Happy May Day! I’ll be brief because this is labor’s day for reinvigorating the cultural battle for less work.
Senator Joseph Biden made an April 29, 2007 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Set aside, for the moment, Biden’s assertions about the future (“all of us have been arguing… in both parties, that you’re going to have to leave forces behind in Iraq”).
Biden’s most interesting comments concern the past. Biden’s explanation and justification for the invasion gets to some of the “truth” behind the lies:
[W]e were talking then about whether or not we could keep the pressure of the international community on Iraq to stay in the box we had them in. And remember, you had the French and others say the reason all those children were dying in Iraq, the reason why hospitals didn’t have equipment is because of what we, the United States, were doing, imposing on Iraq these sanctions. And that was the battle. The battle was do we lift these sanctions or do we in fact increase the sanctions? And everyone at the time was talking about—from the secretary of state to even the president—that this was to demonstrate to the world the president of the United States had the full faith and credit of the United States Congress behind him to put pressure on the rest of the world to say, “Hey, look, you lift the sanctions, you’re—we’re going to be on our own here. Don’t lift the sanctions. Get the inspectors back in.” That was the context of the debate, to be fair about it…
MR. RUSSERT: But you said Saddam was a threat. He had to be…
SEN. BIDEN: He was a threat.
MR. RUSSERT: In what way?
SEN. BIDEN: The threat he presented was that, if Saddam was left unfettered, which I said during that period, for the next five years with sanctions lifted and billions of dollars into his coffers, then I believed he had the ability to acquire a tactical nuclear weapon—not by building it, by purchasing it. I also believed he was a threat in that he was—every single solitary U.N. resolution which he agreed to abide by, which was the equivalent of a peace agreement at the United Nations, after he got out of—after we kicked him out of Kuwait, he was violating. Now, the rules of the road either mean something or they don’t. The international community says “We’re going to enforce the sanctions we placed” or not. And what was the international community doing? The international community was weakening. They were pulling away. They were saying, “Well, wait a minute. Maybe he’s not so bad. Maybe we should lift the no-fly zone. Maybe we should lift the sanctions.” That was the context.
In light of recent controversies over George Tenet’s new book, At the Center of the Storm, and his sense of the origins of the invasion plan, it might be worth noting that Biden’s justification for the invasion is not very different from the one offered, on the eve of the invasion, by Right Zionist Richard Perle over at the Project for a New American Century:
“Let’s be candid about it. France has found a way of dealing with Saddam Hussein that simply wouldn’t work for the United States because it entails a degree of cooperation that is not acceptable for us. The commercial relationship between France and Saddam’s regime is on hold owing to the sanctions but I think it’s clear that the moment the sanctions are removed there is a pipeline of contracts that would be promulgated and they’re important for France. We shouldn’t kid ourselves, they’re important for France. It’s my understanding that the Total contract with Saddam is worth $40 billion to $60 billion…. So there are commercial interests and for those people who accuse the United States in being interested in oil in this matter, I submit to you that our interest in oil is in purchasing it on the world market. That could best be accomplished by lifting the sanctions, hardly by going to war against Saddam Hussein. The French interest in the promulgation of contracts that will only go forward with this regime is perfectly obvious.
“But there’s a second French attitude that I think we have to come to grips with and understand and that is the desire on the part of France to build the European Union as a counterweight to the United States. Counterweight is the term most frequently employed by the French, by Chris Patten in Brussels and by others. For a long time the United States and France have been allies. Good allies. Vital to each other’s security at many times in our history and never in the period in which we were allies who supported one another did either of us think of describing the other as a counterweight. A relationship that can be described by the term counterweight is not a relationship of alliance”…
“Well, I don’t think we have the luxury of changing priorities from one day to the next. There was a review of Iraq policy underway on September 11th and the administration hadn’t decided at that point what to do, but one thing was very clear: the consensus behind the sanctions which had become the central element of western United Nations strategy for dealing with Saddam Hussein was crumbling. France and Russia had already indicated they were opposed to continuing the sanctions. The French wanted to weaken the sanctions regime. The so-called smart sanctions policy of the United States was really a response to the eroding support for those sanctions and it was very clear that if something wasn’t done that Saddam was going to emerge the survivor who had outlasted the United Nations….So it was urgent to deal with Iraq, and we set on a course of dealing with Iraq.
The specific “crisis” that generated the US invasion of Iraq was the collapse of the sanctions regime, understood in terms of Great Power Rivalry, was “not acceptable to us.”
All that remains, it would seem, is to understand the contours of US policy after the invasion, i.e., the geopolitical rationale for de-Baathification (rather than, say, “grabbing” Iraq but maintaining Baathist rule).