The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq is at least partially a legacy of the 1991 Gulf War and the 12 years of Iraq intransigence that followed.
The United States went to war with Saddam Hussein in 1991 to force his invading armies out of Kuwait. At the end of the Gulf War, a truce was signed leaving Saddam in power. The truce was sealed by UN Resolutions 687 and 689, which established the conditions by which America -- still technically at war with Saddam since there had been no peace treaty -- would allow him to retain his position as Iraq's President. These Resolutions required Saddam to disarm and to stop his programs to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
But without an occupying army in Iraq, the UN ultimately proved unable to hold Saddam to the terms of its Resolutions. He circumvented the sanctions placed on him, obstructed the UN inspectors, and evaded the terms of the Resolutions until finally, in December 1998, he threw the inspectors out of Iraq altogether. In response, President Clinton fired 450 missiles into Iraq and persuaded Congress to authorize the Iraqi Liberation Act (ILA), passed by an overwhelming majority from both parties, which authorized military help to Iraqis trying to overthrow Saddam.
At that time, President Clinton and the Democratic Party's leading figures -- including Senators John Kerry, Tom Daschle, and Al Gore -- publicly warned about the grave threat that Saddam presented to international peace, and they called for his removal from office.
During his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002 -- a few months after the attacks of 9/11 -- President George W. Bush made his first controversial reference to Iraq as part of an "axis of evil." Further, Bush intimated that he would soon turn his foreign-policy attention toward Saddam's regime, which continued to "flaunt its hostility toward America," "support terror," and break its international agreements. Pledging to "work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction," the President stated: “I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."
In September 2002 Bush spoke to the United Nations General Assembly, telling its representatives that if they failed to enforce the UN Resolutions against Iraq, they would in effect render themselves irrelevant. If that were to happen, Bush added, the United States would enforce the Resolutions on its own. To lay the groundwork for such an eventuality, the U.S. amassed some 200,000 troops on Iraq's border. In response to this show of force, Saddam agreed to allow UN inspectors to return to Iraq.
Ultimately, the chief reason why the U.S. invaded Iraq was not, as critics later claimed, to find and dismantle Saddam's stockpiles of WMD. The "Authorization for the Use of Force in Iraq" that President Bush obtained in October 2002 was a resolution passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, with Democratic as well as Republican majorities. It contained a total of 23 clauses that spelled out the rationale for the war. Of those 23 clauses, only 2 mentioned WMD. What the Authorization did stress -- in 12 separate clauses -- were 16 UN Security Council Resolutions that Saddam had ignored or defied since 1991. These Resolutions were more than mere expressions of UN opinion. The first two -- Resolutions 687 and 689 -- constituted the terms of the truce negotiated in the first Gulf War, a truce whose violation was a legal justification for renewed combat. The other 14 Resolutions were failed attempts to enforce those first two. In sum, the major reason why the U.S. was preparing for war, was to enforce the UN Resolutions and international law.
As a result of President Bush’s appeal, the UN Security Council voted unanimously (on November 7, 2002) to present Saddam with an ultimatum and a 30-day deadline -- to expire on December 7, 2002 -- by which date he was bound to honor the terms of the Gulf War truce and to destroy his illegal weapons programs, or face “serious consequences.” This ultimatum was UN Resolution 1441 – the seventeenth attempt to enforce a truce to which Saddam had agreed after the Gulf War of 1991. The deadline came and went without Saddam’s compliance, as the Iraqi dictator knew that his military suppliers and political allies -- Russia and France -- would never authorize its enforcement by arms. This -- and not a preference for unilateral measures -- is the reason why the United States eventually went to war against Iraq without UN approval.
In addition to Saddam's failure to abide by the UN Resolutions, there were other reasons for the U.S. to feel threatened by this self-declared enemy of America. For example:
- he had attempted to orchestrate the assassination of former President George H.W. Bush;
- he was the only head of state to openly celebrate the destruction of the World Trade Center after 9/11;
- every major intelligence agency in the world -- including the British, the French, the Russian, the German and the Jordanian -- believed that Saddam was in possession of WMD;
- there were in fact links between international terrorists (including al Qaeda) and the Saddam regime -- links that are documented in in Stephen Hayes’ book, The Connection
Though critics -- including many Democratic Party leaders – later depicted America's invasion of Iraq as a hasty endeavor undertaken without patience or forethought, President Bush gave Saddam numerous and ample opportunities to avoid war. By March 2003, nearly 14 months had elapsed since his January 2002 "axis of evil" speech.
After the December 7, 2003 deadline had passed, the United States did not immediately attack Iraq. Instead, the White House spent the next three months trying by diplomatic means to persuade the French, Russians, and Chinese to honor the terms of the Gulf War truce that they -- as Security Council members -- had ratified and promised to enforce.
Notably, the entire national security team of the former Clinton administration -- including the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director of Central Intelligence -- supported George W. Bush when he sent American troops into Iraq in March 2003.
Adapted from "Why We Are in Iraq," by David Horowitz (November 26, 2004), and "Why We Went to War in Iraq," by David Horowitz (June 29, 2007).