by Rod D. Martin
December 23, 2003
Since my column “The Growing Iraqi Success Story” ran two weeks ago, we have received a great many letters both pro and con, asking all manner of questions. Herein, I endeavor to answer a few of them.
Q. “My question is, Why are we there?”
A. Although I was not a big fan of going to war in Iraq, it’s hard to reasonably deny that there are a lot of good reasons to have done so. First (although least significant from an American Constitutional or security perspective) is simply that Saddam Hussein was one of the more evil leaders on the planet, as has become increasingly clear as his former people have begun to feel more secure and have thus told their stories.
Second, as everyone is now forced to admit — and as the Weekly Standard recently published in some detail — Iraq was actually pretty deeply involved with al-Qaeda. Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey put it to me this way about a year ago: “The Wahabbis (whether Saudi or al-Qaeda), the Mullahs in Iran and the fascists in Iraq and Syria hate each other, and they fight each other 364 days a year; but just like a bunch of Mafia dons, on the 365th day, they all get together and strategize how to fight the FBI. That’s us.” And of course, that’s exactly right.
A third issue (and the one President Bush chiefly pushed, of course) is the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Now the fact is, Israeli intelligence (and many other sources) were screaming even shortly before the war not merely that Saddam had enormous quantities of the agents specified, but that most of it was being shipped to Syria to evade detection or capture. If anything, the oddity is that the Administration has been almost completely silent about this obviously reasonable possibility; and I would suggest that, if it is in fact true, the Administration has been constrained to ignore it publicly because, given the case they made for the war, if they’d admitted such a thing any time in the spring or summer, they would have been virtually forced to invade Syria and Lebanon. That would have been a practical and diplomatic nightmare. So, by this line of thinking, they fell on their swords instead, while Mossad clucked at them and said “I told you so”.
In any case, it was always my opinion that the WMD argument was the weakest of the three. Yes Saddam had WMD (Bill Clinton reiterated that strongly just the other day, which in the current context hardly makes sense unless he pretty strongly believes it), but so do some similarly nasty places, either presently (e.g., North Korea) or prospectively (e.g., Iran). If our policy is to take out every bad guy with a nascent nuke program, North Korea would seem (at least superficially) to be a much higher priority. Yet that obviously wasn’t the Administration’s view.
Ultimately, there was no simple reason for the war in Iraq, but rather a convergence of many priorities, which combined to force the order of events. That list certainly included a strong desire to create the sort of democratic free-market bastion in the heart of the Middle East I was talking about in my recent column. At the same time, Bush’s people knew (1) that Saddam was advancing by the day, (2) the sanctions regime was in advanced stages of collapse and increasingly diplomatically counterproductive for our broader policy (the Arab governments were always happy to see Saddam go or stay, but never ever happy with our endless pinpricks and scab-picking), and (3) if they moved on Saddam quickly, between Afghanistan, Iraq and our new bases in the former Soviet Central Asia, we’d have Iran surrounded, in case we later need to deal with them. That’s two Axis-of-Evil states for the price of one — particularly if you provoke a popular revolution in Tehran — which, on the whole, is a very good gamble indeed.
Q. “What Constitutional right or purpose can be cited for the war?”
A. Regarding “Constitutional purpose”, speaking as a lifelong student of our Founding Fathers, there can be no doubt that the single most important reason for a federal constitution in their minds was defense; and not only that, but against threats frequently much more inchoate than those posed in and by Iraq. (An example: in office, the Founding Fathers themselves never saw a need to declare war against an Indian tribe, despite constant warfare on the frontier. They applied that same philosophy to France and to the Barbary Pirates [“the shores of Tripoli”]; but more on that in a minute.)
