Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stephen Zunes: Democrats Share the Blame for Tragedy of Iraq War

Democrats Share the Blame for Tragedy of Iraq War
by Stephen Zunes

Here on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, it is important to remember that it was not just those in the Bush White House who were responsible for the tragedy, but leading members of Congress as well, some of whom are now in senior positions in the Obama administration. The 4,500 Americans killed, the far larger number permanently wounded, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed and millions displaced, the trillion dollars of US taxpayers' money squandered (and the resulting cutbacks through sequestration), the continued costs of the war through veterans' benefits and interest on the national debt, and the anti-American extremism in reaction to the invasion and occupation which has spread throughout much of the world all could have been avoided if the Democratic-controlled Senate hadn't voted to authorize this illegal and unnecessary war and occupation.

On this and other web sites - as well as in many scores of policy reports, newspaper articles, academic journals and other sources - the tragic consequences of a US invasion of Iraq and a refutation of falsehoods being put forward by the Bush administration to justify it were made available to every member of the House and Senate (see, for example, my cover story in The Nation magazine The Case Against a War with Iraq). The 2003 vote authorizing the invasion was not like the vote on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution on the use of force against North Vietnam, for which Congress had no time for hearings or debate and for which most of those supporting it (mistakenly) thought they were simply authorizing limited short-term retaliatory strikes in response to a specific series of alleged incidents. By contrast, in regard to the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Congress had many months to investigate and debate the administration's claims that Iraq was a threat as well as the likely implications of a US invasion. Members of Congress also fully recognized that the resolution authorized a full-scale invasion of a sovereign nation and a subsequent military occupation of an indefinite period.

Violating International Legal Conventions

Those who voted in favor of the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq did so despite the fact that it violated international legal conventions which the US government is legally bound to uphold. The resolution constituted a clear violation of the United Nations Charter that, like other ratified international treaties, should be treated as supreme law, according to Article VI of the US Constitution. According to articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter, no member state has the right to enforce any resolution militarily unless the UN Security Council determines that there has been a material breach of its resolution, decides that all non-military means of enforcement have been exhausted, and then specifically authorizes the use of military force.

This is what the Security Council did in November 1990 with Resolution 678 in response to Iraq's ongoing violations of UN Security Council resolutions demanding its withdrawal from Kuwait, but the Security Council did not do so for any subsequent lesser Iraqi violations. The only other exception for the use of force authorized by the charter is in self-defense against armed attack, which even the Bush administration admitted had not taken place.

This effective renunciation of the UN Charter's prohibition against such wars of aggression constituted an effective repudiation of the post-WWII international legal order. Alternative resolutions, such as one authorizing force against Iraq if authorized by the UN Security Council, were voted down by a bipartisan majority.

Concerned Scholars

Members of Congress were also alerted by large numbers of scholars of the Middle East, Middle Eastern political leaders, former State Department and intelligence officials and others who recognized that a US invasion would likely result in a bloody insurgency, a rise in Islamist extremism and terrorism, increased sectarian and ethnic conflict, and related problems. Few people I know who are familiar with Iraq were at all surprised that the US invasion has become such a tragedy. Indeed, most of us were in communication with Congressional offices and often with individual members of Congress themselves in the months leading up to the vote warning of the likely consequences of an invasion and occupation. Therefore, subsequent claims by Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Harry Reid and other leading Democratic supporters of the war that they were unaware of the likely consequences of the invasion are completely false.

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