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The "Option" of Military Force

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When asked what the U.S. response would be the news that North Korea has detonated a nuclear device, President George W. Bush said that he would not use force because "diplomacy hasn't run its course," thus implying that he believes that the use of force should be a last resort. More explicitly making claim to this belief, he added, "I believe the commander in chief must try all diplomatic measures before we commit our military." He used "military action in Iraq", he declared, "because we tried the diplomacy."

The statement is clear, the principle universal: The resort to violence must be a last one. One might add that it must also be for legitimate self-defense, but let us set this latter principle aside for the moment and concentrate on the former.

A mildly curious observer might question whether Bush (or anyone in his administration) actually believes in this universal principle, and a rational inquisitor might examine the not-too-distant past to test the claim provided as evidence of genuine adherence to the declared doctrine.

A simple and obvious question follows the declaration: Was the use of force in Iraq a last resort? To answer the question, we must begin by identifying the justification given; namely, the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The declaration presumes that this threat was genuinely perceived to be real prior to the invasion. Let us accept this presumption for the moment and briefly review the diplomatic efforts that were underway to neutralize the perceived threat.

The diplomatic effort began with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, November 8, 2002, which called upon Iraq to allow the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) full access to verify disarmament. Iraq accepted the resolution and allowed inspectors into the country.

The Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC, Hans Blix, reported on December 19 that "Iraqi cooperation has been very helpful for" the "logistical and infrastructure build-up" required for the inspections process. "Access to sites has been prompt," Blix reported, "and assistance on the sites expeditious." Iraq had declared "that there were no weapons of mass destruction" while "individual governments have stated that they have convincing evidence to the contrary," but UNMOVIC had no evidence disproving Iraq's position. Under 1441, Iraq was to provide a declaration to assist the inspectors in verifying disarmament. The provided declaration provided some new information, but many issues were still "outstanding." However, "In most cases, the issues are outstanding not because there is information that contradicts Iraq's account, but simply because there is a lack of supporting evidence."

Blix reported on January 9 that no "smoking gun" proving the existence of WMD had been found. Still, Iraq "must present credible evidence" that no WMD remained, not as a legal requirement (a burden to prove one's innocence is hardly equitable), but to "create confidence."

On January 27, Blix criticized Iraq for failing to provide evidence proving the negative and thus failing "to win the confidence of the world," while acknowledging that Iraq "has on the whole cooperated rather well" with UNMOVIC.

Blix reported on February 14 that UNMOVIC's capabilities had continued to grow. Teams had "conducted more than 400 inspections covering more than 300 sites. All inspections were performed without notice, and access was almost always provided promptly." Blix said, "The results to date have been consistent with Iraq's declarations." Still, while one "must not jump to the conclusion" that WMD exist, "that possibility is also not excluded."

On March 7, Blix declared that "No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found." Iraq had accepted that its Al Samoud 2 missiles were capable of exceeding the permissible range under UN resolutions and "has started the process of destruction under our supervision." Investigations of sites where WMD were alleged to have been unilaterally destroyed years earlier had begun. UNMOVIC was preparing a "draft work programme" that would "identify the 'key remaining disarmament tasks'." It would still take "some time" to verify Iraq's disarmament, but "It would not take years, nor weeks, but months."

Blix made the Draft Work Programme available on March 19, a week before the deadline given by the Security Council. But the efforts of UNMOVIC were terminated the same day with the onset of the US air assault on Iraq, followed by a ground invasion the following day.

The US had "tried diplomacy," and those diplomatic efforts threatened to achieve their stated objective of verifying that Iraq had been disarmed. Thus, the US ended the successful ongoing peaceful efforts to verify disarmament in favor of the use of violence.

But let us go further and question whether that the threat was perceived to be real to begin with. Let us put hindsight aside and examine a small sampling of the available facts known at the time, in order to test this assumption.

The gravest declared "threat" was most certainly that of Iraq's nuclear weapons program. The image of a "mushroom cloud" was brandied about by administration officials. Vice President Dick Cheney declared that Saddam Hussein "has reconstituted his nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon," citing as evidence its attempt to acquire "aluminum tubes." He also suggested that Iraq may already have a nuclear weapon. Condoleezza Rice said "We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon," citing as evidence "aluminum tubes...that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs." Bush addressed the UN General Assembly, stating as fact that the tubes were to be "used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon."

In fact, they were lying. The truth was that the view that the tubes were intended for a nuclear weapons program was a marginal one within the intelligence community and among experts in the field. It was a view the Central Intelligence Agency attempted to propagate, in furtherance of the official US policy of "regime change." The CIA made a great effort to bolster its case, while acknowledging that the use of the tubes "would be inefficient and a step backward" for Iraq and that the tubes could also not be used in a centrifuge without significant alteration.

The Defense Intelligence Agency sided with the CIA, saying that it found the CIA's case to be "very compelling," apparently based on acceptance of the CIA's claim that the tubes were a "match" to those used in a design known as the Zippe centrifuge. That was false, as the Department of Energy pointed out at the time. The tubes were not a "match" to the Zippe design. At the same time, both the CIA and DIA acknowledged that the tubes could be used for a conventional rocket system.

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Jeremy R. Hammond is the owner, editor, and principle writer for Foreign Policy Journal, a website dedicated to providing news, critical analysis, and commentary on U.S. foreign policy, particularly with regard to the "war on terrorism" and events (more...)
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