War’s necessity to solve foreign policy problems is best described by the Latin expression “auribus teneo lupum” which means holding a wolf by the ears. The expression posits that there is equal risk in military action and inaction, as former Vice-President Dick Cheney postulated, “the risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action”.
Urgent action was paramount to punish Saddam with war being compulsory due to the large-scale effect of economic sanctions upending social cohesion. War was used as a reminder to world dictators that they will not enforce their will on weaker countries as Bush famously stated, “this will not stand”. The U.N has limited war but, it is quite another matter if the object is to abolish war entirely, and to deny its necessary place in historical development.
While war is necessary to resolve foreign policy problems due to existential threats, totalitarianism can only be beaten back by the willingness of democratic countries to fight for freedom. Most importantly, when war is chosen, planning for what comes next is a requirement and the responsibility of those petitioning for human rights and freedom. Dialogue solves many international problems, however, history shows that dictators follow Thucydides in that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. Mearsheimer states that the tragedy of great power politics is the incessant need to maximise power in an anarchic system. What Mearsheimer failed to conceptualise is that the tragedy of great power politics is the inevitability of war is the essential deterrent for countering aggression.
War as a foreign policy option is the last resort and has regularly been employed throughout history. President Bush effectively waged war against Saddam but ineffectively planned for the consequences. Bush understood that without acting against Saddam’s aggression in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia might be the next domino to fall upending Middle Eastern peace.
Furthermore, Bush knew war causes suffering and Saddam’s proclivity to murder would be felt by innocent civilians with or without war. War has a high cost that is not only unpredictable but also a dirty business. While diplomacy often resolves international tensions, it cannot always resolve the threats totalitarian regimes pose seeking power maximisation strategies. The action of war bears immense costs but the act of doing nothing fundamentally rapes the moral fortitude of zeal that hope and peace depend upon. War in Iraq was an absolute value and Bush’s failure in Iraq was not the war itself, but the improper planning for what followed.
Foreign policy failures in the aftermath of the Gulf War stained the reputation of American leadership and American exceptionalism as the de facto ideology of the world. Saddam retained his power as President and the moral tragedies of invasion were replaced with the blood of Iraqi people. Morality is universal in application and cannot be applied at will. Defending Kuwaiti citizens and ignoring the well-being of Iraqi people was an unjust moral inclination of the Bush administration. When the Bush administration chose to defend Kuwait, they were on the hook for the bloodshed inside Iraq’s borders.
The Gulf War was successful in defending Kuwait’s sovereignty but turned a blind eye to the tragedy that followed once the ceasefire was signed. War was the right call to action and supporters of a violent response argued that we could not wait for sanctions to work, because Kuwait would be completely destroyed by the time sanctions worked. War prevented the possible collapse of the Middle East and the oil markets at the expense of a war-torn Iraq.
Foreign Policy Failures
The most notable foreign policy failure of the Persian Gulf War was President Bush’s retreat from insisting that Saddam Hussein step down from power. This tacit foreign policy objective was not codified in any of the fourteen U.N. Resolutions but assumed that Iraqi’s would rise and implement regime change. Bush overestimated Saddam’s resilient grasp on Iraq and botched supporting opposition factions with money and arms. The ramifications of Saddam retaining power had long lasting effects in the Middle East which would end years later at the short end of a rope.
Immediate implications of Saddam’s reign as Iraq’s President were pitiless and evocative of genocide. Kurds in the North and Shia in the South paid a substantial price when Saddam refocused his attention from Kuwait to Iraq. War with Iran unified Saddam’s army and “now it was the crushing of the Kurds and the Shiites that became the motivator” to consolidate Saddam’s support and power (Walker, 2003).
Both the Sha’aban Intifada which was an Arab centric insurgency and the National Uprising which was a Kurdish insurgency originated because Saddam was vulnerable to regime change as the economy and population were devastated. Iraqi insurgents blamed Saddam for systematic repression that culminated in the use of military force to ethnically cleanse groups of people. Spearheaded by the Republican Guard, Saddam’s Ba’athist Sunni supporters killed thousands of Iraqi citizens and displaced over fourteen million refugees. The most shocking truth about the devastating aftermath of the ceasefire is that coalition forces protected Kuwaiti’s by driving Saddam out of Kuwait but at the expense of thousands of Iraqi executions. Every life is equally important and the trade for Kuwaiti lives at the expense of Iraqi lives is an unjustifiable moral violation that the Bush administration should have felt compelled to act upon. Yet, President Bush did not arm or support opposition forces and that mistake incidentally sent thousands of Iraqis to their deaths.
Schwarzkopf permitted Saddam’s use of military helicopters as part of the ceasefire negotiation because bridges in Iraq were obliterated during the coalition bombing campaign. This vital mistake allowed Saddam to use armed helicopter gunships to quell insurgency by firing indiscriminately in rebel held territory. Furthermore, Ba’athist loyalists executed men, woman, and children on the streets during building to building sweeps that rounded up insurgents. Chemical weapons were purportedly used during the siege of Basra. Phosgene, sarin, CS gas, and mustard gas were confirmed to be used on rebels in Karbala in March of 1991.
