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 Search Beat > Society and Culture > History > War > Twentieth Century > American Government Position on the 2003 War against Iraq


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History of the
American government position on war on Iraq
and the UN Debate on Iraq
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American government position on war on Iraq

The administration's position

Much of the position is summed up in the main article on the U.S. plan to invade Iraq.

A summary of the United States government's case for military intervention in Iraq can be seen in the presentation that Secretary of State Colin Powell made to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003.

The US has also repeatedly claimed that they will shortly provide ample evidence of Iraqi deception, stating that it more than justifies and invasion. UN weapons inspectors and several countries have criticized the US's decision to hold on to evidence as long as it has. In late January, the US government announced that Colin Powell would meet with the UN to show them the newly unclassified evidence that US intelligence has collected. Powell's speech on February 5 showed that Iraq had made numerous efforts to obstruct the work of inspectors, and to develop and hide weapons of mass destruction. His speech also cited the quantities of chemical and biological weapons, and missiles, Iraq was known to possess in 1998 through UN inspections, most of which has not been accounted for and is simply missing. Powell's evidence included recorded phone coversations and satellite photos. However, much of Powell's evidence was largely circumstantial.

There have also been charges by the Bush administration that Iraq has ties to Al Quada and other terrorist organizations. However, some analysts believe that such an accusation "stretches the analysis of U.S. intelligence agencies to, and perhaps beyond, the limit."

Other dignitaries

Although some of them have changed their opinion in the last two years, in 1998, many key Democrats including President Bill Clinton, Tom Daschle and Richard Gephardt were supporting the idea of destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, using force if necessary. In February of 1998, former President Clinton remarked "(Hussein's) regime threatens the safety of his people, the stability of his region, and the security of all the rest of us. Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. Let there be no doubt, we are prepared to act." Senate Democrats also passed Resolution 71, which urged President Clinton to "take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end it's weapons of mass destruction programs." Plans were put on hold when Hussein agreed to allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq. However, in early December of 1998, the British and US governments launched airstrikes against Iraq, codenamed Operation Desert Fox. The US government urged UNSCOM executive chairman Richard Butler to withdraw, and "[a] few hours before the attack began, 125 UN personnel were hurriedly evacuated from Baghdad to Bahrain, including inspectors from the UN Special Commission on Iraq and the International Atomic Energy Agency."

US Senator Joseph Lieberman said the U.S. military action against Iraq is justified, calling the inventory of arms the Iraqi government submitted on Saturday "a 12,000-page, 100-pound lie."

Early on, several senior Republican leaders, including some within the Bush Administration, expressed reservations about an invasion of Iraq.

Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State 1973-77) wrote in an August 12 editorial to The Washington Post that there is an imperative to preemptive action, but also warned of destabilizing the Middle East and of potential negative long-term consequences. James A. Baker III (Secretary of State 1989-92), in an August 25 editorial to The New York Times, argued that the United States should first push for renewed weapons inspections, and if war is ultimately necessary, the U.S. should not "go it alone". Lawrence Eagleburger (Secretary of State 1992-93) said on August 18 on Fox News Sunday that invasion was unjustified "unless the President can demonstrate to all of us that Saddam has his finger on a nuclear, biological or chemical trigger and he's about to use it".
Brent Scowcroft (National Security Advisor 1975-77, 89-93) argued in an August 15 editorial to the Wall Street Journal that an invasion would be costly and a distraction from more pressing issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war on terrorism.
Colin Powell (Secretary of State 2001-present) is not publicly disagreeing with Bush, but appears to be arguing behind the scenes that the U.S. must have a long-term plan for how to rebuild Iraq if and when Saddam is overthrown.
Norman Schwarzkopf (Former General, The Gulf War) said on January 28 in an article in the Washington Post that U.S. should wait for the results of United Nations inspectors and expressed concerns about the human and financial costs of occupying Iraq. Following President Bush's State of the Union address on January 28, he told MSNBC that, in light of the new information mentioned by the President, he fully supported the use of military action to remove Saddam from power, and added that it needed to be done soon. An investigative report published by Knight-Ridder in early October of 2002 showed that US intelligence analysts had serious misgivings about invading Iraq. The report showed that intelligence officials largely found no evidence to support the Bush administration's position that Saddam Hussein posed an immediate threat, but they were being squelched, while at the same time the intelligence community was being placed under intense pressure to find justification for Bush's position.



The UN Security Council and war on Iraq

Positions of Security Council members

United Kingdom

Within the United Nations Security Council , the United Kingdom has been the primary supporter of the U.S. plan to invade Iraq. Tony Blair, the British prime minister, publicly and vigorously supports American policy on Iraq, but is perceived by some to exert a moderating influence on the American president George W. Bush. British public opinion polls in late January showed that the public support for the war had fallen to about 30%.

France

On January 20, 2003, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said, "We think that military intervention would be the worst possible solution," although France believes that Iraq may have an ongoing chemical and nuclear weapons program. Villepin went on to say that he believed the presence of UN weapons inspectors had frozen Iraq's weapons programs. After Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered his address to the UN on February 5 (see below), France appeared to soften their views slightly by suggesting that the country would support war if it came, but stressed that inspectors should still be given more time.

