William Shawcross, that and a line from John Maynard Keynes. Accused of changing his mind on an issue, Keynes responded, 'When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?'
SINCE THE OVERTHROW of Saddam Hussein, the U.S.-led campaign to rebuild Iraq has endured many setbacks, some of them self-inflicted. Few were more serious than the revelation at the end of April 2004 that some American guards had been abusing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. This had a disastrous impact; the photographs of sexual and other humiliation that were instantly broadcast around the world inevitably diminished the strength of America's moral cause in the eyes of many beholders. But there was no way in which the abuses carried out by some American troops, appalling though they were, could properly be compared to the systematic torture which the Saddam regime had inflicted upon its victims. Indeed, the new Iraqi minister for Human Rights criticized the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but asked where the Arab protest had been during the long Saddam years when Iraqis were being tortured to death.
The difference was also shown in the response to the abuses. Saddam murdered and tortured hundreds of thousands of people -- millions, indeed, over decades and with impunity. And with no consequences.
By contrast, long before the photographs from Abu Ghraib became public, the U.S. military authorities had begun investigations into the abuses; they quickly identified the culprits and initiated judicial proceedings against them. The report of the investigating officer, Major-General Antonio Taguba, was conscientious and recounted 'numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees.' His report gave specific details of the crimes of military police personnel. By the time the infamous photographs reached the public domain, criminal charges had already been brought against six of the soldiers involved.
The independent inquiry headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger concluded in summer 2004 that despite allegations, the Abu Ghraib abuses were not linked to interrogations. No evidence was ever produced to show that the abuses were 'systematic' or condoned let alone inspired by senior officers or officials.
In May 2004, Sabrina Harman, an Army reservist who appeared in several of the abuse photographs, was sentenced to six months in prison for her role in the scandal. Two Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, whose testimony was read into the record, said the former pizza shop manager had treated them very well at Abu Ghraib. 'She has no cruelty in her,' said Amjad Ismail Khalil al-Taie through an interpreter. 'Even though she is an American woman, she was just like a sister.'
Harman, however, accepted responsibility. She wept and apologized for the mistreatment she had helped inflict. 'As a soldier and military police officer, I failed my duties and failed my mission to protect and defend,' Harman said. 'I not only let down the people in Iraq, but I let down every single soldier that serves today.' Acknowledging that her conduct had increased hatred for the United States, she said, 'I take full responsibility for my actions.... The decisions I made were mine and mine alone.'
The French philosopher André Glucksman argued that, far from undermining the basic moral authority of the United States, the Abu Ghraib scandal actually reinforced the fact that it was the world's 'most exemplary' democracy. '...The only one where Congressional committees summon a president, secretaries, generals, heads of secret services and interrogate them unabashed and without restrictions. Let me remind here that France, so generous at giving lessons, has not in 40 years indicted, judged or condemned a single one of the soldiers who committed torture during the Algeria war.'
The difference between the inexcusable abuse of prisoners by some American troops and the torture systematically inflicted during the Saddam years was explicit in videos made during the Saddam era in which prisoners were shown having their hands chopped off, arms broken, tongues torn out. According to Nick Schulz, a former documentary producer who has seen these videos, they are almost impossible to watch. He described them in National Review:
[One] clip opens amid Saddam's elite troops, Saddam Fedayeen, chanting 'With blood and spirit we will redeem you Saddam.' The Fedayeen stand barking and clapping in a courtyard. A blindfolded prisoner, forced to his knees and held in position has his arm outstretched before him along a low concrete wall. A masked member of the Fedayeen raises high a three-foot-long blade and ferociously slams down on the man's hand, slicing through his fingertips. The victim is wailing, screaming in agony.
The swordsman-torturer, not sufficiently satisfied with his first effort, raises the sword again and drives down once more on the man's immobile hand. This time he severs the fingers closer to the knuckles as the blood spurts from his hand spilling over and down the concrete slab. The victim emits a wail I have never heard -- could never imagine hearing -- from a grown man, this time louder, harder than the first.
The camera then turns to the assembled Fedayeen as they continue rhythmically chanting....
In another clip, a hooded and blindfolded prisoner is led to a room where he is forced to kneel, hands tied behind his back. Another man sits before the prisoner with thick metal tweezers and a scalpel. With his left hand he grabs the prisoner's tongues with the tweezers and pulls it forward from his head. With the scalpel in his other hand, he slices through the prisoner's tongue, cutting it from his mouth and then dropping it on the floor.
