Why Are We fighting In Iraq?

January 29, 2009

[First published November 2, 2005] The foreign policy of the United States, the War on Terror, and the War in Iraq is predicated on the democratic peace. President bush has expressed this explicitly in describing his Forward Strategy of Freedom. Secretary Rumsfeld has mentioned it, and Secretary Rice has accepted it as background to her speeches on democracy. Because of the democratic peace, even President Clinton made promoting democracy one of the pillars of his foreign policy.

The democratic peace is now the best empirically established theory and most widely held among students of international relations. The theory, which goes back to the Philosopher Immanuel Kant in his Perpetual Peace (1795), is that:

The republican constitution . . . gives a favorable prospect for the desired consequence, i.e., perpetual peace. The reason is this: if the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared (and in this constitution it cannot but be the case), nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war. . . . But, on the other hand, in a constitution which is not republican, and under which the subjects are not citizens, a declaration of war is the easiest thing in the world to decide upon, because war does not require of the ruler, who is the proprietor and not a member of the state, the least sacrifice of the pleasures of his table, the chase, his country houses, his court functions, and the like. He may, therefore, resolve on war as on a pleasure party for the most trivial reasons, and with perfect indifference leave the justification which decency requires to the diplomatic corps who are ever ready to provide it.

Indeed, we now know from research done over the last three decades that this is true. The table below shows that since 1816, there have been no wars between democracies, although 371 bilateral wars when one or both sides were nondemocracies.

A second table below shows that there have been only three cases of violence ending in deaths between democracies over the 190 years since 1816. Two of these involved Peru and Ecuador in 1981 and 1984 (26 to 100 killed in the first, and 1 to 25 in the second case of violence). In 1981 Peru was only marginally democratic, as was Ecuador, but less so. This was also true of Peru and Ecuador in 1984. The only other case of violence over these near two centuries was marginally democratic Ecuador (initiator) vs. the U.S. in 1954 in which 1-25 were killed. Only three cases, and none since 1984 despite there being 117 democracies today.

There is much more to the democratic peace then the avoidance of war or international violence. Democracies have been involved in many wars, some they launched themselves (Afghanistan and Iraq being the most recent example). However, by an order of magnitude or more, democracies fight the least severe wars in killed compared to authoritarian or totalitarian regimes.

Moreover, in general, democratic nations are the most internally peaceful — they have the least violence in number killed in rebellions, civil wars, civil unrest, anti-government riots, violent strikes, and coups.

Also, and perhaps most important, modern democracies seldom murder their own citizens. Democide (genocide and mass murder) is an evil of militarism (as in Burma), monarchism (Russia’s Peter the Great), theocratism (Iran), fascism (Hitler), and communism. Over the whole 20th Century during which governments murdered about 174,000,000 people, only 149,000 deaths were due to barely democratic regimes — nearly 100,000 to the far left Spanish Republican government during its 1936-39 civil war, 10,000 to Peru’s (1980-87) fight with communist guerrillas, 25,000 to India, 4,000 to Colombia, 2,000 to the U.S.A. (largely because of lynching in the early years of the century), and lesser numbers to a smattering of democracies. Among these democracies committing democide, none were liberal democracies at the time (when American domestic democide occurred women could not vote and minorities were systematically and legally segregated, harassed, and denied the vote in many states), and one might argue that some were not democracies at all. No democratically free people, liberal democracies of which there are about 88 today, have murdered their own.

How do we understand this nonviolence, peaceful nature of democracy? Kant had part of the answer. Democratic people usually oppose war. But not always. There are two other factors. One is that with democratic institutions comes a democratic culture of negotiation, compromise, and tolerance. And two, there is a civil society of independent and interlocking institutions and groups –churches, businesses, schools, and social, political, and recreation groups — that not only stitch and bond democratic society together, but also cross pressure interests so that the stakes in a conflict are never too high, and the conflicts themselves are isolated. Such a democratic culture and society also encompasses democratic nations, enfolding them in a dynamic democratic field of cross national governmental and nongovernmental organizations, multinational businesses, trade, cultural and educational exchanges, which are similarly bond the nations together and cross pressure interest that might favor violence. Moreover, the basic norm of negotiating and tolerating differences is shared among democracies, which is one reason democracies cannot well negotiate with dictatorship, to whom it is only war by other means.

So, why are we fighting in Iraq and fostering democratic freedom there and elsewhere? The answer is to promote an end to war, and democide, and to minimize internal political violence. In other words, it is to foster global human security. Surely, this is worth fighting for.

What? Saddam Was Going To Do That?

January 11, 2009

[First published February 27, 2006] Former Iraqi Air Force General Georges Sada has written a book, Saddam’s Secrets: How An Iraqi General Defied And Survived Saddam Hussein, with Jim Nelson Black, and which includes information about various Saddam military plans largely unknown to the public. Now, Georges (Iraqis go by their first names) graduated from the Iraq Air Academy in 1959, was trained in the Soviet Union and U.S., and by Britain, to fly the most advanced fighters, and became a first rate pilot well recognized for his skills.

As he rose in rank, he gained the confidence of Saddam by telling the truth, even though it was dangerous to do so. He was retired before the Iraq war and became a consultant to American forces after Saddam’s defeat. He has also been a spokesman for the newly elected prime minister of Iraq. An Assyrian Christian, he is now the president of the National Presbyterian Church in Baghdad and chairman of the Assembly of Evangelical Presbyterian Churches.

