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Post Hoc Justifications for the Iraq War
by Mark Drolette (mdrolette [at]
Monday Feb 23rd, 2004 6:23 PM
Popular post hoc justifications for the war claim that Hussein had to go because he, among other things, was Hitler-like, gassed to death thousands of Kurds, filled mass graves, and supported suicide bombers. This essay shows why these and other after-the-fact rationalizations are invalid.
Though the administration’s rationale for invading Iraq, in light of the obvious lack of any threat whatsoever from that country to the security of the United States, has shifted more frequently than the desert sands that fill that tortured land, the post hoc justification that President Bush and his chicken-hawkish friends seem to revert to most often is that of liberating and democratizing the Iraqi people. If the backers and manufacturers of this war want to paint it that way while at the same time painting themselves into a corner as undisputable facts continue to show how bogus the whole misadventure has been, that’s certainly their misguided prerogative. (A multitudinous we-told-you-so: These are the same undisputable facts that millions of folks worldwide repeatedly took to the streets to loudly declare before the war.) However, there are a number of other post hoc justifications espoused by the war’s advocates—media talking heads, columnists, letters to editor writers, and so on—that are being repeated with numbing regularity. Debunking of these fallacies is needed now, lest they morph into urban legends that leave future generations somehow believing that there is some truth to these assertions. Some of these rationalizations were trotted out before the war, but as time passes and those elusive weapons of mass destruction continue to be no-shows, these phony grounds for attacking Iraq are being stressed more frequently and strongly.

Herewith follow some favorite reasons used as validation for the war by its proponents and also why these claims are untrue:

HAD HITLER BEEN STOPPED EARLIER, THE WORLD WOULD HAVE BEEN SAVED A LOT OF MISERY, AND THAT’S WHY WE HAD TO STOP HUSSEIN NOW. Hitler was a crazy, evil murderer. Hussein is a crazy, evil murderer. So much for the similarities. Now let’s look at the major differences and why this theory is completely specious.

Hitler actively pursued worldwide domination. He proved this by brutally invading and occupying as many countries as possible. He turned Germany’s entire economy into a giant armaments-manufacturing machine, producing a well-engineered, modernized, formidable stockpile of weaponry for terrorizing and killing. Germany’s military, at least at the beginning of World War II, was professional, highly disciplined, and lethally effective. Hitler also planned and directed the systemic murder of millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and others, justifying such horror either in the name of his insane vision of Aryan racial purity or by using his victims as scapegoats for Germany’s pre-war economic ills.

No support exists anywhere for believing Hussein had dreams of becoming emperor of the world, nor had he attacked or threatened any countries since he was put back in his box after the first Gulf War. Even if he had harbored some mad, grandiose dreams for taking over the world, how could he have implemented them? Iraq’s economy was in shambles, thanks in large part to twelve years of U.N. sanctions. Its military was a shadow of its former self, having been decimated in 1991, and solid enforcement since of the northern and southern no-fly zones by U.S. and British jets had kept any genuine rebuilding of its air defense systems in total check. Plenty of evidence of Hussein’s barbarism exists and he irrefutably ordered untold numbers of murders and population displacements, but it wasn’t actively occurring during the lead-up to the war. This latter point is critical and will be addressed in more detail a bit later.

HUSSEIN GASSED TO DEATH 5,000 KURDS IN 1988. Indeed, about 5,000 civilians in the town of Halabja were killed by exposure to chemical agents on March 16, 1988. This incident occurred near the end of the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq after Iranian soldiers and Kurdish resistance fighters had captured Halabja, which sits near the Iranian border. The slaughter occurred during Iraq’s attempt to retake the village. What remains in dispute, however, is whether it was actually mustard gas used by Iraq or cyanide gas used by Iran that day that killed the villagers; the bodies’ conditions actually bore tell-tale signs of cyanide poisoning.

Obviously, whatever agent was used, the people who died that day died horribly and are just as dead either way. Both sides acted savagely by using banned chemical weapons. It’s a bit curious, though, why Bush, especially in light of plenty of other, solid evidence of Hussein’s venality, would continue to use Halabja as the symbol of same. Presenting caveats or refuting weak evidence is not Bush’s strong suit, however, and because hard-to-forget photographs of the Halabja victims were published worldwide shortly after the atrocity and the blame was affixed to Hussein, it became a convenient, visceral post hoc selling point for Gulf War II.

