Some have asked if I am a passivist who believes that all wars are morally wrong. The answer is no, but I admit I am very close to that. There are not many wars I think were justified.
The first Iraq War had what we lawyers like to think of as ‘colour of right.’ There was some justification for that war. After all a cruel and vicious dictator, Saddam Hussein, led Iraq into an invasion of a small neighbour, Kuwait, entirely without provocation. This was reminiscent of Adolf Hitler leading Nazi Germany in invasions of Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland just because he could, and because the neighbour’s big bully, the USA, hinted it would look the other way. That invasion would have given Iraq access to all of Kuwait’s oil. Saying that this was unacceptable made sense.
George H.W. Bush the American President at the time got a solid international core of support for his venture. The broad coalition of countries he got to sign on included Britain, various European countries, Australia, as well as a number of Middle Eastern countries. He even got Canada to come on board.
The key to that war, unlike the Second Iraq War, was limited aims. The coalition forces joined to stop the aggressor from its invasion of Kuwait and drive them drive it out of the country. Iraq was not allowed to convert its gains on the ground into potentially valid claims against the country. This contrasted sharply with the Second Iraq War where George W. Bush’s lieutenants, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, wanted to initiate what they famously referred to as “regime change.”
Many American conservatives had thought George H.W. Bush had stopped the first Iraq War too soon. The Coalition forces could have driven the Iraqi invaders back into Iraq in order to removed the widely perceived ‘evil’ Iraq government led by Hussein, into submission, but the elder Bush decided to stop when the goal was accomplished. George W. Bush was not so easily satisfied. He wanted to topple the government, and not just the statue of Hussein. This changed the war entirely. Bush Jr. wanted to do what he thought his father should have done–see too it that the regime changed.
The younger Bush had goals that could not be considered modest or humble. He wanted to end the Hussein government and turn the country into a democracy. Wars without humility are very dangerous things. George W. Bush and the American people found that out the hard way. They ended up with a war that has lasted nearly 2 decades and is still not over. They are still having trouble extricating themselves from Iraq.
The second problem with the Second Iraq War, unlike the First Iraq War, was that there was no legitimate instigation or provocation. The Americans tried to manufacture one, but that failed. They claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and it did not matter that the Americans had them too. Iraq could not have them.
There is no time where humility is more important than war. Hubris is as much of an enemy as the foe. If countries fail to remember this, even powerful countries can be made to pay a heavy price.