Germany

On January 22, German councillor Gerhard Schroeder at a meeting with French president Jacques Chirac said that he and Mr. Chirac would do all they could to avert war. At the time, Germany is presiding over the Security council.

Russia

On the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that "Russia deems that there is no evidence that would justify a war in Iraq." On January 28, however, Russia's opinion had begin to shift following a report the previous day by UN Inspectors which stated that Iraq had cooperated on a practical level with monitors, but had not demonstrated a "genuine acceptance" of the need to disarm. Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that he would support a US led war if things did not change and Iraq continued to show a reluctance to completely cooperate with inspection teams. However, Putin continued to stress that the US must not go alone in any such military endeavor, but instead must work through the UN Security Council. He also stressed the need for giving the UN inspectors more time.

China

On January 23, the Washington Post reported that the Chinese position was "extremely close" to France's.

Analysis

Many people feel that in the case of Germany, France and Russia, their ties to Iraq may be pulling them away from the US's position. All three countries have major oil deals and economic ties to the country. All three countries are suffering from faltering economies and some fear that the possibility of a new regime in Iraq could cause these deals to unravel. Just as an example, Iraq owes Russia somewhere around $8 billion. China also has oil contracts with Iraq. By the same token, many people also feel that many of the governments that have aligned themselves with the US, despite strong opposition among their consituencies, have done so because of their own economic ties to the United States.


Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations

On February 5, 2003, United States Secretary of State Colin Powell presented a case for military intervention in Iraq to the UN Security Council. Here follows an overview of Mr. Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council.

Mr. Powell presented an array of evidence from satellite images to (alleged) intercepted military communications. By the United States government's own judgement, the evidence did not amount to a "smoking gun." US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld argues that if the US waits for a smoking gun, it will be too late. One of the alleged intercepted military communcation was translated as follows by Mr. Powell:

GEN: Yeah.
COL: About this committee that is coming...
GEN: Yeah, yeah.
COL: ...with Mohamed ElBaradei [Director, International Atomic Energy Agency]
GEN: Yeah, yeah.
COL: Yeah.
GEN: Yeah?
COL: We have this modified vehicle.
GEN: Yeah.
COL: What do we say if one of them sees it?
GEN: You didn't get a modified... You don't have a modified...
COL: By God, I have one.
GEN: Which? From the workshop...?
COL: From the al-Kindi Company
GEN: What?
COL: From al-Kindi.
GEN: Yeah, yeah. I'll come to you in the morning. I have some comments. I'm worried you all have something left.
COL: We evacuated everything. We don't have anything left.
GEN: I will come to you tomorrow.
COL: Okay.
GEN: I have a conference at Headquarters, before I attend the conference I will come to you.

Mr. Powell translated another alleged intercepted military communication as "Remove the expression nerve agents wherever it comes up in the wireless instructions."

Iraqi General Amer Al-Saadi has claimed on CNN that this was a "typical American show" and that these alleged military communications could have been emulated by an unknown third party.

Mr. Powell also displayed satellite images. In one such case, Mr. Powell showed two images, alleging that the first was of a small part of a chemical complex called al-Moussaid from May 2002, and the second was from two months later, in July, at the same site. Mr. Powell claims this is "...a site that Iraq has used for at least three years to transship chemical weapons from production facilities out to the field." In the first image, a small fleet of vehicles is present, one of which Mr. Powell described as "a decontamination vehicle associated with biological or chemical weapons activity."

Of the second image, which also shows the area surrounding the site, Mr. Powell said: "It shows that this previous site, as well as all of the other sites around the site, have been fully bulldozed and graded. The topsoil has been removed. The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity."

In addition to the alleged intercepted communications and satellite images, Mr. Powell cites "human sources who are in a position to know the facts." Mr. Powell also criticized Iraq's weapon declaration as being incomplete for failing to account for weapons of mass destruction known to exist when the inspectors were pulled out in 1998. The controversial subject of aluminium tubes has been brought up; Mr. Powell argued they were meant as centrifuges for nuclear weapons production. However, he also admitted there is no concensus (in fact, the UN Inspectors have discarded the possibility.)

The Iraqi government continues to claim that they have no weapons of mass destruction and are fully cooperating with UN Resolution 1441.

After Powell's speech, polls showed increased support for war against Iraq in the US. See American popular opinion of war on Iraq.

Rebuke to Mr. Powell

UN Chief Inspector Hans Blix presented on February 14 a report to the UN Security council disputing some of the arguments proposed by Mr. Powell. Mr. Blix proposed alternate interpretations of the satellite images put forward by Mr. Powell. It was also argued that the Iraqis have in fact never received early warning of the inspectors visiting any sites (an allegation made by Mr. Powell during his presentation.) International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohammed ElBaradei also said that he does not believe the Iraqis have a nuclear weapons program, in disagreement with Mr. Powell.

This report of February 14 and the protests of February 15 appear to have created reluctance in some of the members of the Security Council over the war on Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair seems to now suggest that a second UN Security Council resolution is imperative, a switch from his position prior to February 14. This second resolution is being drafted with the intention that it would find Iraq in "material breach" and the "serious consequences" of resolution 1441 should be implemented.


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