Part 1 | Part 2
Twenty years ago — March 19, 2003 — the U.S. government launched its invasion and war of aggression against Iraq. It was a deadly intervention, one that resulted in the deaths and injuries of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people and thousands of U.S. soldiers. The invasion and resulting occupation also succeeded in destroying the entire country. Today, there are still U.S. troops occupying the country, which can only be described as a hell-hole. Although the Pentagon termed its invasion of Iraq “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” no American citizen would dare to vacation in Iraq today.
Unfortunately, the real lessons to be learned from this horror story have still not been learned by foreign interventionists, meaning Americans who believe that the U.S. government should intervene in the affairs of other nations. They hold that this particular intervention was simply a “mistake” or that it was “mismanaged.” They also continue to place their faith in America’s national-security-state form of governmental structure, which is primarily responsible for the Iraq horror story.
If we are to get our nation back on the right track — one that re-embraces America’s founding foreign policy of noninterventionism in the affairs of other countries and reembraces our nation’s founding as a limited-government republic — it is essential that we review, ponder, and reflect upon the Iraq intervention in its full historical context.
An illegal invasion
The first thing to keep in mind is that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal under our form of government. That’s because it was undertaken without the congressional declaration of war that the Constitution requires.
Everyone has become so accustomed to U.S. presidents waging war without a congressional declaration of war that it is easy to conclude that it was not necessary for President George W. Bush to secure such a declaration as a prelude to invading Iraq. Not so. The Constitution is the highest law of the land. It controls the actions of federal officials, including both the president and the military, and it prohibits the president and the military from waging war against a foreign nation without a congressional declaration of war.
That’s the way the Framers wanted it. They understood that the presidency would attract people who like to use military force against other nations, especially weaker, more impoverished nations headed by rulers who don’t kowtow to U.S. officials. Because war inevitably involves death and destruction, the Framers wanted the members of Congress to make the decision as to whether to go to war or not. If they voted yes, then — and only then — could the president wage war with his army. If they voted no, then the president could not legally wage war against another nation-state.
The only way the declaration-of-war requirement can be changed is through constitutional amendment. The Constitution has never been amended to eliminate the declaration-of-war requirement. It continues to be as operational as it was when the Constitution was originally enacted.
The fact that some presidents have ignored the declaration-of-war requirement does not operate as a grant of power for succeeding presidents to do the same. The waging of war without a congressional declaration of war remains illegal no matter how many presidents have transgressed this constitutional provision.
It is important that we bear this point in mind, because it means that no U.S. soldier had any legal authority to kill, injure, maim, or torture even one single Iraqi. That’s because U.S. soldiers are also bound by the Constitution. If the president lacks the legal authority to wage war against a particular nation-state, the soldiers that he has ordered to wage war are also operating illegally.
Moreover, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law. That’s because of the principles against “aggressive war” that were set forth by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, which was established to try Nazi officials for war crimes. The term “aggressive war” or a “war of aggression” doesn’t mean that an army is acting aggressively in waging a war. It means that one nation has undertaken an unprovoked attack on another country. The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal convicted German officials of doing precisely that — attacking and invading other countries.
That is what the U.S. government did to Iraq. The U.S. government was the attacker and the invader. Iraq was the defending power. Under the principles set forth at Nuremberg, the United States had no legal authority to undertake its invasion of Iraq and its war of aggression against Iraq.
Legalized murder under the guise of war
Ever since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there has been an inordinately high suicide rate among veterans who “served” in Iraq. U.S. officials ascribe those suicides to PTSD — posttraumatic stress disorder from the strains of combat. I don’t believe that. I have long held that those suicides are rooted in guilt — deeply seated guilt arising from the fact that U.S. soldiers knew that they had no moral or legal right to kill the people they killed.
Even though the killings occurred in a wartime context, the consciences of U.S. soldiers could not be fooled. Deep down, every soldier knew that what he was doing was engaging in legalized murder under the guise of waging war against a nation that had never attacked the United States.
The psychological impact of those killings was aggravated by the fact that the American people were exhorted to “thank the troops for their service,” which inhibited veterans from directly confronting the horror of what they had done. Unable to deal with the deep emotional pain arising out of murdering people and rationalizing it as “war,” many of them have decided to check out of life by taking their own lives.
Immediately prior to the invasion of Iraq, I read an article about a Catholic soldier who was expressing misgivings about participating in an invasion of Iraq. He was deeply troubled over whether God would countenance his killing Iraqis in an unprovoked war of aggression. The article stated that a Catholic military chaplain assured him that he could legitimately follow orders of the president and be in compliance with God’s laws.
That military chaplain did a grave disservice to that soldier because the soldier was right to have such religious misgivings. The chaplain should have told him to follow his conscience. Following military orders to invade and wage a war of aggression against another nation does not nullify the laws of God.
Sometime during the Iraq occupation, I contacted a libertarian friend of mine who was a Catholic priest. I posed the following hypothetical to him: If the government forcibly seized me, conscripted me into the army, transported me to Iraq against my will, and set me down in a war zone where Iraqi soldiers were firing at me, would I have the authority under God’s laws to defend myself by firing back?
