Iraq Liberation: A Bi-Partisan Reminder

As we get closer to the U.S. general elections in 2008, and as the various candidates inevitably become more and more polarized (read: extreme and unrealistic) it’s worth taking a quick look back at some rather tellingly different times.

Not too long ago it was the stated policy of the United States to support “regime change” in Iraq. Congress declared:

“It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”

Perhaps this kind of notion sends shivers up your spine, but it was written into law. In fact it passed by an unambiguous margin in the U.S. House of Representatives and by unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate.

Many people would argue that ideas like this are obviously misguided and are simply the result of the U.S. electorate having elected the wrong party to govern. Those people would also no doubt feel that if shortly after such a cowboy law was passed, immoral bombs began to fall on Iraq, then well it’s no wonder, there was a Bush in the oval office at the time. But there wasn’t.

How many of those people watched the news or read a paper in 1998? And how many of them would be surprised once reminded that all of the above came courtesy of the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton. The above quote comes directly from The Iraq Liberation Act that President Bill Clinton signed into law on October 31, 1998. So as the news media heads into election mode and the candidates begin pointing fingers it might be useful, or at least humorous, to remember that George W Bush isn’t the rightful father of the notion of liberating Iraq and that in fact it’s a shared proposition.

Since 1998 there has been much mud slinging regarding the current U.S. adventure, perhaps especially since the regime change hasn’t gone as once hoped.
People sometimes point to President Bush’s Christian fervor to explain the current entanglement in Iraq, but the vote in favour of overthrowing Sadam was unanimous in the U.S. Senate in 1998. That would include all 45 Democrats. People declare that the exporting of democracy is simply the arrogant product of a small but powerful cabal of neo-cons that had infiltrated the bush administration in 2001, but it was Congress that supported this idea by a margin of 360-38 three years earlier. That’s three hundred and sixty members of Congress all voting to replace the regime, a margin that renders party politics irrelevant.

To be sure, from the mountain of books, papers and articles written since 9/11 a fairly convincing argument can be made that religious belief played some sort of role for George W Bush personally. It also seems obvious that the neo-cons were eager to export their brand of Democracy around the world. Thanks to all of the parsing of the minutia we have a pretty good idea as to why those twenty or thirty people would support overthrowing the President of another country. But what’s more interesting is why did the other 360 members of Congress support it?

In 1998 the Twin Towers were standing tall in lower Manhattan. By 1998, 90-95% of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capability had been verifiably eliminated according to a former U.N. inspector. These are the days before stories of yellow cake uranium from Nigeria thrilled us all. Before Colon Powell’s list of evidence filled the UN auditorium. The days before anyone in the mainstream ever tried to link the Taliban or Al Qaeda to Iraq. Right or wrong, those details are so part of our psych now that it almost seems impossible to remember the general feeling that came before, but that only begs the question, if all of those justifications came later, and seemed dubious even then, then what were the Democrats doing supporting regime change and the imposition of democracy in 1998? If all of the intelligence failures and manipulations took place under the watch of George Bush and his evil crew in the post 2001 time frame, then they could not have been the reasons behind the support of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. Something else was at foot then, something else that was even at odds with the UN inspections. Something that lead the then US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, to explain on March 26, 1996, that sanctions against Iraq would not be lifted as long as Saddam Hussein remained in power. Regime change has been in the works for a long time.

In the end while investigative reporters, lawyers and special prosecutors, weed through the official and unofficial record of events it is plain for all to see that virtually the entire US political establishment felt that deposing Saddam Hussein and imposing democracy in Iraq was a good idea. Given that clear and simple fact it seems to me that much if not all of the political fuss and fighting that we’ve seen over the last 4 years is simply over tactics, not principle. It’s more about popularity and control than what’s right. It’s a big difference. It’s an important difference and it’s this difference that makes some of the righteous indignation coming from some politicians these days so untenable.

These days the polls indicate that the average US citizen is tired of the war in Iraq and is ready for a change. Dissatisfaction with the current government is high and anyone looking to be in good standing might do well to present them selves as the opposite.
Besides, how is an opposition party to take power if it doesn’t hold a position that is opposite to the current government? So in the coming year it will be in all of the politicians best interests to forget that the consensus over the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 ever existed. George W’s gift to them is that by being the one who actually tried to follow through on this piece of legislation he and his friends have become the scapegoats for them all. They’ve gotten their hands so dirty that now almost anyone else looks clean.

Somehow or other I don’t believe that that consensus that existed in 1998 regarding US foreign policy came out of nowhere nor do I believe that it doesn’t truly still exist. The reasons as to why the entire US establishment wanted regime change in Iraq in 1998 are not immediately obvious. They were not based in 9/11 nor were they based on one man’s, George W’s, personal dynamic with his father, one mans religious beliefs, or the ambitions of some neo-cons. Reasons do exist, however, and those reasons need to be explained and reappraised. Only then will we begin to see the underlying engine that drives us towards conflicts like the current one, and then maybe at that point we can truly have a discussion about whether or not to change course.

(The author is pictured above.)

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