Salient questions arise, though: At what point for the United States did Hussein’s use of chemical weapons, whenever and against whomever they were applied, cross the line from being acceptable to cause for invading his country? What sort of weird, perverse morality allows Donald Rumsfeld as U.S. envoy in 1984, according to the National Security Archive (, to personally inform Hussein (after a previous 1983 visit in which Rumsfeld didn’t mention Hussein’s known use of banned agents) that
America is quite content to look the other way while Kurd civilians and Iranian soldiers are slain with chemical weapons, then later claim as Secretary of Defense that these very same acts are the reasons the American military must remove him from power? How can the current President Bush justify attacking Iraq by invoking the ghosts of Halabja when his father, according to Le Monde diplomatique, loaned Hussein one billion dollars a few months after the incident? If one’s reply is that it’s just realpolitiks as usual, then one also must explain how the United States can claim moral high ground in any of its endeavors and expect the rest of the world to give America credence in anything it says. This is especially true in light of its ongoing history of spending billions of dollars to support tyrants’ murderous regimes only to kill thousands of innocents and spend billions of additional dollars later to depose these very same American-nurtured beasts when they are no longer useful.

CLINTON ORDERED THE BOMBING OF KOSOVO WITHOUT U.N. APPROVAL, SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT BUSH NOT GETTING THE U.N. GO-AHEAD FOR IRAQ? First, a point of order for those who proffer this question: the bombing of Kosovo in 1999 was a NATO, not United States, operation. Though President Clinton was certainly in favor of the action and the United States played the leading role in the engagement, it was still carried out under the auspices of NATO.

When NATO began its 11-week bombing campaign in Kosovo five years ago this March, according to The Washington Post, 2,000 Kosovars had already been killed and 400,000 displaced by Serbian forces. Given Serbia President Slobodan Milosevic’s track record over the previous decade, there was no reason to believe that the ethnic cleansing occurring under his orders would stop without outside intervention. No such genocidal activities were happening inside Iraq when we attacked it last year. Also, the Balkans had long been considered Europe’s “powder keg” and served as a flashpoint already for one world war; Iraq has no such history in the modern era.

So the circumstances were very different. Was it “right” for NATO, unprovoked, to attack a sovereign Serbia, the first such action in NATO’s 50-year history, to stop the killing? Perhaps, perhaps not. That’s why what is really needed is debate, both at the U.N. and in the U.S., that leads to the formation of a logical, consistent policy regarding the proper use of military force to halt active genocide when it occurs in the world, which it inevitably will again.

But, having said this, let’s argue that NATO was wrong in bombing Kosovo without U.N. approval. Obviously, then, Bush was just as much in error for not getting the go-ahead from the U.N. before taking on Iraq. Conversely, if it’s asserted that NATO was justified in its actions even without the nod from the U.N., would this mean that Bush also had every right to invade Iraq without the world body’s blessing? Well, no, and here’s why: Iraq had been in the sights of a few Bush administration insiders for sometime, though it posed no threat to this country or any other, and was going to be attacked with or without the world body’s stamp of approval as events have clearly since shown. An attack on an independent nation for no justifiable reason is wrong—period. To carry it one step further, even if the U.N. had given its approval, it wouldn’t have meant the war was right; it just would have meant that more countries were wrong.

THOUSANDS OF MASS GRAVES FILLED WITH HUSSEIN’S VICTIMS HAVE BEEN FOUND IN IRAQ. Let us repeat: Hussein is a crazy, evil murderer. It’s worth noting, though, that those who point to Iraq’s mass graves as reason enough for Gulf War II invariably mention nary a peep about the slaughter that took place in Rwanda a decade ago, or in the Congo, where millions have died since 1998 and fighting still continues. Where were their voices then for Rwandans, or now for Congolese? (In fairness, defenders of NATO’s Kosovo action should be prepared to answer the same question.) Why this sudden outpouring of concern for Hussein’s victims and yet so little apparent distress for non-Iraqi casualties? After all, if America is now this self-appointed global savior and justified in “liberating” Iraqis to stop their suffering, then it had better be prepared to invade a host of other nations, too, lest U.S. leaders leave themselves open to legitimate and potentially embarrassing queries as to why one country’s self-annihilation appears to be of more concern than certain others’.

Another question arises about using past genocide as justification for attacking a nation now: How far back can one go when employing this rationale? In other words, what is the “shelf life” for invading an autonomous state because it mass murdered its own citizens? Ten years? Fifty years? A couple of centuries? There would be very few countries exempt from this sort of doctrine if the latter figure were used. In fact, if this were the case, maybe the U.S. ought to attack itself for its genocide against Native Americans. Silly? No more so than claiming Hussein had to be taken out because of the thousands of deaths that occurred at his direction years ago, after which time we still had no problem lending him a cool billion in spending money, and long after he had filled many of those very same mass graves.

