Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Why the War on Iraq Was (and Remains) Wrong


That which is a crime in the conceptual stage remains a crime in the execution stage. The war on Iraq was a violation of international law, regardless of its “success.” I have little respect for Henry Kissinger, but I agree with him that the attack “challenges the international system established by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia,” the basis for modern rules governing interaction between states. I agree, too, with the Pope, who declared the war both “unjust” and “illegal.” The governments of key U.S. allies opposed the aggression conducted by the Anglo-American invading forces, ludicrously termed “the Coalition forces.” There simply was and is precious little support on the planet for this project, obscenely sold as “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Nor should there be.

It should be clear to anyone paying attention that a cabal in the Bush administration, headed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, abetted by ideologist Richard Perle, used Sept. 11 to implement plans they’d articulated in position papers years before. It involves “regime change” throughout Southwest Asia. It’s not just about oil, but about control of oil and other resources, and about further advantaging the sole superpower (which the French have taken to calling, appropriately, a hyper-puissance or hyperpower) via-à-vis any potential future rivals in what they call the “New American Century.”

But you can’t sell the American people a nakedly imperialist war by describing it in such straightforward terms. Thus we were told that war with Iraq was necessary because Saddam was involved with al-Qaeda. Or with the anthrax letters, or the al-Ansar grouplet in Kurdistan. All bullshit. The argument they finally chose, from their disinformation arsenal, was weapons of mass destruction. We in America were threatened with attack, so we had to go in there and take Saddam out.

Since it’s in their script, I think it likely they’ll produce some evidence to validate their war. (Rumsfeld is already predicting that they will find WMDs, which they are obviously desperately trying to do, but that “certain types of people” will claim “inaccurately, that it was planted.” These may include honest professionals in the intelligence community itself, who are nauseated by the degree of dishonesty they’ve been asked to endorse.) Meanwhile Bush has asked the U.N. to lift the sanctions originally imposed on Iraq at U.S. insistence to force the elimination of such weapons. France’s Chirac, among others, reply (quite logically) that to lift the sanctions, we must have proof there are no WMDs. They say, “You went to war to destroy what you called Saddam’s threatening arsenal; now show us those weapons, and we’ll lift the sanctions.” The U.N. is asking that neutral arms inspectors return to Iraq. The U.S. is saying, “No, trust us, we’ll handle it.” We’ll see.

Meanwhile, what are the fruits of this war? Up to 1904 civilian deaths at last count, and thousands of Iraqi soldiers killed defending their country. 157 dead among the invaders, mostly kids just doing what they were told and garnering no glory in their deaths. Disorder throughout Iraq. Rage at the U.S. effort to impose its satraps hauled out of exile to constitute an interim government. Tens of thousands demonstrating in Baghdad, saying “No to occupation. No Bush, no Saddam,” and telling the troops to go home. (One must sympathize with those college-age GIs, told by their commanders that they’re liberators, then confronted with reality, just as their forebears were in Vietnam. Some will come home very messed up.)

While occupying troops diligently guarded Oil Ministry offices in Baghdad, thugs sacked the Museum of National Antiquities and burned down the National Library, containing thousand-year old copies of the Quran. This is a heartbreaking loss, an assault on Iraqi identity. It happened on the occupiers’ watch, is their responsibility, and will no doubt generate more hatred towards them.

The order’s now gone out from the generals that the troops must not display the U.S. flag in Iraq. It has generated such indignation that U.S. officers have hurriedly tucked it away. Sure, there were those brief images of Iraqi kids waving little U.S. flags, the kind you might buy here at your corner drugstore. (Where, I wonder, does one go in sanctions-bound Baghdad to purchase one of those little plastic American flags?) And that staged toppling of the Saddam statue in that near-empty Baghdad square. Pure Hollywood. Looks to me as though the locals are in fact sullen and uncooperative.

Some who were involved in the antiwar movement as the Iraq attack was being planned eventually changed their minds and decided that now that the war was on, “we” should just hope for a quick end to it and the establishment of “democracy” (whatever that means) in Iraq. I disagree. I don’t think the likes of Zalmay Khalilzad, who orchestrated the farcical Loya Jirga in Afghanistan, can facilitate the empowerment of the Iraqi people, nor do I think, as a matter of general principle, that global oppressors can be liberators. Think of the recent historical context. The U.S. set up the vicious Shah in Iran; he was toppled in the most genuine mass-based revolution ever to occur in an Islamic country. The U.S. didn’t like that. To punish Iran for its revolution, it supported the Saddam regime in its attack on Iran in the 1980s. Meanwhile in Afghanistan the CIA assembled tens of thousands of Islamist militants to confront the Soviet-backed secular Afghan regime, especially backing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (whom they’re now trying to assassinate). The U.S. intervention in Afghanistan produced al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Does this record suggest that the current U.S. role in Iraq will lead to anything positive?

Looks to me like the Iraqis want the U.S. out immediately. There is zero support for Ahmad Chalabi, the Defense Department’s candidate for puppet ruler under indictment in Jordan for embezzlement. The British choice for Basra mayor has been deposed in the wake of mass opposition, replaced with the city’s leading capitalist. Occupiers, when in doubt, naturally gravitate towards support for the existing elites so long as they kiss ass. Meanwhile, on the Arab street from Rabat to Beirut, people are sick with fear about a U.S. attack on Syria. Justification for such another unjustified attack is already being prepared, systematically. Such are the results of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Let us assume that resistance to the occupation continues in Iraq, while the cabal plots its next moves. Shouldn’t good people in this country unite with the resistance in Iraq, and redouble efforts to oppose the cabal’s agenda, which includes not just interminable war abroad, but war on the Bill of Rights here at home?

GARY LEUPP is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program. This article originally appeared in the Tufts Daily.

He can be reached at:


Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future