This ritual is repeated for more prisoners who are lined up, squatting in a row like parts on an assembly line.
I was unable to sit through these clips at first, having to turn away several times.... These film clips reveal -- and help one 'appreciate' the fullness of the inhuman, soulless horror of Saddam's regime. They reveal the character and moral constitution of the foe Coalition forces must reckon with on a daily basis.
But it was the pictures of the limited American abuses in Abu Ghraib that dominated the news, not the wholesale horrors of the Saddam era. From then on, Abu Ghraib was invoked by the enemies of Saddam's overthrow to try and call into question the entire basis of 'Operation Iraqi Freedom.'
AS THE TERRORIST ATTACKS in Iraq increased and opposition to the coalition was expressed across the Islamic world, Washington's critics argued that the overthrow of Saddam had also been a serious error because it was inflaming Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden himself said as much.
Well, that is an important factor. But is it and should it be the most important? The first Gulf war, fought to liberate Kuwait, provoked one of bin Laden's early clarion calls for holy war. Should we therefore have left Kuwait in the hands of Saddam? No. For similar reasons, the opportunistic rage of bin Laden to the overthrow of Saddam was not a reason to desist.
The hideously painful standoff between Israel and the Palestinians has been used to create Islamic militants. But even if the destination on the Road Map, a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, were reached immediately, that would not end the threat from bin Laden and those who think like him. They see this as an existential war. Their ambition is to impose worldwide Islamic theocracy; their game plan is to use every country as a staging post for the next.
It is not true that Western policy has provoked, let alone created, bin Ladenism. During the 1990s, when there was no war in Iraq, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Islamic warriors were trained in the bin Laden camps in Afghanistan. It was a time when the U.S. president, Bill Clinton, was working diligently to create an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States finally came to the rescue of Muslims in Bosnia, after Europe had failed to do so, and then led the effort to save Muslims in Kosovo.
None of these efforts stopped bin Laden from building up his organization and attacking the U.S. wherever he could. In their book, The Age of Sacred Terror, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon -- senior counterterrorist officials in the Clinton administration -- spoke of 'tens of thousands' of Islamic fighters being trained in al Qaeda camps in the '90s.
Osama bin Laden does not himself direct all the terrorist attacks in the Western and Arab world. But his doctrine and his extraordinary success in 9/11 have given a new strength and a perverse vision to disparate Islamic groups around the world. They live to kill. The most determined live to die. Or, perhaps more often, they brainwash others to do so.
Kaywan Qader is an 18-year-old Kurd from Suleimaniya, who was arrested by the Kurdish authorities; this account was published in early 2004 in the London-based Arabic paper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:
Kaywan Qader was one of ten children in a moderately religious family. In the mosque he met Sawara Ali, who discussed religion with him and then recruited him to [the terrorist group] Ansar al-Islam.... He was able to convince Qader that Jihad would offer him paradise and save him from hell. Qader agreed to join Ali in one of the camps to prepare himself for Jihad, and all of his father's efforts to dissuade him from that failed. Qader told his father that Allah's wish supersedes his family's wish.... In the camp Qader agreed to carry out a suicide mission because he was told it is the highest level of jihad.... Another detainee who spent time in the camp says that they listened to lectures where they were told that each of the martyrs will find 72 virgins waiting for him in paradise...
Throughout the Islamic world are many others, more sophisticated than Qader, who are keen to take the suicide murder route.
Alan Dershowitz recounted the example of Majid al-Enezi, a Saudi student training to be a computer technician, who decided to go to Iraq to become a suicide bomber. His brother Abdullah was overjoyed and said that 'People are calling all the time to congratulate us, crying from happiness and envy.' Such people were not driven to their actions by poverty and despair any more than the middle-class 9/11 bombers themselves. They were incited by their religious leaders to 'kill the infidels' and to believe that suicide bombings were the highest form of jihad. That incitement, reiterated constantly in Arabic press and television, is at the root of such terrorism and to pretend otherwise is a hypocrisy and a delusion.