See the reviews here, here, and here.

There is always the question of how much is true in the biographies or memoirs of those who were high up in defeated, tyrannical regimes. In Georges’ case, much of what he says about Saddam is consistent with information from other sources, such as Saddam being a small time punk who rose in the Baath party through assassination and murder, and who once in power, systematically purged the party through mass murder, used poison gas against his Kurds, launched a war against Iran, invaded and raped Kuwait, slaughtered the southern Shia after the loss of the Gulf War, and so on.

What troubles me, however, is not the matter of Georges’ truthfulness, but his morality. Through all Saddam’s horrors, Georges remained, as he says, a “loyal patriot.” That is, he did not resign, or find a reasonable excuse to leave Saddam’s military, and he was a willing participant in a military that was carrying out all Saddam’s horrors that he writes about. Moreover, when his family was outside the country and he was sent to Britain, in spite of his awareness of Saddam’s plans on Israel below, he did not defect, and he never became a spy for the U.S. or Britain (that I know of). But, he did save the lives of all those airmen shot down over Iraq. When one of Saddam’s despicable sons demanded they all be killed, Georges refused even at the risk of his own life, and for this he spent some time under arrest thinking he would soon die.

Aside from what I mentioned above, which is well known, I also found the following important:

In 1990, Saddam ordered a poison gas and chemical attack on Israel with 98 of Iraq’s best fighters. No warning would be given, nor would permission be requested to use Syrian and Jordanian airspace. He could not be dissuaded from this even when Georges argued that all 98 would be shot down before reaching Israel. Saddam was willing to gamble that at least 10 aircraft would be able to drop their bombs. He also ordered a similar attack on the capital of Saudi Arabia. The launching of the Gulf War by the United States caused him to cancel these plans.

As to what the U.S. would do if Israel were so attacked, “everyone” thought the U.S. would rattle its papers and do nothing. This estimate was based on Clinton’s weak response to attacks on American ships, bases, and citizens. Saddam believe that the Americans were afraid to fight.

The invasion of Kuwait was predicated on the belief that American Ambassador April Glaspie had given Saddam a free hand regarding Kuwait, or to do whatever else he planned. So, after Saddam invaded Kuwait, they thought the American military buildup in Saudi Arabia and threats were for show.

With the exception of Georges, so he says, all the generals and ministers surrounding Saddam were afraid to tell him the truth, and lied to him continually.

The whole military and civilian establishment was corrupt and incompetent, based on nepotism, favoritism, bribery, and fear.

Much internationally and by human rights groups was made of an American attack on civilian air raid shelters during the Gulf War, but it was unknown that contrary to the Geneva Convention, Saddam had built command bunkers beneath these civilian shelters.

If Saddam were to be defeated, he wanted the whole country to be destroyed with him.

During the Iraq-Iran war he wanted to make a statement about Iranian subversion among the Iraqi Shia, so he ordered a heavy bomber to be loaded with nine-tons of bombs, and that they be dropped on the University of Tehran when the classes were in session. The bomber actually took off and headed for its target, but ran into mechanical difficulties and crashed.

Iraqi battle dead during the Gulf War totaled about 100,000, with about 200,000 seriously injured. These soldiers were Saddam’s throwaway pawns, as much victims as those he murdered outright.
In its relations with Iraq, the UN was thoroughly corrupt.

When UN sanctions were imposed on Iraq, Saddam easily manipulated them through kickbacks and bribes, while the Iraqi people suffered greatly.

Doubtlessly, Saddam was trying to develop nuclear weapons. He spent tens of millions of dollars buying the services of scientists and technologists and acquiring the needed equipment.

Saddam arranged to pay $100 million, and made a $5 million down payment, for Chinese scientists to make nukes for him, but apparently the deal was too close to the invasion for him to receive any useful warheads in return.

There can be no doubt that Saddam had WMD (and Georges is amazed there is any question about this). He not only used them on his own people, but also planned to use them against Israel and Saudi Arabia. WMDs were his “obsession.” When it looked like Iraq would be invaded, Saddam had his scientists commit to memory the designs of their weapons before destroying this paper trail.

Trucks and converted civilian aircraft transferred WMDs in large amounts to Syria before the Iraq invasion.

What are the lessons of this book:

America and other democracies must pay close attention to their credibility for responding to provocation and attacks.

The Department of State must be clear about warning dictators about where we draw the line. Replace the diplomatic, “We will take seriously . . . ,” with, “We’ll stomp your ass if you . . . .” When dealing with these tyrants, any ambiguity is a sin.

Just in getting rid of Saddam, and preventing a like replacement, was a momentous victory for the Iraqi people, for American national security, for that of other democracies, and in the War on Terror.

American national security and that of other democracies, such as Israel, must not be dependent on the absolute power and whims of such bloody tyrants as Saddam. In this age of transferable nuclear knowledge and equipment, easily producible poison gas and chemical weapons, missiles, passenger planes that may be hijacked, cargo ships that may be made into launching pads, possible suitcase sized nukes, transportable closed containers galore, and thousands of religious fanatics willing to commit suicide for a cause, all democratic leaders should have their foreheads tattooed with the warning:


I hasten to add that I am not advocating we make war on them, unless they are an immediate threat, as Saddam and the Taliban (by their support of terrorism against the U.S.) were, or are murdering their people wholesale. Otherwise, I argue we should strongly support internal or expatriate democratic forces, and use the thousand and one ways available to us to peacefully bring down a tyrannical regime.