HUSSEIN WAS SUPPORTING TERRORISM BY PAYING THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS TO THE FAMILIES OF PALESTINIAN SUICIDE BOMBERS. By March 14, 2003, according to an Associated Press article by Hassan Fattah, Hussein had "paid more than $35 million to families of [Palestinian] militants." Fattah also writes of a payment of "$25,000 to the family of a Hamas suicide bomber." This latter (and substantiated) figure is the one most widely reported by those who assert that such payments were sufficient reason for ousting Hussein. Thank goodness his capture has removed all incentive for Palestinians to blow themselves up along with as many innocents as they can.

Except, of course, that it hasn't. In fact, according to figures reported by Reuters and USA Today, the average frequency of suicide bombings since the current intifada began on September 29, 2003, and before the Iraq war started on March 20, 2003, was roughly one such occurrence every two months. Since America invaded Iraq, the rate has roughly doubled, to one per month. Even allowing for the unlikely scenario in which up until the very day of his capture Hussein was still ordering checks delivered to bombers’ families, his apprehension should have put an end to all such stipends and thus, as the theory goes, all Palestinian suicide bombings, too. Unfortunately, the record shows that since Hussein was snared on December 14, 2003, at least three suicide attacks have occurred in Israel, killing 18 civilians and wounding scores of others, which equates to 1 ½ attacks per month. Obviously, a neat, mathematical formula cannot be constructed for predicting something as insane as suicide bombings, but the point is this: The bombings have not stopped and, unless peace finally graces that tormented region of the Middle East, will almost assuredly continue.

Those who think that these attacks are the works of greedy, nihilistic loonies motivated solely by promises of macabre, Hussein-financed insurance payments for their survivors display simplistic thinking about the mindsets of individuals who conclude that blowing themselves and other human beings to tiny, bloody pieces is a good idea. It’s conceivable, perhaps, that a small number of bombers have been motivated by a reward or that a financial incentive could have been a contributing factor in making a final decision to commit mass murder and mayhem, but a reasonable analysis and even a cursory knowledge of Palestinian-Israeli history leads to the conclusion that the vast majority of suicide bombers are driven by something other than financial gain for their heirs. Poverty and hopelessness rank at the tops of many lists as the main theories for such violence, and there is certainly enough of each in Israel’s occupied territories. Alan B. Krueger, however, in his May 2003 piece for the New York Times, offers a differing hypothesis. He writes:

New research by Claude Berrebi, a graduate student at Princeton, has found that 13 percent of Palestinian suicide bombers are from impoverished families, while about a third of the Palestinian population is in poverty. A remarkable 57 percent of suicide bombers have some education beyond high school, compared with just 15 percent of the population of comparable age.

Krueger also pens: “This evidence corroborates findings for other Middle Eastern and Latin American terrorist groups. There should be little doubt that terrorists are drawn from society’s elites, not the dispossessed.”

He then concludes, after reviewing terrorism-related information provided by the State Department, that the main factor that fuels terrorism is actually a lack of civil liberties, not monetary incentives, and that “once a country’s degree of civil liberties is taken into account…income per capita bears no relation to involvement in terrorism.” He goes on to assert that “the freedom to assemble and protest peacefully without interference from the government goes a long way to providing an alternative to terrorism.”

The occupied territories are hardly oases of civil rights. The intolerable conditions there under which Palestinians have lived for decades are well documented. If those who believe that Hussein’s blood money really was the only reason Palestinian suicide bombers plied their deadly trade, and if these payments, as reported by Fattah, totaled about $35 million, then imagine how much difference even just one-tenth of the approximately $166 billion the U.S. has spent on the Iraq war (so far) could have made had it been applied instead to help provide decent living conditions for Palestinians. A genuine good-will gesture like this, coupled with pressure that only America can assert on Israel and an honest U.S. focus on resolving the stand-off there, could truly help eliminate suicide bombings, as evidenced by the lull in such acts in the immediate few weeks following the introduction of the stalled “road map.” If stopping the violence in Israel were really of paramount concern to the war’s backers, then employing this approach would have been much more realistic than thinking that overthrowing Hussein would do the trick. It also would have saved hundreds of American and thousands of Iraqi lives, billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, and in no small measure, America’s credibility.

THE WORLD IS SAFER NOW THAN IT WAS BEFORE THE WAR IN IRAQ. How so? Hussein was no threat to anyone outside of Iraq, so how could the world be safer? On the contrary, the war has made the world a more dangerous place, and how much more so, only time will tell.

