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Remembering Some Obvious Truths About the Iraq War

The Iraq war happened to be illegal, but more important it was profoundly unjust and unnecessary.
WESTPAC 2002-2003
030501-N-6817C-049 Pacific Ocean (May 1, 2003) -- President George W. Bush passes through the "side boys" after a successful trap aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) in a S-3B Viking assigned to the Blue Wolves of Sea Control Squadron Three Five (VS-35) designated "NAVY 1". President Bush is the first sitting President to trap aboard an aircraft carrier at sea. The President is conducting a visit aboard ship to meet with the Sailors and will address the Nation as Lincoln prepares to return from a 10-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements. (RELEASED)

The Chilcot Inquiry finally released its findings this week:

Tony Blair committed to an invasion of Iraq almost eight months before receiving parliamentary and legal backing, and began military action before diplomatic alternatives were exhausted, a much-awaited inquiry into the conflict has concluded.

None of that is really news to anyone that was paying attention in 2002-03. It is good to have these fairly obvious truths confirmed in the official record, but the inquiry doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know. Many of us saw at the time that the U.S. and British governments were determined to invade Iraq and were simply searching for a pretext that would give them political cover to do so. Of course the U.S. and its allies started military action before diplomatic alternatives were exhausted. The governments involved weren’t interested in finding a diplomatic solution, and Bush and Blair went the U.N. route only so that they could obtain authorization for their war (which they still didn’t receive).

Chilcot says of the March 2003 invasion that “military action at that time was not a last resort.” I don’t see how anyone could have ever honestly thought it was. It is not possible for a preventive war to be waged as a last resort, and that is one reason why there is no justification for waging preventive war. The Iraq war happened to be illegal, but more important it was profoundly unjust and unnecessary. There is no excuse for the unprovoked invasion of another country, and that is undeniably what the Iraq war was. That lesson has been almost completely lost on political leaders in Washington and London, and I suspect it will be for a long time.

A few additional things should be said about the Iraq war. I have said them before, but they need to be repeated frequently so that they aren’t forgotten. Even if Iraq had retained its unconventional weapons programs as Bush and Blair claimed, attacking Iraq would not have been justified. Even if the “threat” they identified had existed, it would not have justified the invasion and occupation of another country, the overthrow of its government, and the ensuing years of devastation and bloodshed. As it happened, the pretext for the war was a lie, and the threat was non-existent, but the Iraq war would still have been a colossal blunder and enormous crime regardless.