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Altered Consciousness: Democrats lack credibility to criticize Iraq war

Published: April 1, 2011
Section: Opinions

President Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 as the only electable candidate who initially opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Unfortunately for him, there were originally better reasons and more support for toppling Saddam Hussein than there were for going after Colonel Muammar Qadaffi. As a result, Obama has, to a certain extent, undermined his own credibility as an anti-war leader.

This is not to say that Obama should have abstained from doing anything in Libya, and there are good humanitarian reasons for endorsing Operation Odyssey Dawn. Conversely, I am not going to justify the Iraq War; in retrospect, there were no weapons of mass destruction, Iran leveraged the instability that ensued to expand its influence in the region and the costs of the conflict have generally outweighed its benefits thus far.

A comparison between the two, however, puts Obama’s policy into perspective and the fact is that Saddam was far worse than Qadaffi. On the human rights front, for instance, it is true that both tyrants oppressed their people; torture and murder of political dissidents, deportations, arbitrary detentions and denial of basic freedoms were commonplace under both regimes. Saddam launched two unnecessary wars with Iran and Kuwait, however, and brutally suppressed his country’s Kurdish and Shiite populations, contributing to the deaths of millions of people. Even if Qadaffi had invaded Benghazi, he presumably would not have surpassed the Iraqi Baathist’s reign of terror.

Saddam was also a far greater threat to the United States than Qaddafi was before Obama’s intervention. He consistently had evaded or undermined International Atomic Energy Agency weapons inspections, had used chemical and biological weapons, had attempted to assassinate President George H.W. Bush, threatened Saudi Arabia and Israel, had the capacity to destabilize regional oil flows, and had supported groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In contrast, Qadaffi renounced his nuclear weapons program in 2003 for fear that his country would be invaded following the intervention in Iraq. He also ceased funding terrorism abroad—in fact, he became an ally in the “war against terror”—and compensated the victims of the Lockerbie bombing in return for an end to sanctions against Libya and reintegration into the international community. Consequently, Qadaffi posed little to no national security threat to the United States or its European allies.

In addition, the Iraqi war was initially more legitimate than the Libyan invasion. For one thing, President George Bush garnered bipartisan Congressional approval of his actions; 77 U.S. Senators and 296 U.S. Representatives voted in favor of his policy. In contrast, Obama completely bypassed Congress in making a decision on Libya.

Furthermore, Bush gained more assistance on the international front as well. A grand total of 39 countries provided military and material aid to the U.S. effort in Iraq and the United Nations Security Council passed 17 resolutions, most notably 1,441, condemning Saddam’s policies. Conversely, 15 countries in total make up the coalition against Libya and are acting based on far fewer resolutions, such as 1,973.

Finally, critics of Bush will argue that there was a lack of planning involved in the Iraq conflict, and they were right; the United States was ill-prepared for the period of sectarian and ethnic conflict and insurgency following Saddam’s fall.

At the same time though, even after Obama’s speech on Monday, there are still many aspects of Libya operation that remain unclear. I still have to ask, for instance, who are the rebels? Are we just helping Islamists take over the country? How will the United States reconcile its stance on Libya with the situations in other countries, like Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen? Will the United States really be bearing the brunt of this conflict, even though NATO has taken charge of it? Is a land invasion nation-building combination truly a non-option? Will this intervention be perceived by Arabs as a Western imperialist plot, despite Qatar and the UAE’s assistance? The logistical status of this intervention is ambiguous at best.

Nonetheless, I do hope that Operation Odyssey Dawn goes well. By implementing it, however, Obama, as well as his supporters, must realize that in the future they will lack the credibility to criticize the Iraq war and George Bush.