But the thing that no incumbent is addressing is whether the war in Iraq should have occurred in the first place. Admittedly, saying the war was an awful mistake at this point is like opening the barn doors after the horses have escaped. But polling indicates the American electorate believes the Iraq War hasn't been worth the effort and Americans are growing more skeptical about our purpose there. So the time seemed right to review President Bush's war resolution, and determine if the reasons given for the war had any merit.
The Resolution cited several factors to justify action:
Iraq's noncompliance with the conditions of the 1991 cease fire
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and programs to develop such weapons, posed a "threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region"
Iraq's "brutal repression of its civilian population"
Iraq's "capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction against other nations and its own people"
Iraq's hostility towards the United States as demonstrated by the 1993 assassination attempt of former President George H.W. Bush, and firing on coalition aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones following the 1991 Gulf War
Members of al-Qaeda were "known to be in Iraq"
Iraq's "continu[ing] to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations"
Fear that Iraq would provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists for use against the United States
This leaves us three justifications-- that Iraq was in non-compliance of the 1991 cease fire, the brutal repression of the civilian population, and Iraq's hostility towards the US as demonstrated by the attempted assassination of GHW Bush and firing at aircraft in no-fly zones.
In April 1993, the Iraqi Intelligence Service attempted to assassinate former President Bush via car bomb during a visit to Kuwait. However, Kuwaiti security foiled the plot. On June 26, 1993, the U.S. launched a missile attack targeting Baghdad intelligence headquarters in retaliation for the attempted attack against Bush. So the Clinton administration already made a stand regarding the assassination debacle. As for Iraq firing on aircraft in no-fly zones, this sounds like a good justification. However, the United Nations never authorized the no-fly zones. From Iraq's perspective, this is a case of foreign military aircraft encroaching upon the air space of a sovereign nation. As a result, Iraq--like any country--has every legal right to fire upon them.
Iraqi non-compliance of the 1991 cease-fire agreements stems from two different situations. The first is Hussein's on again off again compliance with UNSCOM inspectors and the other is Hussein's human rights issues, especially his intervention on a military conflict between parties in the Kurdish North. From 1991-1997, Iraq alternatively cooperated and did not cooperate with UNSCOM inspectors. This resulted in several UN resolutions demanding Iraq's full compliance. In 1997, the UN Security Council threatened travel restrictions against Iraqi officials committing infractions against the cease fire agreements. In response, Iraq barred American UNSCOM personnel from conducting inspections and eventually expelled the Americans. Russia brokered a compromise with Iraq which allowed the inspections to continue, but another crisis flared when the inspectors wanted unconditional access to presidential sites. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan negotiated a deal with Iraq in 1998 to allow access to eight presidential sites by a special group of inspectors and diplomatic observers. Iraq eventually allowed presidential site inspections of nearly 1100 buildings, and the US agreed to lift the travel ban against Iraqi officials and to resume sanction reviews.
The second half of this justification has some merit, as Hussein's human rights record was certainly deplorable, but that in and of itself is not enough to go to war on. And yes, Hussein did repress his civilian population, not unlike thousands of dictators around the world. While repression is never acceptable, it is not generally considered a justification for war.
Of course Bush's stated purposes for the war were not his actual reasons. Beyond the obvious purpose of seizing Iraq's oil reserves, Saddam Hussein became an embarrassment for the US, which had supplied him with arms and technology through his twenty year reign. It's important to remember that during the Iran-Iraq conflict, the US played both ends against the middle, selling arms openly to Hussein while surreptitiously supplying arms to Iran in order to secure the release of American hostages and fund the illegal Contra war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Hussein also wanted OPEC to raise the price of oil by cutting production, a move that was opposed by Kuwait, which continued to produce oil at high levels keeping the price low. Another reason was to gain a military foothold in the Middle East to try to quell the influence of Iran and Syria, cutting off aid and weapons supplied to the Palestinian group Hamas, and the Syrian group Hezbollah while insuring transport routes for oil imported from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to the Strait of Hormuz. And of course, war is always a great way to provide government contracts to corporations that feed our military, build the bases, and supposedly reconstruct the countries we destroy.
The American people want to know why their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters in combat are being forced into the meat-grinder known as Iraq. The first candidates who confirm the electorate's well earned suspicions about the US presence in Iraq will be the new leadership our country so desperately needs.