In Iraq, bin Laden's Heydrich, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was reported to have been the executioner of the young American Nicholas Berg in May 2004. His group also murdered an Italian, Fabrizio Quattrochi, who died with a display of great courage. In June 2004 Saudi terrorists beheaded another American, Paul Johnson, and declared 'the infidel got his fair treatment...' In July, terrorists in Iraq murdered a South Korean, Kim Sin Il, and a Bulgarian hostage, believed to be Georgi Lazov. They then captured and threatened to murder a Filipino unless the Filipino government immediately withdrew its small humanitarian contingent from Iraq. The Filipino government bowed to this blackmail, an act of national appeasement that will have further resonance within the Philippines, which faces its own Islamic rebellion, and beyond. In September 2004, terrorists captured and murdered two Americans, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, and a British businessman, Ken Begley. Perhaps most stunning of all in its barbarity was the kidnapping and assumed murder of Margaret Hassan, a British woman who had lived 30 years in Iraq, and had dual British and Iraqi nationality. Her husband was an Iraqi, she loved the country, she was the country director of Care International, and she was very much opposed to the U.S.-led invasion. Nonetheless she was targeted. After her abduction a video film of her begging for her life was distributed; her body was not found.
Such murders have continued ever since. At the end of April 2005 an Australian businessman was seized and filmed begging for his life and requesting that all foreign troops leave Iraq. The Australian government said at once that it would never negotiate. Happily, he has since been freed.
The videos made by the killers have been distributed across the Arab world and North Africa as recruitment tools. They are also intended to terrorize, if not coalition soldiers, at least the foreign civilian workers who are essential to the construction of the new state. Thus a group of Nepalese cooks were captured and murdered. It is hard to imagine anyone more innocent.
The threat was spelled out by an al Qaeda operative in Saudi Arabia: 'We renew our determination to repel the crusader forces and their arrogance, to liberate the land of the Muslims, to apply sharia law and cleanse the Arabian peninsula of infidels.'
In this context it is worth noting the words of Fawwaz bin Muhammed Al-Nashami, who commanded the al Qaeda unit that killed 22 people at Khobar, Saudi Arabia. On May 29, 2004, he said:
We tied the infidel [a Briton] by one leg [behind the car]... Everyone watched the infidel being dragged... The infidel's clothing was torn to shreds and he was naked in the street..... praise and gratitude to Allah.... We found a Swedish infidel. Brother Nimr cut off his head, and put it on the gate so that it would be seen by all those entering and exiting.... We found Filipino Christians. We cut their throats and dedicated them to our brothers the Mujahideen in the Philippines. [Likewise] we found Hindu engineers and we cut their throats too, Allah be praised.... Afterwards we turned to the hotel. We entered and found a restaurant, where we ate breakfast and rested a while. Then we went up to the next floor, found several Hindu dogs and cut their throats.
Such hideous orgies are not about Palestine, Abu Ghraib, or even about American actions in Afghanistan or Iraq -- though all these are grievances. Instead they are part of an apocalyptic war to restore the Muslim caliphate and to purge the world of all else but a vile and violent version of Islam. Following the murder of Paul Johnson, the Iranian-French expert, Amir Taheri, wrote:
Paul Johnson was killed by lies spread by Arab elites. He was killed by the sheikhs who finance Arab television and by the anchormen and women who, with tones of false emotion in their voices, told all those lies about Fallujah, just as they have been telling lies about other conflicts involving the Arabs for decades. He was killed by the over 1,500 Arab lawyers who have volunteered to defend Saddam Hussein but were nowhere to be seen when he was engaged in genocide against the Iraqi people. To say that killing Johnson was wrong would mean accepting that he, though not a Muslim, was a full human being with an equal right to live. And that is the huge, historic indeed doctrinal leap that Islam must take before it can contain and defeat the terrorists who are trying to change it beyond recognition.
The reality is that Islam is at present engaged in a civil war. One faction -- of which Osama bin Laden claims leadership -- is totalitarian and preaches the culture of death. That faction glories in 9/11, in the train massacres in Madrid, in the butchery of the Dutch film maker, Theo van Gogh, for his temerity in making a film critical of the abuse of women under Islam. That faction, responsible also for many of the horrific murders in Iraq, has to be rejected and defeated -- above all by moderate Muslims themselves. But it is not a war from which the West can stand aside.
THE CONTINUOUS BACKDROP to the slow but real progress of the U.S. troops in Iraq has been the debate on the origins of the war and, in particular, on the truth of Saddam's much vaunted and much feared Weapons of Mass Destruction, the principal casus belli. A 511-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee had, in rather broad-brush terms, described a 'global intelligence failure.'
