“We come as liberators, not as conquerors.”

That was not George Bush on March 17, 2003. Rather, it was Britain’s Lt. General Sir Stanley Maude who, after an initially botched military campaign during World War I, finally succeeded in wresting Baghdad from the Ottoman Turks in 1917.

What President Bush did say March 17 is virtually the same: “The day of your liberation is near.” While few around the world would dispute that Iraq would be a better place after Saddam Hussein’s fall from power, how this can be achieved at the least cost and with the greatest chance for success is the issue that has divided the world over the last decade and particularly the last 5 months.

The recent drama and the recriminations swirling about the UN Security Council resolutions have been so prominent that they need not be repeated here. But it is worth a moment to make a clear distinction between two phrases in key resolutions cited by the President on March 17 as the basis for the current U.S.-led war.

First, Resolution 678, passed November 29, 1990, just after Iraq’s conquest of Kuwait, authorized UN Member States “to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) [calling for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait] and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.” The key phrase is “all necessary means,” which includes force.

Second, Resolution 687, passed April 3, 1991, expressed the Council’s decision to guarantee the inviolability of the Iraq-Kuwait border “and to take as appropriate all necessary measures to that end in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.” It also says that as soon as the UN border monitoring force is deployed, “the conditions will be established for the Member States cooperating with Kuwait in accordance with resolution 678 (1990) to bring their military presence in Iraq to an end consistent with resolution 686 (1991)” [which requires, inter alia, that Iraq first end all hostile or threatening acts]. This part of Resolution 687 in effect repeals the authority granted to UN Member States to use “all necessary means” in Resolution 678.

Third, Resolution 1441, passed November 8, 2003, warns that, should the UN inspectors determine Iraq is failing to accede to the conditions governing the inspection regime, the Security Council will “convene immediately…to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all of the relevant Council resolutions in order to secure international peace and security.” The resolution then notes that, within the just-stated context, “the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations.” The White House claims that all 15 Security Council members, when voting for Resolution 1441, clearly understood that “serious consequences” included the use of armed force. The Washington Post, however, in a March 18 story, reports that “A number of council members…have said they meant no such thing, asserting that they did not intend to authorize armed force without another vote.”

Indeed, the very phrasing of the resolution calling for the Security Council to “convene,” strongly contradicts the Bush administration’s claim that the resolution contains “automaticity” of military action if Iraq fails to comply. Moreover, “serious consequences” cannot be said to be synonymous with “all necessary means.” Thus, despite the President’s assertion that ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction was “not a question of authority [but] a question of will,” the policy of regime change via military force lacks the authority, the will, and the participation of the majority of the international community

So what explains the administration’s action? Columnist Simon Jenkins, writing in the March 19 London Times, finds the core point within British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s March 18 speech in the House of Commons defending Britain’s war policy:

The truth of this war emerged in Mr. Blair’s most significant aside. He referred to Europe still needing to grasp the “psychological change” in America’s outlook since September 11. What he meant was that without it [September 11] there would be no war. Osama bin Laden’s single act entered so deep into U.S. psychology as to traumatize its sense of security and well-being….Bin Laden incited one war, of America against Afghanistan. He licensed another, the revived Palestinian suicide intifada and thus Israeli retaliation. He fueled fundamentalist dissent in Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey. Then early last year…[b]y an act of psychological transference, fear of bin Laden became fear of Iraq. Washington and London suddenly found themselves expecting attack from bin Laden and, by proxy, Saddam. War became a matter of “self-defense.”

If Jenkins’ article sheds light on the impetus for attacking Iraq, American columnist Thomas Friedman, writing the same day in the New York Times, provides a distressing prophecy of the long-term consequences.

“Some 35 years ago Israel won a war in Six Days. It saw its victory as self-legitimating. Its neighbors saw it otherwise, and Israel has been trapped in the Seventh Day ever since—never quite able to transform its dramatic victory into a peace that would make Israelis feel more secure.”

By the way: soon after entering Baghdad, Stanley Maude died of cholera. He lies buried in one of the city’s cemeteries.

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