The 2003 Iraq invasion was welcomed by many

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on July 15, 2014

For decades I have kept files on virtually every country in the world.

They consist mainly of magazine and newspaper articles, and students find them handy when researching term papers.

My filing cabinets would soon have no room for new pieces if I didn’t occasionally thin them out, and last week I was doing so with the Iraq files.

It was an interesting exercise, especially when I came across articles on the American invasion in March 2003, because today many read like fantasy and wishful thinking.

As early as Dec. 28, 2001, the National Post printed an article by Rich Lowry, “The Liberal Case for Attacking Iraq.” Lowry, editor of the conservative American magazine National Review, called on even “owlish professors and liberal columnists” to become “left-wing hawks.”

He provided six reasons: Saddam Hussein was flouting numerous UN resolutions (including the calls to destroy his “weapons of mass destruction”); women had little freedom in Iraq; 500,000 children had died since 1991 due to UN sanctions, so the “truly humanitarian position” was to overthrow Saddam, thus eliminating this problem; it was also necessary for effective arms control, would allow Muslims to practice their religion in peace; and allow for proper nation-building.

On Aug. 15, 2002, TV personality Ezra Levant, in another National Post column, “Why Canada Should Declare War,” chided “our pusillanimous European allies” as a bunch of fearful pacifists appeasers. And he accused then Liberal foreign minister Bill Graham of hiding behind the UN, instead of following the lead of the United States.

As war loomed, the National Post’s Andrew Coyne on March 7, 2003, in “12 Arguments Against the War; Rebutted,” did Lowry six better. It would not be a unilateral American action, he wrote, since “more than 30 countries” had declared their support. It met the standards of international law, since Saddam had failed to comply with at least 17 UN Security Council resolutions, and Iraq had never “produced a scrap of evidence to suggest it had destroyed” its “massive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.”

Four days later, also in the National Post, University of Toronto political science professor Clifford Orwin made the case for a pre-emptive war. In “America is Justified in Striking First,” he suggested that, because of Iraq’s links with militant groups, the “military aspect of the war on terror does not lend itself to other means.”

Orwin warned that Saddam’s very possession of biological and chemical weapons “qualifies as a global threat. He has used these weapons before and he foresees using them again.” Saddam was, he contended, “a menace to international society.” Finally, the continued oppression of the Iraqi people would end with “their liberation at the hands of the Americans.”

In a follow-up article published on March 21, “The Uncertainty of War,” with the invasion already underway, Orwin remained steadfast in his support and criticized Canada for having “abdicated all responsibility” by refusing its assistance.

Finally, National Post journalist George Jonas, in his March 12, 2003, commentary “Why This Kosovo Dove Became an Iraq Hawk,” also pointed to Iraq’s many violations of UN resolutions, especially Security Council Resolution 1441, passed unanimously on Nov. 8, 2002, which had offered Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations.”

As the war was winding down, Washington Post correspondent Antony Shadid filed an article on April 10, 2003, “Hussein’s Baghdad Falls,” in which he wrote of thousands of its residents pouring into the streets “to celebrate the government’s defeat and welcome the U.S. forces in scenes of thanks and jubilation.” They were greeted with “flowers, candy and occasionally, kisses.”

An article in the Globe and Mail of Sept. 23, 2003, “Iraq Makes New Pitch for Foreign Investors,” by Mona Megalli, assured readers that security conditions were improving, and that Iraq was “throwing its doors open to investment.”

University of Calgary political scientist Tariq Ismail was so optimistic that he planned to help found a new international university in Baghdad, reported the Calgary Herald on Jan. 24, 2004. It would become, he told reporter Robin Summerfield, “one brick in the foundation to rebuild civil society in Iraq.”

But the real war was just beginning. How did so many get it so wrong?


 Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.