In October 2004, Charles Duelfer, the leader of the Iraq Survey Group, presented his Comprehensive Report on the WMD issue. He had already said in an interim report to Congress that he had had great difficulty persuading key people in Iraq to speak. 'On one hand there is a fear of prosecution or arrest. On the other there is a fear former regime supporters will exact retribution.'
He had pointed out that strict compartmentalization is a feature of such despotic regimes -- Stalin's atom bomb program was run for years by his police chief, Lavrenti Beria, and most senior military and political leaders knew nothing of it.
So it was under Saddam. According to Duelfer's earlier testimony, 'We know from high level debriefings that Saddam conveyed his most sensitive messages to particular individuals orally. Moreover there were explicit instructions not to repeat such conversations.'
Duelfer told Congress that Iraq's illegal military procurement budget increased 100-fold from 1996 to 2003, to $500 million, most of the money coming from illicit oil contracts. 'Iraq imported banned military weapons and technology and dual use goods through Oil for Food contracts.' Duelfer and his team also provided the oil export data and Oil for Food information from the Saddam era. These data presented a compelling picture of the objectives and methods of the regime. It was clear Saddam had been buying influence in the U.N. and around the world to support his goal of eroding sanctions. It was also clear that his ambitions for Iraq included renewing his WMD.
In his Comprehensive Report, Duelfer stated that he had not been able to find the stockpiles of banned biological and chemical weapons that were thought before the invasion to be concealed in Iraq. However, he did not conclude that sanctions had worked. Instead he stated that, 'By 20002001, Saddam had managed to mitigate many of the effects of sanctions and undermine their international support. Iraq was within striking distance of a de facto end to the sanctions regime.'
He confirmed that Saddam was convinced that WMD were essential to preserving his power. Perhaps in order to deter his hostile neighbor Iran, he had engaged in strategic deception designed to suggest that he retained his weapons and he fully intended to resume real WMD production after the expected lifting of U.N. sanctions. Duelfer showed that he had maintained weapons programs that put him in material breach of U.N. resolutions, including 1441. And Saddam had set up a vast bribery scheme, aimed primarily at three of the five permanent members of the Security Council -- China, France, and Russia -- with the intent of having them help lift those sanctions.
'Saddam personally approved and removed all names of voucher recipients' under the Oil-for-Food program, Duelfer wrote. The alleged beneficiaries of such bribes included individuals in China as well as some with close ties to President Putin of Russia and President Chirac of France. Duelfer uncovered one Iraqi intelligence report which stated that French politicians had assured Saddam in writing that France would use its U.N. veto against any U.S. effort to attack Iraq -- in March 2003 France threatened to do just that. Duelfer wrote that 'politically the Iraqis were losing their stigma' by 2001.
Intelligence is a craft and intelligence agencies have to make judgments on the basis of past behavior, current evidence (even if limited), and future planning. Given all we knew of Saddam by 2003, the conclusion had to be that he still possessed a residual WMD capacity and that he was determined to restore his original capabilities; but it was not possible to determine how far development had gone. There was no doubt that Saddam's plans for WMD constituted, in the words of one intelligence official, an iceberg ahead. We saw the tip of the iceberg, but we did not know how deep or wide it was. We only eventually came to be certain that Saddam no longer had stockpiles of weapons in 2003 because of regime change. Before that there was just no way of knowing the truth.
The Duelfer report appeared at the same time as The Bomb in My Garden, a book by Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, Saddam's chief nuclear physicist.
Obeidi's book showed the climate of terror in which Saddam had pursued WMD. He had been forced to work in Saddam's nuclear program, with his family held hostage. He showed how simple it was to obtain components for nuclear devices on the world market and he recounts that after the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam's thugs tried to compel Iraqi scientists to produce one 'dirty' nuclear device at once. Fortunately they could not do so.
On the orders of Saddam's son Qusai, Dr. Obeidi buried in his own garden a large barrel containing the parts of a centrifuge for enriching uranium and all the instructions needed for that. When interviewed by U.N. weapons inspectors in the 1990s, Obeidi naturally made no mention of the bomb in his garden. Only after Saddam was gone did he reveal the truth. He concluded that if Saddam had been allowed to escape once more in 2003, and had sanctions been lifted as his French, Russian, and Chinese friends had wished, Saddam would have started again. 'Our nuclear program could have been reconstituted at the snap of Saddam Hussein's fingers' he wrote. 'Iraqi scientists had the knowledge and the designs needed to jumpstart the program if necessary.'
