The two Bushes shared little in their reactions to Mideast events
Foreword: I originally prepared this essay as a background paper for members of the Resolutions Committee at the Democratic Party State Convention last month. It details the differing U.S. responses to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and the threat of weapons of mass destruction in 2003. It also reveals that the state Legislature was unified in supporting U.S. policy in 1991, but divided in opposing Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. As expected, debate on Iraq in the Democratic Party Resolutions Committee was spirited, and concluded with a majority and a minority report, both of which were adopted in the plenary. This debate is ongoing in our community and across the nation. I hope readers find this article informative and instructive for use in their own discussions.
-- Sam Lee
THIS IS A TALE of two wars, one completed and the other unfinished.
In the first war, President George H.W. Bush (the father) mobilized the United Nations and the world community against the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, undertook a 100-hour campaign to oust the Iraqi Army from Kuwait, and then withdrew U.S. troops.
In the second war, President George W. Bush (the son) spurned the United Nations and the Old Europe allies, undertook a unilateral pre-emptive strike against Iraq, and is staying the course in the fourth year of a war that has cost 2,500 American lives and $400 billion.
The Hawaii Legislature supported U.S. policy in the first war, but was divided in the second with the House of Representatives opposing U.S. policy and the Senate not taking a formal position.
Invasion of Kuwait 1990
Within hours after Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the U.N. Security Council met in an emergency session at the request of Kuwait and the United States, and adopted Resolution 660, condemning the invasion and demanding a withdrawal of Iraqi troops.
The next day, the Arab League adopted a similar resolution as U.N. Resolution 660 condemning the Iraqi invasion. The United Nations followed up with Resolution 661 with economic sanctions and, on November 29, adopted Resolution 678 authorizing the use of force.
The United States, under President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, assembled a coalition of 34 countries with 660,000 troops in the area, including 110,000 non-American troops, among them 18,000 French and 43,000 British.
When the air campaign against Iraq began on January 17, 1991, the Hawaii Legislature strongly supported U.S. policy in House Concurrent Resolution 2, dated January 18, 1991. Hawaii's support contrasted with the Democratic caucus in Congress, which, with a few exceptions such as then-Sen. Al Gore, opposed the administration's policy.
The U.S. coalition began its land campaign on February 24, 1991, and concluded the ouster of the Iraqi forces in 100 hours with very few of U.S. casualties. Coalition partners provided $53 billion to finance the U.S. costs of $61 billion.
President George H.W. Bush interpreted United Nations Resolutions as authorizing the expulsion of the Iraqis and the liberation of Kuwait, not the ousting of Saddam Hussein.
His interpretation coincided with his realpolitik. Saddam remained in power as a check against Iran but with an autonomous Kurdish area protected by U.S. air power.
The Hawaii House of Representatives reaffirmed its support of U.S. policy for peace and reconciliation in House Resolution 106 on March 12, 1991.
One decade later
On Sept. 11, 2001, the world stood strongly with the United States against the dastardly al-Qaida attack on the World Trade Center, with French President Jacques Chirac proclaiming that "we are all Americans today."
Governments throughout the world, including Russia and China, supported the United States in going after al-Qaida in Afghanistan and liberating that country from the Taliban religious fanatics. NATO allies furnished troops in the security and reconstruction of the country. NATO assumed responsibility for the northern part and recently the southern part, under commanding officers from Germany, France and now the United Kingdom.
However, people and governments throughout the world did not share President George W. Bush's assessment that al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein were together responsible for the 9/11 attacks, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that the war against terror had to be carried militarily to Iraq.
The Hawaii House of Representatives, in HR 22 (February 4, 2003) opposing U.S. policy, expressed its strong concerns and reservations on a unilateral U.S. military solution. Unlike 1991 when the Legislature was unified, the Senate was itself divided and took no position. Also, unlike 1991, most of the Democratic caucus in Congress supported (with Senator Akaka voting against) authorizing George W. Bush to use force.
The state House warned in HR. 22 that "a unilateral military solution, specifically, a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, is fraught with many dangers such as a possible igniting of a clash between Muslim and Christian nations; a disruption of oil supply and prices, which have unknown consequences to the world economy, including the economy of the United States; an intensification of the Arab-Israeli conflict; a possible incitement to other nations to settle scores unilaterally; and a rekindling of the national divisiveness prevalent during the Vietnam War."
Nevertheless, Bush -- despite the misgivings of former members of his father's administration, the concerns of American and world public opinion, and the reservations and even opposition of allies and friends such as Canada and Germany -- proceeded with his campaign against Iraq because of the possible "mushroom cloud" (in the words of then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice).
Three years later, the war against Iraq -- first justified on the threat of weapons of mass destruction (nonexistent) and now promoted as "spreading democracy" -- has cost 2,500 American lives and almost $400 billion.
Operation Iraqi Freedom has now produced:
» an insurgency that has inflicted increasing casualties on the U.S. military;
» growing Shi'a hostility against British forces in the south (Basra);
» a ferocious sectarian and civil war;
» a protracted political struggle mirroring the sectarian and civil war, waged mainly by squabbling émigré politicians in the green zone; and
» a Shiite-dominated Iraq friendly to -- if not secretly allied with -- Iran.
Retired Marine Gen. Tony Zinni, former commander of Central Command, has written an alternative vision for the battle for peace; Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware has presented a plan for a federal Iraqi state; and several retired generals have called for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Six months ago Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran who retired as a Marine colonel, called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Recently Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, who was director of the National Security Agency (1985-88) in the Reagan administration has written an article in Foreign Policy, analyzing the situation in Iraq and concluding that the United States should "get out."
On June 28, 2003, the Democratic Party of Hawaii at its biennial state convention adopted two resolutions, one report recommended by the majority of the resolutions committee and a minority report, both calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
The rising chorus of public opinion -- expressed in polls of ordinary citizens as well as in op-ed pieces and interviews -- should inspire and encourage President George W. Bush and his administration to find an exit strategy.
About the author: Sam Lee is a former Democratic state representative from Mililani and a retired career diplomat with the U.S. Foreign Service.