“regime change”…

Posted on Wednesday 27 January 2010

As Lord Goldsmith droned on about his legal deliberations, I found my mind escaping the issue of the moment and thinking about the larger point of this inquiry in the UK. Saddam Hussein had been in non-compliance for years, since not long after the First Gulf War. Over the years, the UN had tried various ways to force Hussein into compliance, including a four day bombing of Iraq in 1998 by the US and UK [Operation Desert Fox December 16-19, 1998]. The issue of "regime change" in Iraq was urged in the Project for the New American Century‘s letter to President Clinton in January 26, 1998, but the concept was much older:
  • The term has been popularized by recent US Presidents. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush regularly used the term in reference to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Ronald Reagan had previously called for regime change in Libya, directing the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] to work towards that goal.
  • General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War advocated this policy, leading to his dismissal by President Harry Truman. Later, in the Vietnam War, many conservatives such as Barry Goldwater, also supported the concept, denouncing President Lyndon B. Johnson’s goal of merely saving South Vietnam from being taken over by the Communist North as a "no-win" policy. The American-backed overthrow of the Maurice Bishop government in Grenada in 1983 can also be viewed in the same light, as can the U.S. support of the Contras insurgency in Nicaragua [leading to the Iran-Contra Affair] and the United States embargo against Cuba.
  • Overthrow of unfriendly governments by the United States can be found throughout the past 50 years. Regime change in Iraq became a stated goal of United States foreign policy when Public Law 105-338 [the "Iraq Liberation Act" October 31, 1998] was signed into law by U.S. President Bill Clinton. The act directed that:
      "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."
    This regime change has been brought about as a consequence of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
It is a matter of record that the goal of the Bush Administration from its inception was "regime change" in Iraq. The problem was not what they wanted to do. The problem is that "regime change" is not a valid Casus Belli, the case for war. Skipping for the moment their motives, they wanted War [Belli] and were in search of a case [Casus]. In the Chilcot Inquiry, repeated witnesses have named the three valid Casus Belli for War:
  1. An attack or the imminent threat of an attack eg 9/11
  2. A humanitarian crisis eg Kosovo
  3. A specific Authorization by the United Nations Security Council for the use of force
As we know, the Bush Administration created a fictitious Casus Belli against Iraq based on fabricated evidence that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction and fallacious accusations that Saddam Husein was in league with al Qaeda in the attack on New York. Based on opinions from the Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel [Jay Bybee and John Yoo], they sequentially made the following claims:
  • That the War Power rested in the Executive Branch, not Congress.
  • That Congressional Authorization for War was "supportive" rather than required.
  • That no new action by the UN was required for us to use force against Iraq.
  • That  the UN 1441 was not binding for the President.
The issues in the UK were different. They correctly averred that "regime change" was not a valid legal reason for invading Iraq:
"Let me be clear about this: that and this I was clear about whatever the policy of the United States, which, as it happens was for regime change, as a purpose of foreign policy, that was off the agenda so far as the United Kingdom was concerned. I certainly, and always had done, in the abstract and in reality, accepted that you could have a diplomatic strategy for a different purpose, which had to be backed by the threat or, if necessary, the use of force, but a foreign policy objective of regime change, I regarded as improper and also self evidently unlawful." – Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary
"The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult."The Downing Street Memo
In our country, the case for war was fabricated and the process of declaring war was perverted to get us to invade Iraq. In the UK, they were operating on the same evidence, but there was an additional factor – they were following our lead as our ally. Specifically, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, was tightly bonded to George W. Bush, our President. The why of that is not totally clear, as far as I can tell. So, the British "caught" our fervor for war and were "caught up in" our sense of urgency. 9/11 added no reason for fervor against Iraq nor did it add any sense of urgency that I can see.

Although they were buying into our stated reasons for War, the British were not perverting their system as we were. That’s where the Chilcot Inquiry is currently focused. They actually had a brisk debate about the legality of the war, independent of the intelligence that we fabricated and they seemed to buy. The hearing today had Lord Goldsmith explaining his reasons for declaring the war "legal" – based on the actions of the UN Security Council. History will judge him accordingly.

The British are to be lauded for their process in following the Rule of Law, though there are real questions about its application in the final analysis. They are to be faulted for following our lead [even though they may well have been strongly motivated by sympathy for 9/11 and a historical loyalty – well deserved in WWI and WWII]. The testimony of former Prime Minister Tony Blair this Friday is going to be interesting no matter what he says. Although Lord Goldsmith declared the Invasion of Iraq "legal," it was ultimately Tony Blair and Parliment that declared it "right." Blair’s testimony starts Friday at 4:30 AM EST. Arrgh! [Chilcot Inquiry]
    January 27, 2010 | 10:36 PM

    Still, nothing in the New York Times or the Huffington Post about these hearings.

    Let’s see if Tony Blair’s star power on Friday will get their attention. Or is it a deliberate blackout?

    January 31, 2010 | 8:08 PM

    […] The logic that he gave for deciding that the war was legal has also been summarized below [“regime change”…, impatience? imprudence? impudence?…]. I don’t want to even bother going through it […]

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