How the New Crisis Began



In a world increasingly affected and concerned by international terror, Iraq presents itself as a large, militarily developed, oil-rich country, ruled by an absolute tyrant bent on the use and acquisition of non-conventional weapons. Iraq sits between other totalitarian countries and, moreover, it has been a major factor in political instability in the Middle East for over two decades. Ironically, Iraq is scheduled to take over the presidency of the UN Conference on Disarmament in May.

Iraq is also a state in which the entire government machine is dedicated to terror; support for terror is not limited to financing and directing organizations abroad. Iraq has carried out terror against its own citizens within Iraq; beyond its borders, it has perpetrated acts of terror against those of other countries, notably in Kuwait. Based on this history, and particularly its use of chemical warfare against its own citizens and against Iran, Iraq has demonstrated that it does not and will not hesitate to use weapons of mass destruction against those it has termed its enemies. As such, it poses a continued threat to the outside world, where the Iraqi regime can unleash severe damage on multiple targets, due to its stockpile of various delivery systems for biological and chemical warfare.

Better the Devil You Know

For much of his life, President George W. Bush has been overshadowed by his father’s political ambition and business success. He has listened to his advice and heeded his warnings. The ten-year long conventional wisdom on dealing with Saddam Hussein was to follow a foreign policy of containment, rather than of regime change. This policy has now been reversed, despite the clear and apparent risks.

US policy has traditionally perceived three major problems in replacing Saddam Hussein:

Iran, Turkey and the Vietnam Syndrome.


Fears that Iran, a Shiite dominated country, would seek to invade Southern Iraq where the Shiites are a majority, have been a constant bugbear for US military planners. Iraq and Iran fought for each other for nearly a decade, with over a million people killed in the war.

George Bush senior reversed his initial policy of encouraging the Shiites in Southern Iraq to rebel against Saddam for this very reason.


Turkey is a crucial ally to the West, NATO and Israel. Despite the recent election of an Islamic government, Turkey remains a moderate country, with ambitions to be integrated into the European Union. Turkey also borders Iran, Iraq and Syria - all representing potential hot spots for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Kurds of northern Iraq, near the Turkish border, provide another source of potential unrest against Saddam Hussein. Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran would like to see the creation of an independent Kurdistan in their ethnic homeland in the border region. Iraqi Kurds were initially encouraged to rebel against the Ba'athist regime by George Bush senior. Yet Iraq's neighbor, Turkey, would pay a price for Kurdish independence, as a potential state of Kurdistan would also be carved out of Turkish territory, which threatens regional interests.

George Bush senior reversed his initial policy of encouraging the Kurds in Northern Iraq to rebel against Saddam because of these regional implications.

The Vietnam Syndrome

Memories of the Vietnam War overshadowed many of the policy decisions of George Bush senior and his advisors.

“The Tet Offensive of January 1968 all but destroyed the Viet Cong, but for Americans who believed the war was being won, the sight of U.S. troops besieged in the U.S. embassy in Saigon transformed the battlefield defeat into a political victory for Ho Chi Minh’s communists."

Uncle Ho taught Uncle Sam two important lessons about modern warfare:

  • “The major military lesson was that superior firepower does not guarantee victory in a war,” said David Segal, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park and a leading military sociologist.
  • “The important political lesson is, do not deploy the military, if it does not have the support of the American people,” he added.

One fateful day, September 11, 2001, would eradicate Vietnam Syndrome thinking from the US defense establishment, once and for all.

The Day the World Stood Still

On September 11, 2001, the clock also began a countdown towards a crisis with Iraq. As the dust began to settle on Ground Zero, American foreign policy shifted dramatically, but only by exploring the shift in political thinking can one understand how the conventional wisdom of "keeping the devil you know" evolved into a policy advocating a regime change in Iraq.

Only after nineteen suicide bombers hijacked four airplanes and killed nearly 3,000 people on American soil, did America discover the flaw in its strategic analysis and policy. Terror was neither limited to the Middle East, nor containable with then-current surveillance methods. Terrorism and Islamic Fundamentalism had replaced Communism as the prime threat to the US and western world view. President George W. Bush, the defender of western values after September 11, projects a very different personality to the isolationist figure that predated Terror on America.

In effect, September 11 changed US foreign policy overnight, demanding a new approach to counter the threat of global terrorism.

  • America’s arguable success in Afghanistan and its operation against Al Quaeda enabled President George W. Bush to question much of his father’s policy towards Iraq. Fears that Iran, a Shiite-dominated country, would seek to invade Southern Iraq (where the Shiites are a majority) became less worrisome. Unofficial feelers by the US were made towards the Iranians who seemed more willing to placate the worries of the West. US troops on the Iraqi Iranian border, other advisors suggested, would deter any Iranian ambitions.
  • US fears that a Kurdish uprising along the northern Iraqi border would cause Turkey to invade Northern Iraq, became less relevant overnight. An Iraqi regime change held the potential to open a new reality in the Middle East, but the US would have to secure northern Iraq - not because of the Kurdish question, but in order to guarantee the safety of the oil fields and international oil interests.

Countdown to a Crisis

On November 8, 2002, the UN Security Council passed Resolution #1441, demanding that Iraq surrender all weapons of mass destruction and with a provision that, should they fail to comply, there would be ‘serious consequences’. The resolution was accepted by Iraq within a week of its passage. UN weapons inspectors, previously removed by Iraq, recommenced their work on November 27, 2002.

In attempted compliance with Resolution 1441 and the implied threat, Iraq produced a 12,000-page declaration of its weapons – including chemical, nuclear, biological, and missile programs. Iraq submitted the report on December 7, 2002, a day before the deadline.

Hans Blix was appointed UN Chief Arms Inspector and, on December 19, 2002, he addressed the Security Council with his initial findings on Iraq’s declaration. On the same day, the US also issued its first response to the declaration, adamant that deficiencies in the documents were merely additional evidence of Iraq’s non-compliance.

The next key dates are January 27, 2003, when the UN weapons inspectors reported to the Security Council on their progress and their final report on February 14th 2003.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell put the US case to the Security Council on February 10th 2003, alleging that the US does have sufficient evidence of Iraqi non-compliance with inspection and non-surrender of unconventional weapons; he had the support of nine members, but France, Russia and China were clearly opposed to a war. US intentions are clearly to instigate a war against Iraq in the period immediately following the presentation of the final report. It is expected, however, that Washington will enter into discussions with the Security Council with regard to the aftermath before going to war.






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21 Aug 2007 / 7 Elul 5767 0