One of the most contentious issues of this decade was the decision by the United States to invade Iraq in 2003. Despite much speculation, media commentary, and official government statements, the reasons for this decision remain clouded in obscurity and ambiguity. From Republicans to Democrats and conservatives to liberals, there is little agreement regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq. It is evident there were both official reasons as presented to the public and unofficial reasons in going to war. The Bush administration’s official argument was the removal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the war on terror and usurping a brutal dictator, although such reasoning was misleading and at times illogical. In response, many critics have offered alternative explanations including a continuation of the first Gulf War, Iraq’s oil reserves, and an oil currency war. It is apparent that there is not one single, neat explanation. However, there were many obvious reasons, both before and after the invasion, as to why America should not again become embroiled militarily in the Persian Gulf.
In 2002, President Bush began developing the case that Saddam Hussein’s regime was developing WMD that could possibly be used against the US directly or distributed to terrorists for their use. During the Iran-Iraq War ending in 1988, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran and also its own Kurdish civilian population. Following Iraq’s defeat in the Gulf War, strict restrictions were placed on Iraq, including the destruction of WMD, dismantling of all related facilities, and careful monitoring by the United Nations. However, the Bush administration believed that Saddam had resumed production of biological weapons and was seeking nuclear weapons. Saddam failed to comply with the UN Resolution 1441 demanding cooperation with weapons inspectors and so this became the major justification for invading Iraq.
Coupled with the threat of Iraq possessing WMD was the suggestion of collaboration between Saddam and terrorists, including September 11 attacker Mohamed Atta. Creating a link between Iraq and September 11 and emphasizing Iraq’s possession of WMD was essential if Bush was to convince the American public and the international community that invading Iraq was the most viable option. We now know that these two claims were based on incorrect and subjective interpretation of intelligence and false evidence collected from self-serving Iraqi defectors such as Ahmed Chalabi. No WMD stockpiles were found in Iraq, nor was there any evidence of their production since the Gulf War in 1991. However, the Bush Government has vehemently denied misleading us on the facts for invading Iraq.
Nevertheless, perhaps the invasion was morally justified by the third reason presented by Bush and his supporters, that Saddam was a brutal dictator who should be supplanted with a democratic government. The fallacy in this claim is evidenced in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, appallingly handled by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The majority of Iraq’s infrastructure was destroyed, widespread looting went unchecked, and 500,000 recently unemployed Iraqi soldiers created an insurgency that is still being fought against today. Such actions hardly reflect a genuine desire on the part of the occupying forces to establish a democracy, and in 2005 a large proportion of Iraqis felt life under US occupation was no better than life under Saddam. In spite of inconsistencies in regards to WMD, terrorism links, and ousting a dictator, the question raised by many was why invade Iraq and not other comparable regimes like Iran, North Korea or Pakistan. Perhaps the easiest answer to this particular question is that Iraq was the weakest. Iraq’s strategic location in an unstable Middle East, between Syria and Iran, also made it an attractive option in a post September 11 world.
However, these reasons alone remain weak in the case for war in Iraq and so many critics of the Bush administration have speculated that this second war was an extension and closure of the 1991 Gulf War. It has been implied that Bush Jr. was somehow competing or even “finishing off” the task begun by his father. While this may largely be conjecture it is important to point out that Bush was surrounded by senior officials who had been involved in the planning of the first Gulf War. Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld were all in the first President Bush’s cabinet and apparently raised the possibility of invading Iraq immediately following September 11; thus it is not completely inconceivable that Bush may have been influenced by these men to finish what they started in 1991. The other popular theory of course is that America was after Iraq’s rich oil supplies, again adamantly denied by the Bush Government. Such denial appeared futile when following the invasion the main building protected by US forces was the Oil Ministry, as museums and libraries were looted. Furthermore, the US demanded control of profits from Iraqi oil sales that had been held by the UN on behalf of Iraqis.
On the issue of oil, one controversial yet less publicized theory is that the Iraq War was part of a strategy to prevent Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) from replacing the US dollar with the euro as the standard oil trading currency. In late 2000, Saddam began demanding payment for oil in the form of euros. If the OPEC standard trading currency transitions to the euro, as Iran has also threatened, this will have serious macroeconomic implications for the US. The dollar makes up two thirds of official exchange reserves, four fifths of foreign exchange transactions, and half of all global export transactions are in dollars. This massive demand for dollars is considered one of the major factors in America’s ability to run such a large trade deficit. Considering the significant share of oil in world exports, this would likely mean countries would begin to keep reserves in euros instead of dollars. For those skeptical, it seemed the US confirmed this theory when they changed Iraq’s oil currency back to the dollar after the invasion, sacrificing millions of dollars in annual profits for Iraq from a stronger euro.
What is clear now is that the official reasoning of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was flawed, unsubstantiated and deceitful. Furthermore, the unofficial reasoning illustrates an egotistical, American-centric and economic approach to military operations in Iraq. Leaving aside such justification, the reasons not to invade are compelling in themselves. Ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq were underestimated, making it difficult to form a united government. America was not provoked or directly threatened by Saddam and so the invasion was largely viewed by the Arab world as an imperialist adventure. Added to this are costs of the war in terms of reconstruction, and more importantly the devastating loss of military and civilian life. Finally, one of the greatest legacies of the Iraq War that was seriously underestimated was America’s loss of standing in the international community and a further contribution to already existing anti-American sentiment, particularly among Muslim populations. Invading Iraq in 2003 has done more harm than good and it will take much time and effort on the part of future administrations to improve our image and relations with the Middle Eastern and Islamic world.