The combination of international terror and WMD poses an existential threat to the survival of free societies. We are fighting a third world war. In the case of Iraq, the possibility of a nonconventional attack might by 2003 have been low, but the price to be paid had one occurred would have been enormous. A rogue state which reconstitutes its WMD arsenal in its own time (as Iraq could have done if sanctions had been lifted) poses a similar threat to a regime already possessing WMD. In the case of Iraq, as in so many other cases, a difficult decision had to be made on the basis of imperfect and ambiguous intelligence.
Saddam Hussein was, at the very least, clearly determined that the world be uncertain about his WMD program. By frustrating the U.N. inspectors, he encouraged suspicion. His entire rule was based on lies and double-dealing. So the claim that he had a clandestine weapons program was entirely plausible.
If the CIA and MI6 had in fact reported in 2003 that Iraq was genuinely free of WMDs, the nature of the Baathist regime would not have changed. Saddam would still have destabilized the Middle East. His regime would have continued to be a daily disaster for the Iraqi people. If the U.N. had been compelled to lift sanctions on Iraq, as Saddam's friends in Paris, Moscow, Beijing, and elsewhere were urging, his regime would have been greatly strengthened and would have become a greater threat, much harder to destroy.
The regime's failure to accept the last chance to be seen to disarm, as offered by Resolution 1441 of November 2002, showed that Saddam would never relinquish his WMD ambitions and that they could be ended only by regime change.
Instead of attacking George Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard, Jose Maria Aznar, and their allies for the failure to find chemical and biological weapons, the critics should have tried to imagine the consequences if Iraq had in fact been as advanced along this road as North Korea, or even Iran. Despite their critics' assertions, Bush and Blair did not lie when they said they believed that Saddam still had WMD. That belief was general. General Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander in Iraq during the invasion, has revealed that both King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt told him before the war that they were convinced that Saddam had WMD. U.S. military commanders fully expected him to deploy chemical weapons against their troops.
As Charles Duelfer pointed out to this author, 'In democracies it is very hard to make strategic decisions. The pressures of elections and budgets compress evaluations of costs and benefit. Horizons are very short. But Saddam had the freedom to act strategically. He knew how hard it was for the international community to agree to take decisive action against him. Unlike Bush and Blair, he had no problems of building public or political support. He could sustain a WMD goal and regional ambitions of great menace until the most propitious moment for him.
'Blix's inspections may have been working in the short term, but the underlying dynamics were not good for international security. There was never going to be a good moment for military action to depose him. But the combination of Saddam, Iraq and WMD expertise was one that could not be managed for ever.'
The truth is that neither Iraq nor the region had any hope of progress so long as Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein, the most brutal dictator of modern times. Iraqis themselves were unable to overthrow him because in his 'Republic of Fear' economic and military power was controlled by him and his ruthless sons. This gangster family had shown itself prepared to go to any lengths, including using chemical weapons against a whole town, to crush opposition and perpetuate its rule.
Their regime was an equal danger to the region. Saddam had initiated two major wars. He had tried to wipe a member state of the United Nations off the map. He had triggered an arms race in the Gulf. His ambitions were feared by all those same neighbors who, hypocritically, denounced the coalition for removing him.
Before the invasion there was what Lord Butler, who headed an important British inquiry into the reasons for the invasion, called a 'creeping tide' of WMD proliferation. It included also Iran, Libya, and Syria as well as North Korea. Efraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, said in his 2004 Portland Trust Lecture in London, 'The region was in danger of becoming saturated with rogue or dictatorial regimes and no-state groups hurtling towards nuclear and other non-conventional fulfillment. If things were left as they were, the situation could well get out of control.'
Saddam had only deferred his WMD ambitions. Were we to bet our long-term security on the Security Council's determination to enforce Iraqi compliance? The idea is, sadly, ridiculous. Duelfer revealed the way in which members of the Security Council undertook extensive covert transactions with Iraq, in direct violation of the resolutions they had passed.
The historian Philip Bobbitt has pointed out, 'It cannot be better to avoid action until we are certain that the situation we most fear has indeed come about.' Saddam may not have been an immediate threat but he was certainly an inevitable one. And, after 9/11, an intolerable one.