The Human Rights Ministry registered over 200 mass graves in Southern Iraq estimated to hold over 10,000 bodies. While Schwarzkopf regretted permitting Saddam to use armed helicopters, Collin Powell claimed in his book, My American Journey, that Saddam was left with just enough power to challenge an Iranian regime hostile to the United States. Bush’s foreign policy was seen by the Washington Kurdish Institute as a “betrayal of Iraq”.
Diplomacy was stone-walled by Bush when Mikhail Gorbachev negotiated the unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait prior to the ground invasion. When Bush said no, Gorbachev renegotiated the deal to be more favorable to U.S. objectives but Bush again denied diplomacy in favor of war. Saddam was cornered and Bush thought the violent overthrow of Saddam was inevitable. Foreign policy is built upon peaceful solutions to prevent war whereby using war is purely a last resort option. The failure of President Bush to pursue diplomacy grossly underscored the credibility of U.S. trust as the world’s sole superpower. Bush drew a line in the sand and stated, "as far as I'm concerned, there are no negotiations. The goals have been set out. There will be no concessions".
An intense coalition bombing campaign against Iraq’s infrastructure and industrial facilities sought total annihilation of Iraq’s ability to operate as an industrial country culminating in bombing Iraq back to the stone age. The implication that Iraq’s infrastructure needed to be destroyed is a false justification for the defensive nature of repelling Saddam from Kuwait. Collin Powell summed up the U.S. foreign policy position very plainly by stating in 2011 that “our strategy in going after this army is very simple, first we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it”.
Iraq’s economy was grounded to a halt as economic sanctions forbid the export of oil. The utter destruction of infrastructure ensured Iraqi citizens would suffer at that hands of Saddam for a long time as the economy lay in ruin. Bush strategically limited Saddam’s economic options but it was Iraqi’s who suffered hardships. Bombing was an over the top approach as highlighted by the fact that American ground troops declared Kuwait liberated just 100 hours after the land invasion began.
Americans were sold on the technological superiority of the U.S. military albeit high-tech precision guided bombs wreaked havoc on civilians. A shelter in Amiriyah, the only building that had running water and electricity, was bombed by coalition forces. In the rubble, over 400 civilians were found dead including woman and children. High-tech weapons did not prevent the loss of innocent lives. American Patriot Missiles were peddled by the Bush Administration as 95 percent successful which was wholly exaggerated. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens, Chief of Staff General Dan Shomron, and Haim Asa, a missile technician supported claims that “one or possibly none of the Scuds was intercepted by the Patriots”. The deadliest Iraqi attack on Americans was an unrealiable scud missile that demolished a barracks housing more than 100 American troops” and killed 27 while wounding 98.
Destruction of infrastructure led to an environment for disease epidemics to spread including cholera and typhoid. To complicate matters further, fourteen million refugees were without homes and a humanitarian crisis erupted. President Bush and the media pacified American sentiment in Iraq by claiming the war was bloodless, which was false.
Reality was tainted with a much darker side of humanity that included a cholera outbreak in the north due to unclean drinking water and sanitation. Less than 200 U.S. troops died, but over 68% of Iraqis did not have access to safe drinking water. Iraq was not a successful U.S. foreign policy accomplishment but rather a disastrous tragedy that multiplied pain and suffering for Iraqis. War was necessary in Iraq but war is more than bombs and tanks. War is a multi-dimensional mission encompassing military strength, diplomatic resolve, and the perseverance to uphold moral values in protecting human rights through humanitarian aid.
The decision for war was first made by Saddam because the necessity of war is always a political decision, usually made by the aggressor party first. In Luke 22:36, the Bible states “let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.” War as a necessity is a historical fact understood by the defence of innocents against aggressive forces. Bush was correct to wage war against Saddam in attempt to oust him from power albeit his strategy lacked long term vision and follow through.
Moral values compel countries to intervene when the strong harm the weak but moral virtue does not just weaken a threat but destroys that threat in perpetuity. Iraq, initially successful, failed in its foreign policy objectives for being shortsighted and abandoning a largely helpless population that sought change in Iraq. War did not overthrow Saddam, pro-democratic insurgents did not receive U.S. support, Saddam retained the use of armed gunships, diplomacy was rebuked as ineffective, bombing destroyed Iraqi infrastructure, disease spread for lack of sanitation, and refugees fled in mass. The necessity of war substituted the sovereignty of Kuwaiti’s for the imprisonment of Iraqis when the freedom of both peoples should have been achieved at all costs.
Author: Jonathan B Graves
Jonathan is Founder and President of the Confucius Global Institute, an international think tank that advocates for democracy, freedom, and human rights through harmony, humaneness, and morality.