Democratization—The Implicit If-Then of the Iraq War

[First published April 17, 2006] It is very important to understand why we went to war in Iraq. The DECLARED purpose was to end the threat of Saddam Hussein’s WMD and his support for terrorism. In no STATED way was it to democratize the country or make a regime change in favor of freedom. But, what confuses this is the implicit if-then in this: if we won the war and occupied the country, then we would democratize it.

The confusion is shown in Dean Esmay’s “quibble” over my claim about the explicit purpose. He says:

A quibble: it was the stated policy of the United States government, as expressed by both houses of Congress and the President, that Saddam’s fascist regime in Iraq needed to be replaced by a democratic one. It was so since the late 1990s, when President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act (Public Law 105-338). It was the operating policy of the United States ever since.

I would also note that the Congress re-iterated all of this when it issued the war declaration, also known as the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq. The President himself mentioned, in more than one speech before the liberation operation began, that establishing democracy there was a goal. He did so most famously at his Cincinnati address in October 7 2002, shortly before the Congress issued its war declaration against Saddam. He said, just before Congress passed that war declaration, that, “Iraq is a land rich in culture, resources, and talent. Freed from the weight of oppression, Iraq’s people will be able to share in the progress and prosperity of our time. If military action is necessary, the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi people rebuild their economy, and create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq at peace with its neighbors.”

The White House also publicly met many times with pro-democracy and pro-human rights advocates (including women’s rights advocates) from Iraq before the decision to take out Saddam’s fascist regime became official, and made a point of making sure the press knew they were doing that.

The historic record is clear: the American People were given over a dozen reasons for toppling Saddam’s monstrous fascist regime, and not just one. Historical revisionists have tried to obscure the record and say we only invaded due to “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” but this has always has been a lie. It is fair to say that the administration never said “let’s go establish a democracy in the Middle East to help reform that entire part of the world,” but an awful lot of learned public commentators (including a number of writers in the blogosphere such as myself, Glenn Reynolds, Steven Den Beste, and a number of other well known “neocon” commentators like Charles Krauthammer) all noted the fact that the Arab-Muslim world was mired in horrific oppression and that the only smart way to fight terrorism in the long run was to find ways to reform those regimes, either through diplomacy, economic pressures, or outright war, and that Saddam’s Iraq was a big fat juicy target in that regard.

It’s strange for some of us who were there and part of those debates to hear that those arguments were never part of the equation and were never put before the American people. Yes they were. They were not the ONLY reasons given, but they were always there.

For a lot of us, the liberation of Iraq from Saddam was the biggest and most dangerous gamble in the Global War On Terror, rather akin to the engagement of Japanese forces in the Philippines in the early 1940s. We have believed all along, and continue to believe, that fascist and theocratic thug-regimes such as those found in the old Iraq, the old Afghanistan, and today’s Syria, Libya, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, are the ultimate source for international terrorism. Because thugs who hold power, regardless of their stated ideology, always believe first and foremost in maintaining their own power, and doing whatever it takes to keep that power. Including, frequently, harboring, arming, and training international terrorists.

This was always a part of the package we were sold before we went into Iraq. And it still is, because as the administration has made clear many times since Saddam was toppled, if we were to abandon Iraq and its infant democracy now, those who would murder this young democracy in its crib would undoubtedly rise up to become the enemies of the free world again.

Let’s not forget history: liberating Iraq from fascist oppression and attempting to install a true democracy there was always the stated goal of the United States and most of its allies.

There is much in this with which I agree, including the temper of the “quibble.” But, we’ve got to get this straight. True, there were many calling for democracy in Iraq before the war, including Dean and I. True, Congress also called for democracy in Iraq, but in what Congress voted for and what Bush declared to be the purpose WAS NOT war on Saddam to free his people. It was to eliminate HIM. With his aid to terrorism, use of poison gas on his own people, reported stores of WMD, and possible ongoing development of nukes, he was perceived as the dangerous enemy.

Dean is a keen observer as are those he mentions in support of his claim. So, what is going on here? It is the usual confusing Washington if-then clause. For example, read the “Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq “ to see that after all the “whereas'” (none of which mention democracy, freedom, or regime change) Congress states:

Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled: This joint resolution may be cited as the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq”.


The Congress of the United States supports the efforts by the President to —
(a) strictly enforce through the United Nations Security Council all relevant Security Council resolutions applicable to Iraq and encourages him in those efforts; and
(b) obtain prompt and decisive action by the Security Council to ensure that Iraq abandons its strategy of delay, evasion and noncompliance and promptly and strictly complies with all relevant Security Council resolutions.


(a) AUTHORIZATION. The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to

(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq.

Congress does not mention democracy, freedom, or regime change in any “whereas,” nor did the Security Council include such operative words in any of the relevant Security Council Resolutions. So, the resolution provides no justification for democratization or indication that this is even a background reason for war.

As to President Bush’s famous speech on the Iraqi threat that Dean mentions, it lays out the threat to the peace of the Iraqi regime (a synonym for Saddam) in, “Its history of aggression, and its drive toward an arsenal of terror.” Bush goes on to say that, “Members of the Congress of both political parties, and members of the United Nations Security Council, agree that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace and must disarm…. our urgent concern [is] about Saddam Hussein’s links to international terrorist groups.” Bush then details the WMD and terrorist threat, and makes his military threat explicit: “Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud…. The time for denying, deceiving, and delaying has come to an end. Saddam Hussein must disarm himself — or, for the sake of peace, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.”

But, then note what Iraq must do to avoid war: “In addition to declaring and destroying all of its weapons of mass destruction, Iraq must end its support for terrorism. It must cease the persecution of its civilian population. It must stop all illicit trade outside the Oil For Food program. It must release or account for all Gulf War personnel, including an American pilot, whose fate is still unknown. By taking these steps, and by only taking these steps, the Iraqi regime has an opportunity to avoid conflict.”

Among these “must do’s,” there is no mention of regime change.

So much for the operational aspect of the speech. Now for the confusing part. After all the above, Bush says, “The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power….Freed from the weight of oppression, Iraq’s people will be able to share in the progress and prosperity of our time. If military action is necessary, the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi people rebuild their economy, and create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq at peace with its neighbors…. I have asked Congress to authorize the use of America’s military, if it proves necessary, to enforce U.N. Security Council demands.” (Bold added)

Nowhere in the speech is democracy or regime change mentioned, nor is the idea of a democratic peace.

So, there you have it. Bush’s declaratory purpose for war and Congresses approval was to get rid of Saddam pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions. And as I mentioned, these resolutions say nothing about regime change.

Further evidence for this declaratory purpose is the last minute option Saddam was given by Bush to avoid war, which was to leave Iraq and accept the asylum offered by Bahrain or Russia. The regime offered oil and inspection deals to avoid the invasion, but these were rejected by Bush. In addition to Saddam leaving the country, Bush demanded the surrender of Iraqi troops and all WMD.
Even during this frantic period when the Iraq regime was making huge offers to avoid war, Bush still did not demand regime change or democratization. During this instant before war, as far as anyone knew, if a military coup had eliminated Saddam, his sons, and the rest of his gang, and offered unlimited UN and American inspection for WMD, while maintaining a military dictatorship, there would have been no war.

As for Germany, Italy, and Japan in World War II, democratization was an if-then proposition, often discussed, but not part of the official war demands. If we won the war and occupied these countries, then we would try democratize them. That was clear. But this was not the stated purpose of the war. Unconditional surrender was. Similarly, with Saddam Hussein, the declared purpose of the war was to end the threat of his WMD and his support for terrorism, and if we occupied the country, then as with our enemies of WWII, we would democratize it.

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