Regarding “Constitutional right”, the Constitution certainly requires Congressional action to declare war, but — right or wrong — it does not require any justification for war whatsoever. And regarding that declaration, two points are essential:
1. America did not need a declaration of war in 2003 because (this is crucial) we were already at war, no peace treaty ever having been signed to legally conclude the 1990-1991 hostilities. In fact, the 1991 armistice agreed to by Saddam was conditional in the extreme, and those conditions required armed enforcement. Though our Administration never adequately made this point, so long as there was no peace treaty, the United States (as the leading power of the original coalition) was on the hook — as a matter of international agreements which our Constitution describes as “the supreme law of the land” (on a par with federal statutes, of course, not with the Constitution itself) — to enforce the terms of the armistice. As a matter of legal and Constitutional obligation, we were actually failing in our duty by not having invaded at least twelve years earlier. This is one of many reasons such international agreements are generally a bad idea, but I digress.
2. Therefore, the question is whether we lawfully (Constitutionally) entered the war in 1991. Now it is certainly true that Congress did not formally declare war. But it is also true that both Congress and the President have engaged in undeclared military actions since early in George Washington’s first term, from unending Indian wars to the “Undeclared Naval War With France” about which every schoolchild learns (or used to, anyway). Those undeclared wars having been conducted by framers of the Constitution, under the watchful eye of other framers of the Constitution (on the Supreme Court, in the Congress, and in the states in the age of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions), there can be no question of original intent: the Founders meant for there to be a certain flexibility in the President’s war-making power, as well as the degree to which a formal declaration was strictly required.
Now given that original intent, we look at 1990-1991. Indeed, Congress did not formally declare war. However, at the same time, it also did much more than declare war, explicitly authorizing every jot and tittle of what we were about to do and giving precise guidelines as to how it may and may not be done. Their intent — regardless of the form they chose — was perfectly clear.
In addition to this, there remains the matter of what Congress did in 1945. In ratifying the UN Charter (once again, designated by the Constitution as “the supreme law of the land”, on a par with federal statutes though not with the Constitution itself), Congress explicitly legislated its provisions regarding collective security, including those which necessarily delegate certain de facto authority to the Executive Branch.
Thus, merely by virtue of our membership in the UN, Congress has (legitimately, though foolishly) delegated a limited but very real blank check to the President, including the ability to lead American forces into action if the UN’s collective security mechanism is triggered. Moreover, this is no more or less Constitutional than ratifying any other treaty of alliance, something which is obviously Constitutional if only because Washington felt the need to advise against it.
Regarding Iraq, this is an essential point precisely because the war was a UN operation. Even if in the end the Security Council balked at passing an 18th resolution, it did not revoke any of its previous resolutions mandating the force we used, and those therefore were its official legal position.
But though all of this is important to the case, it is not the essence. In their vesting of the war power in Congress, the Founding Fathers were extremely clear that their purpose was to remove that power from the Executive (where it had been in England) and to give it to the people (through their representatives). The actual manner by which Congress — notably not the President — went to war in 1990-1991 (and in 2002-2003 for that matter, had they not already been at war anyway) more than fulfilled this purpose, even if it did not follow the precise required form; and that formality was frequently unimportant even to the Founders. Hence, in my opinion, not only was the war Constitutional, but the manner of going to war — for better or worse — was not inconsistent with that practiced by the Founders themselves.
Q. “I am a Christian. As I see it, Saddam was God’s man for Iraq, a mass of hating, fighting tribes that require and respect a strong man for a leader.”
A. I am also a Christian; and though you will never get me to argue against God’s providence, I would gently suggest that George Bush was God’s man for America, smiting the wicked leader God had raised up in Baghdad for this very purpose.
Q. “For whom will Iraqis vote when the Americans are gone? Do we really think that an open government can operate without borrowing heavily from a Christian base (like we are presently doing in the U.S.)?”
A. Well first of all, Iraq is borrowing heavily from our Christian base, which is as it should be: the Bible says that we should be as a “city on a hill”, and that the world will marvel at a land which follows (even in part) the laws of God, wishing to imitate it.
But to answer your broader question, name a European country which is today meaningfully Christian — throw in Japan and India for good measure — and yet they’ve got pretty decently functioning representative governments (albeit ones I would not choose). I think that the ideas of freedom are strong enough — having been explicitly designed to mitigate the sinful tendencies of men — so as to function reasonably well over time in almost any setting, and that that is what we can safely expect in the main: when you follow God’s teaching, even if you’re a non-believer, you get a better result than when you don’t.
