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Reader ripostes: Iraq, 10 years on

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12 March 2013 10:54

Two reader responses to Sam Roggeveen's call for retrospectives on the Iraq war. Below, Daniel Woker. But first, Kien Choong:

From memory, I was somewhat sympathetic to the war effort. I recall thinking there were two criteria: was there a moral case? And was there a pragmatic case? I thought there was a moral case for overthrowing the Saddam regime. But I did not think it the benefit to the US was worth the cost. It was an ideological reason on the part of the Bush Administration that was behind its decision to go to war, not a pragmatic one.

I also remember thinking that the alternative to not going to war was unpalatable. The allies would have to continue sanctions against Iraq, but continuing the sanctions indefinitely seemed unviable including on moral grounds. The sanctions were hurting Iraq's poor. I also thought the French and Russians were to blame for actively undermining the sanctions and opposing the sanctions, leaving the Americans with the choice of either overthrowing the Saddam regime or abandoning sanctions.

It seems to me that people who now say they don't think the US should have gone to war should outline what they think the counterfactual would be, and whether the counterfactual (eg. lifting sanctions) is preferable to going to war. Saddam was a bully and I am glad he is now gone. The Americans paid a heavy price for the war. So did the Iraqis, but whether they are better off without Saddam Hussein is something I will leave to historians for the future.

I did think, and the economist Joseph Stiglitz has concluded, that the war would leave the US worse off.

Daniel Woker:

My answer is: I was for then and, in contrast to many, I still am, even in hindsight.

If there ever were a case of R2P (before the expression was coined) it was to liberate Iraq from its own butcher Saddam and his gruesome clan. 

We, meaning the whole family with two small kids, lived and worked in Kuwait from May 1998-June 2002. We got to know the place and its people fairly well. From countless witnesses we heard first-hand how the Iraqis behaved during their occupation of Kuwait August 90-March 2000: like the Nazis in occupied Eastern Europe during WW II.

For different, mostly valid reasons Saddam was not finished then so he continued the way he did in Kuwait, but this time against his own people. We can't have forgotten that Saddam was the first man to use Sarin gas (against a Kurdish village) since the Nazis in their concentration camps.

W, who was not a good President, was right for once when he said something along the line 'we have to finish the job'.

Then of course came the big mistakes and blunders, in the administration of the war and then the 'peace', that we all know and for which a lot of young soldiers from the US, the UK and other countries, including Australia, (and Iraqi civilians) paid dearly, and no doubt often unnecessarily with their lives.

But the fact that Saddam had to go stands, even today. He was one of the very few cases of political monsters whose behaviour could not be tolerated by the civilised world. Incidentally, it was not W but President Clinton who clearly stated regime change as the US policy against Iraq.

I know of course that it wasn't R2P but WMD which were given as 'casus belli'. Among many other things, that had to do with the prince of darkness Cheney being in charge of execution. Even though the WMD case wasn't so clear then as it is now, I spoke to many internationals who were in Saddam's Iraq at the time, particularly some of 'Butler' boys' (eg. a few Swiss experts on NBC warfare who took their R&D in Bahrain; I was accredited there too and visited often).

I could go on, but will not. I challenge anybody who really knew the upper Gulf in the 1990s to tell me why the removal of Saddam as such, not the way it was done, should have been wrong then, and now.

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