For one thing, if Hussein did have any WMDs (which, it is important to note here, was not the rationale used for the invasion; it was that Iraq’s WMDs threatened America), they sure don’t seem to be there now. So where are they? Well, probably in the hands of any good terrorist worth his salt, one who recognizes a golden opportunity provided by the sort of chaos that only war can produce, to enter through suddenly unpatrolled borders and snatch as many unsecured explosive goodies as quickly and cheaply as possible and then hightail it back to the old training camp or comfy mountain redoubt.

For another, America’s unprovoked attack on Iraq provides wonderful recruiting fodder for future generations of terrorists. Untold numbers of young, oppressed, angry men will now be fed propaganda about how America bombs and kills fellow Muslims in the name of freedom but really does so for power and profit, how it espouses the wonders of democracy in the countries in which it internally interferes while keeping both hands firmly on the strings of the governments it helps install, how its disdain for murderous tyrants it previously supported is directly related to how those despots can no longer serve American commercial and/or military interests, how it arrogantly trumpets human rights while flaunting international law by pre-emptively invading a sovereign country and also by imprisoning hundreds of individuals and holding them in legal limbo by insisting they essentially have no rights whatsoever, and how it ignores the viciousness of regimes with which it is currently “friendly.” The saddest fact about all of this propaganda is that it is true, at least as far as it applies to this country’s administration, government, and big business interests.

Certainly, there is no doubt that there are those whose main goal is to kill every American possible. The events of September 11, 2001, proved that, for some, it matters not whether we are government representatives or everyday citizens; in their twisted minds, we are all infidels and deserve nothing more than annihilation. There is no reasoning with such folks and the quicker they are captured and punished, and their organizations dismantled or crippled, the better. But that doesn’t mean we have to be stupid about it, either. A golden opportunity of worldwide cooperation existed after that grotesque late summer day, a real window of opportunity for America to work with countries everywhere to put a serious crimp in terrorists’ style, and also to exert some true benevolence in the world. A genuine effort by the United States, for instance, to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli situation would have gone a long way toward taking the “America as Satan” playbook right out of the hands of our true mortal enemies.

Alas, no. After routing Al-Qaida’s host the Taliban, an effort many consider justified because of the overwhelming evidence connecting Al-Qaida to 9/11, the administration made a U-turn and put Iraq square in its crosshairs. From that moment, the U.S. has played right into the hands of Osama bin Laden and his ilk with just about everything it’s done. The capper, of course, is the attack on and occupation of Iraq. Despite plenty of administration innuendos to the contrary, there is absolutely zero love lost between bin Laden and Hussein, but bin Laden and contemporaries will play the war up for everything it’s worth to secure as many new warriors as possible. We’re safer now? Hardly.

IF WE DON’T FIGHT THE TERRORISTS THERE, WE’LL HAVE TO FIGHT THEM HERE. This one’s interesting: a false dichotomy-cum-self-fulfilling prophecy.

Does America have terrorist enemies? You bet. Is it better (at least from Americans’ point of view) to fight terrorists “over there” rather than in America’s streets? Right again. But here’s where the rationale gets murky. Barring a complete breakdown in American security, terrorism will never be “fought” in America’s streets. We shan’t ever see running gun battles with Al-Qaida members in downtown Detroit or fighter jets piloted by bin Laden followers strafing cable cars in San Francisco. There may be more jetliners flown into buildings, explosions set off at nuclear power plants, or catastrophic destructions of chemical facilities, but this is not “fighting”; these are hit-and-run terror operations that may occur because the United States has failed to tighten security at its ports, borders, power plants, chemical factories, dams, bridges, or airports. The last thing a terrorist organization would do is engage in face-to-face, low target value shootouts with police or soldiers, or even your typical well-armed American citizen. What’s the terror factor in that? In gun-crazy, violent America, flying bullets are everyday stuff.

What is needed, in addition to international collaboration and coordination between domestic intelligence agencies that also strictly adheres to constitutional principles (obviously requiring a different attitude than that held by the crew currently at the nation’s helm), is a well-funded, competent strategy that includes prevention, infiltration, and yes, when necessary, military combat against our real enemies on their home or adopted turfs. America can also go a long way toward dissuading future terrorists by instituting a consistent foreign policy that is guided more by morality than money. By integrating all of these factors into an intelligent, forthright plan, the United States can turn the tide against those who really do seek to harm its citizens and cities. It’s also important to bear in mind that America is far more likely to be destroyed from within than without, no matter how many times it may be horribly attacked, and ironically, considering the administration’s assault on civil rights and its constant warnings of terrorists lurking around every corner, we may be involved in that process at this very moment.

