Despite growing opposition, both at home and abroad, the Bush Administration appears to have begun its concerted final push to convince Congress, the American people and the world of the need to invade Iraq. Such an invasion would constitute an important precedent, being the first test of the new doctrine articulated by President Bush of “pre-emption,” which declares that the United States has the right to invade sovereign countries and overthrow their governments if they are seen as hostile to American interests. At stake is not just the prospect of a devastating war but the very legitimacy of an international system built over the past century that–despite its failings–has created at least some semblance of global order and stability.
It is therefore critical to examine and rebut the Administration’s arguments, because if as fundamental a policy decision as whether to go to war cannot be influenced by the active input of an informed citizenry, what also may be at stake is nothing less than American democracy, at least in any meaningful sense of the word.
Below are the eight principal arguments put forward by proponents of a US invasion of Iraq, each followed by a rebuttal.
1. Iraq is providing support for Al Qaeda and is a center for anti-American terrorism.
The Bush Administration has failed to produce credible evidence that the Iraqi regime has any links whatsoever with Al Qaeda. None of the September 11 hijackers were Iraqi, no major figure in Al Qaeda is Iraqi, nor has any part of Al Qaeda’s money trail been traced to Iraq. Investigations by the FBI, the CIA and Czech intelligence have found no substance to rumors of a meeting in spring 2001 between one of the September 11 hijackers and an Iraqi intelligence operative in Prague. It is highly unlikely that the decidedly secular Baathist regime–which has savagely suppressed Islamists within Iraq–would be able to maintain close links with Osama bin Laden and his followers. Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal, his country’s former intelligence chief, has noted that bin Laden views Saddam Hussein “as an apostate, an infidel, or someone who is not worthy of being a fellow Muslim.” In fact, bin Laden offered in 1990 to raise an army of thousands of mujahedeen fighters to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.
There have been credible reports of extremist Islamist groups operating in northern Iraq, but these are exclusively within Kurdish areas, which have been outside Baghdad’s control since the end of the Gulf War. Iraq’s past terrorist links are limited to such secular groups as the one led by Abu Nidal, a now largely defunct Palestinian faction opposed to Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. Ironically, at the height of Iraq’s support of Abu Nidal in the early 1980s, Washington dropped Iraq from its list of terrorism-sponsoring countries so the United States could bolster Iraq’s war effort against Iran. Baghdad was reinstated to the list only after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, even though US officials were unable to cite increased Iraqi ties to terrorism.
The State Department’s own annual study, Patterns of Global Terrorism, could not list any serious act of international terrorism connected to the government of Iraq. A recent CIA report indicates that the Iraqis have been consciously avoiding any actions against the United States or its facilities abroad, presumably to deny Washington any excuse to engage in further military strikes against their country. The last clear example that American officials can cite of Iraqi-backed terrorism was an alleged plot by Iraqi agents to assassinate former President George Bush when he visited Kuwait in 1993. (In response, President Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of Baghdad, hitting an Iraqi intelligence headquarters as well as a nearby civilian neighborhood.)