His answer was direct and unequivocal: Absolutely not. You would be part of an aggressor force. You would have no authority under God’s law to kill anyone, not even in “self-defense.”
I asked him: Then what should I do when those Iraqi soldiers are trying to kill me? He responded: You must either try to get away or die. You cannot fire back and kill them.
What my priest friend was essentially saying is that when a soldier is part of a military force that is waging war illegally, he cannot consider himself firing in “self-defense” when the people of the invaded country are defending themselves against the aggressor.
Suppose, for example, a person illegally enters a home in the middle of the night. Let’s assume that the father sees the intruder and begins firing at him. The intruder fires back and kills the father. The intruder cannot claim that he killed the father in “self-defense” because the intruder had no legal or moral authority to be inside the house in the first place. The same principle applies to U.S. soldiers who invaded Iraq.
The WMD scam
Prior to the invasion, U.S. officials claimed that they had authority to invade Iraq to “disarm” Iraq of its supposed weapons of mass destruction. After the invasion, when no such WMDs were found, U.S. officials steadfastly maintained that they had just made an honest mistake with respect to their WMD claim.
But their WMD justification for invading Iraq was always bogus. For one thing, even if Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the United States had no legal authority to do anything about it. In other words, no one has ever appointed the United States to serve as an international policeman or WMD enforcer. Moreover, the Constitution does not vest that type of power in the federal government.
The United Nations had enacted resolutions prohibiting Iraq from maintaining WMDs, but the U.S. government had no authority to enforce UN resolutions. Only the UN had the authority to enforce its own resolutions, and it was opposed to an invasion of the country.
Moreover, if the WMD justification for invading Iraq had been genuine, once it became clear that there were no WMDs, U.S. officials would have immediately acknowledged their grave mistake, apologized for the death and destruction they had mistakenly wreaked, ordered the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, and begun paying reparations to the people of Iraq. U.S. officials didn’t do that. Instead, they kept the troops in Iraq for years afterward, during which multitudes of more Iraqis were killed, maimed, injured, and tortured. Moreover, the massive destruction of the country continued during the many years of occupation that followed the nondiscovery of those WMDs.
In 2014, U.S. forces found a buried cache of old rusted-out canisters that had contained WMDs. Immediately, supporters of the Iraq invasion began crowing about how they had finally found those infamous WMDs. But U.S. officials were not among those who were crowing. Instead, it was clear that they didn’t want to talk about the discovery of the very WMDs that they had used to justify their invasion some 11 years earlier.
One month after the invasion, The Future of Freedom Foundation published a compilation of articles from the mainstream press that I prepared. The compilation was entitled “Where Did Iraq Get Its Weapons of Mass Destruction?” The compilation listed several articles detailing the fact that Iraq had gotten WMDs from the United States and other Western nations. Some of the links to the articles listed are no longer active, but it’s still worth examining the list and the articles whose links are still active.
In October 2014, FFF published another article authored by me entitled, “Where Did Iraq Get Its Weapons of Mass Destruction, Part 2.” That article explained why U.S. officials were loathe to talk about those rusted-out WMD canisters that U.S. forces had discovered in Iraq, because it was the United States and other Western nations that had furnished Iraq with the very WMDs that had been used as the justification for the invasion.
Thus, in retrospect, I believe that when they invaded Iraq, U.S. officials really believed that they were going to find the WMDs that the U.S. had previously delivered to Iraq and that would still be operational. They couldn’t believe that Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, really had destroyed them. Therefore, I believe that what U.S. officials planned to do was to invade the country, “find” those WMDs, and claim that they had saved the world from the very WMDs that the United States and other Western nations had previously delivered to Saddam. What U.S. officials didn’t realize, however, was that Saddam had foiled their plans by destroying those WMDs many years before.
The “New Hitler”
In one of the most successful propaganda campaigns in history, U.S. officials inculcated tremendous fear of Saddam Hussein and his supposed WMDs within the American people. For more than 10 years prior to the Iraq invasion, Americans were told, practically on a daily basis, that Saddam was a “new Hitler.” He was determined, U.S. officials maintained, to conquer the world from the perch of his dictatorship of an impoverished Third World country. It’s easy to forget those 11 years of propaganda today, but practically every day during the 1990s, the collective daily cry, especially within the mainstream media, was “Saddam! Saddam! Saddam!” Many Americans became absolutely convinced that Saddam was coming to get them.
Then, given the tremendous anger and fear arising from the 9/11 attacks in 2001, many Americans were ready for the announcement that the United States was going to invade Iraq. Even if the WMD claim was based on sketchy evidence, most Americans convinced themselves that U.S. officials had access to secret information that they could not share with the American people. Many Americans were fully on board with waging an undeclared war of aggression against a nation that had never attacked the United States, knowing full well that it would wreak massive death and destruction upon the Iraqi people.
This article was originally published in the June 2023 edition of Future of Freedom.