But let’s say for a moment that, for whatever unfathomable reason, we as a nation did nothing to derail our foes. This could very well lead to us rebuilding or decontaminating a devastated city, but we still would not be “fighting” terrorists here. This is not a matter of semantics. The image presented by the “fight them there or here” justification is a stark one and excellent at provoking an instant emotional response of lashing out at someone, somewhere for heaven’s sake, but it’s both a logical fallacy and a good excuse for blindly attacking the wrong people (see: Iraq).

This line of reasoning also implies that Iraq was a great global hub of terrorism, chock full of monsters who wanted to harm us. The administration did everything it could to intimate that Hussein was in cahoots with Al-Qaida and responsible for 9/11, and even though there has never been a shred of evidence to support this, a majority of Americans took the bait. Now, of course, Iraq is crawling with honest-to-goodness terrorists, and all but the most recalcitrant of administration apologists must admit that they are there solely because the United States made Iraq the biggest terrorist magnet on the planet by invading and occupying it. With unsecured borders and Americans ripe for killing in much greater proximity and numbers in that neck of the woods than ever before, Iraq is now like a gigantic on-the-job training facility for newly-minted jihadists. Now that the war has let that genie out of the bottle, it’ll be hell to put back in.

THE IRAQI PEOPLE ARE BETTER OFF NOW. Under Hussein, Iraqis knew insecurity and fear. Under occupation, Iraqis know insecurity and fear. They are also well acquainted with retribution killings, horribly long gas lines, stratospheric unemployment, and sporadic power and service, and are all too familiar with ongoing hideous bombings that routinely leave dozens or scores dead. They could also quite possibly be introduced to civil war before long. After all, Iraq has existed as a “country” for only a few decades: It was an artificial construct of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference following WWI, deemed a “Class A mandate” under British control. One thing Hussein did do, through his demonical methods of control, was to keep this construct together. Now, who knows?

There are also literally tons of deadly munitions lying around Iraq. Depleted uranium (DU) is a dirty little secret of the Pentagon’s that is destined to become a huge, sad story over time. Tribune Media Services editor Robert C. Koehler, in a December 2003 article in The Sacramento Bee, reports that “when the [DU] ammo explodes, poof, it vaporizes into particles so fine—a single micron in diameter, small enough to fit inside red blood cells—that, well, ‘conventional gas mask filters are like a barn door.’”

A little later, Koehler writes of DU:

Some 375 tons of it were left in the desert and cities of Iraq in ’91, and a dozen years later, a quarter of a million vets, more than a third of Gen. Schwarzkopf’s army, including Schwarzkopf himself, are combat-disabled, battling cancer and neurological and respiratory illnesses. More than 10,000 are dead.

Shells made from DU, which were used again in Gulf War II, are not the only still-lethal armaments in abundance in Iraq: the country also has no shortage of unexploded cluster munitions. As of this writing (February 21, 2004), at least 8245 Iraqi civilians and possibly as many as 10,000 have been killed since the war began, according to the Iraq Body Count website ( Vernon Loeb, using information garnered from a Human Rights Watch report, writes in a December 2003 article for The Washington Post that “the U.S. military killed and wounded hundreds of civilians during major combat operations in Iraq …” and “the primary cause of civilian casualties in Iraq…was the military’s use, in heavily-populated areas, of ground-launched cluster munitions—either artillery shells or rockets—that contained dozens or sometimes hundreds of small bombs and grenades.” To the unknowing eyes of children, unexploded cluster munitions can look like toys, thereby rendering youngsters especially vulnerable to injury or death if they handle these easily-detonated armaments. It will be years, if not decades, before DU and cluster munitions stop killing and harming the very people they were supposed to help “liberate.”

On the flip side, Hussein is out of the picture, and no one is shedding tears over his downfall. There is no doubt that what emerges from post-war Iraq will be radically different from what existed in pre-war Iraq, and the great hope, of course, is that for the majority of Iraqis, it will mean a better life, that the violence will subside, the country will be rebuilt, and stabilization and sanity will become the norm. But can it categorically be said that right now, Iraqis are better off? No. The equation that is currently Iraq contains too many variables and unknowns, and only time will provide the final answer to that query.

So there are eight post hoc justifications for the war that, upon analysis, do not hold up. No matter how one slices it, America’s invasion of Iraq was unjustified, illegal, and immoral, and no amount of after-the-fact repackaging can honestly turn it into anything else. It’s safe to assume, though, that supporters of the whole sorry mess will remain undaunted in their attempts to try to find other ways to somehow pass the war off as the “right” thing to do, and some of these reasons can be rather creative; to the untrained ear or uninformed mind, they can even sound quite convincing. That’s why it is incumbent upon others to continue to debunk these lies as often as they are told.

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