Richard N. Haass: The Gulf war at 20; its lessons today

Roundup: Talking About History

[Richard N. Haass, a former director of policy planning at the US State Department, is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of “War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars.”]

It was 20 years ago this month that Saddam Hussein, then the unchallenged ruler of Iraq, invaded Kuwait. What ensued was the first great international crisis of the post-Cold War era, one that, in less than a year, led to the liberation of Kuwait, along with the restoration of its government. This was accomplished with only modest human and economic cost thanks to the extraordinary multi-national coalition assembled by President George H.W. Bush.

Since then, the United States has used military force numerous times for a range of purposes. Today, the US is working to extricate itself from a second conflict involving Iraq, trying to figure out a way forward in Afghanistan, and contemplating the use of force against Iran. So the question arises: What can we learn from the first Iraq war, one widely judged as a military and diplomatic success?

One important lesson stems from the rationale for war. It is one thing to modify the behavior of a state beyond its borders, but quite another to alter what takes place within another country’s territory. The 1990-1991 Gulf war was about reversing Iraq’s armed aggression, something that was fundamentally inconsistent with respect for sovereignty, the most basic of all rules governing relations among states in today’s world. Once Iraqi military forces were expelled from Kuwait in 1991, the US did not march on Baghdad to replace Iraq’s government – or remain in Kuwait to impose democracy there.

The 2001 war against Afghanistan and the 2003 war against Iraq were markedly different. Both interventions sought to oust the governments in place at the time, and both succeeded in that goal. I maintain that the effort against Afghanistan was justified (to remove the Taliban government that helped bring about the 9/11 attacks), and that ousting Saddam Hussein was not...

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Arnold Shcherban - 9/1/2010

The author writes:
<I maintain that the effort against Afghanistan was justified (to remove the Taliban government that helped bring about the 9/11 attacks)>

I, however, fully support Philip Wiess' analysis provided below that clearly shows Mr. Haass' conclusion runs against both: the respective facts, evidence and UN Charter's conditions that makes war the Just War.

That's what Philip Weiss wrote:
<There are nuanced differences in the interpretation of just war theory, but there is general agreement on its six principal stipulations — all of which must be honored for the resort to war to be considered just. Four of the points are relevant to Afghanistan, the most important being “Just Cause.”
This means war is permissible to confront “a real and certain danger” — either an attack or imminent attack from another country — and includes self-defense or the defense of others from external aggression.

Afghanistan neither attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, nor was it threatening an imminent attack. This rules out the just cause of self-defense. We will explain this before moving to the other three points.

Al-Qaeda, a small decentralized fundamentalist religious organization on the fringes of Islam was responsible for the attack, not the state or government of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda was formed in Afghanistan by Osama bin-Laden, a Saudi exile, in 1988. Its members were drawn from foreign Muslim jihadist fighters taking part in the Afghan civil war (1979-1996) against a left wing government in Kabul that was being defended by Soviet troops, followed by a war between the various Afghan factions after the left was overthrown in 1992. The U.S. financed the anti-government civil war, as did Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on a lesser scale. Al-Qaeda was among the beneficiaries of Washington’s support.

Most al-Qaeda recruits returned to their own countries in the Middle East and Europe after the war. Some set up small branches of the organization where they lived. A sector of al-Qaeda, including bin-Laden, remained in Afghanistan with the approval of the fundamentalist Taliban government, which emerged victorious from the civil war in 1996.

No Afghan was among the 19 Al-Qaeda suicide operatives, armed with box cutters, who hijacked four airliners on 9/11 and slammed one of them into the Pentagon and two others into New York’s World Trade Center, killing about 3,000 people.

Much of the planning for the attack evidently took place in Europe and then in the U.S. There has never been any proof that Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar (or his closest associates) was (were) aware of the Sept. 11 plan, much less a party to it. Just hours after the Washington and New York City destruction, the Taliban authorities denounced the attacks. At the same time, Afghanistan’s Taliban ambassador to Pakistan stated to the media “We want to tell the American children that Afghanistan feels your pain. We hope the courts find justice.”

President Bush immediately rejected suggestions for a major international police effort to apprehend the leaders of the attack. Instead, after conferring with his neoconservative advisers, he defined this small-group terrorist raid as an act of war carried out from Afghan territory with the connivance of the Taliban government. This allowed Bush to declare an open-ended “War on Terrorism,” paving the way for his Oct. 7 bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, and then Iraq in March 2003.

Another of the just war points is “Last Resort. This means a country may resort to war only after exhausting every other possible alternative. This is reflected in the UN Charter, which calls for serious efforts to resolve differences nonviolently through diplomacy or the courts, before the resort to military means. Bush rejected an offer by the Taliban to produce bin-Laden if the U.S. wouldn’t invade. Its only stipulation was that Washington provide proof that the al-Qaeda leader actually committed the crime, as would any country asked to surrender a suspect to another country. Bush swiftly refused, ruled out any negotiations, and began a bombing campaign and invasion. President Obama said in Oslo that “America did not seek” the Afghan war, but war was Bush’s first resort, not last, as was the case 18 months later when he attacked Iraq.

A third stipulation is “Right Intention” — i.e., fighting only on behalf of an expressed just cause without a trace of ulterior motivation such as the acquisition of power, land, resources, riches, etc. Bush’s ulterior motivations were to interject U.S. military power into Central Asia in proximity to Russia, China and resource-rich former Soviet republics, and also to occupy a territory adjacent to Iran, another neoconservative target for regime change at the time.

The last point is “Proportionality,” meaning that the quantity of violence, damage and costs is proportionate to the expressed reason for resorting to war. Given the violation of the Just War standards of just cause, last resort, and right intention, the disproportion involved in Bush’s bombing, invasion, occupation and continuing warfare is self-evident. In any event, Bush’s expressed reason for war was that the Afghan authorities did not hand over bin-Laden, but that was compromised by the U.S. refusal to provide the evidence required for extradition or to even discuss with the Kabul government the question of the Taliban’s alleged complicity in the terror attacks.

Thus, despite President Obama’s efforts to define Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan as just, he has decided to send another 30,000 troops, on top of approximately 30,000 sent earlier in this year, to fight in a manifestly unjust war.>