Q. “Are we to continue to do this to every country that we find obnoxious?”
A. I’m guessing the answer is “no”, given that we haven’t wasted North Korea, Syria or Iran, not to mention Cuba, or my personal favorite, France. I continually advocate nuking France, but sadly no one listens.
Q. “Is this the new evangelism?”
A. No, but there’s no question it has opened the doors of religious liberty, a freedom we cherish and which Saddam absolutely suppressed. The Iraqi people are free to practice the faith of their choice for the first time, perhaps ever. I personally believe that, in a truly free marketplace of ideas, evangelical Christianity will win; and I also encourage all believers — especially at this time of year — to support foreign missions and relief work, through mechanisms such as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
But it doesn’t really matter what I believe: the point is that before the war, the only opinion permitted was what Saddam believed. What America did was not evangelization: it was liberation. And now the faithful — of all faiths, not just Saddam’s — are free.
Q. “Who will pay the bill? Is the present debasement of our currency a good thing? Can we pay for our military ventures through inflation?”
A. Being strongly opposed to big government and inflationary monetary policy (and also to the deflationary monetary policy the Federal Reserve pursued from 1997-2001), I obviously have severe problems with all of this. However, I would not look to the war as the source of such problems in an age of continuous runaway domestic largesse; and even if we should, it occurs to me that someone fleeing his desk in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 might ask back to you “which is more expensive, fighting the war or not fighting the war?” If we suffered a nuclear 9/11, I think we’d find out very quickly; and the Founding Fathers’ position on “providing for the common defense” was, once again, quite clear.
Q. “I applaud your enthusiasm for Mr. Bush, a good, honest guy, but I would rather have Clinton busying himself with sex…”
A. You must recall that Clinton didn’t merely busy himself with sex. Clinton bombed a variety of countries — and even a Sudanese aspirin factory — off and on his whole term, all too frequently as a cover for embarrassing revelations about sex. His “wagging the dog” was so blatant at times that even extreme left-wing news anchors would just state it as unquestioned fact. That is infinitely more dangerous than anything Bush has done, and particularly dangerous to the underpinnings of the Republic. It is also quite separate from his sales of our country’s military secrets to China for campaign cash. And as to “nation-building”, Clinton did not restrain himself to countries that actually posed some — or even any — threat to us: he invaded Haiti and took out their regime, he sent troops to Bosnia, he had his own mini-Bay of Pigs in Somalia, he conquered Kosovo from Serbia (and did it in as blatantly illegal and diplomatically provocative a manner as could be dreamed up: absolutely unnecessary illegality just for illegality’s sake!), and on and on and on. If you’d “rather have Clinton” doing all that stuff and for his motives, be my guest.
Q. “…than Bush spending us into 3rd world status…”
A. We’d need to spend the military money even if (in fact, especially if) we pulled everyone back home and hid in Fortress America. It’s the runaway, mostly-unconstitutional domestic spending — not to mention the Federal Reserve System, which every so often goes mad and causes a collapse (as in 1929-1939 and 1997-2001) — that you should be concerned about.
Q. “…and getting my grandsons killed for the benefit of nobody except, perhaps, Israel.”
A. If my son gets sent to Iraq or Afghanistan and dies, at least we’ll know that he has died because, in the best judgment of our elected representatives and the President of the United States, the safety of America required it (and, of course, since we have no draft or likelihood of one, if my son gets sent to Iraq, it will be because he’s volunteered to go, an important difference from most previous wars). But if Mr. Clinton had sent him to Haiti, could you say the same thing?
Agree with the war or disagree, we all have to keep perspective; and given that the war cannot be undone and we are now there, even if it proved to be wrong, we now have to make the best of it. The transformation we brought about in Shinto, Emperor-worshipping Japan was both extreme and widely predicted to fail; the de-Nazification of Germany similarly so. Iraq — and Afghanistan — can take great hope from that. And so without question may we.
To all of my readers, and to our troops at home and abroad, the best of Christmases, and a wonderful New Year.
Rod D. Martin