Arguments For and Against the Legitimacy of 2003 Invasion of Iraq

George Bush announcing Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003The 2003 invasion of Iraq has given rise to widespread public debate.  There were questions raised about its legitimacy.  There are advocates for both sides of the issue.  This includes public intellectuals, politicians, journalists and activists.  The purpose of this essay is to present to the reader arguments for and against the legitimacy of the war.  To make the arguments authentic and credible, care has been taken to elicit information from the most reliable of sources – journal articles, op-ed write-ups, government records, etc.

The 2003 Allied invasion of Iraq was not an exception.  Right through its history, America has not hesitated to use force under the pretexts of principles, sovereignty and justice.  American military intervention in world affairs has risen drastically since the end of the Second World War.  The period following the Second World War saw America assume the role of a superpower that headed the western coalition in what was a bipolar world.  Since the collapse of Soviet Union, America has had at its disposal the most potent military force.  Its economic structure complements military spending; leading to a military industrial complex [1]

Noted political commentator Ivo Daalder raises some valid questions regarding the legitimacy of the invasion.  Daalder argues that the invasion was illegitimate on two counts: 1.there was no provocation from Iraq and 2.the United Nations Security Council did not approve of the war.  Military actions of countries such as Iran and North Korea were condemned by the U.N. and the United States alike.  If the same standards were to be applied to all participant countries then the United States deserves its condemnation.

On the other hand, supporters of the Bush Administration argue that toppling Saddam Hussein was a just act that needs no further legitimacy [2].  Liberating the country from an oppressive dictatorship is deemed a just act in and of itself.  Apart from the geo-political significance of Bush Administration’s militarism, the image of the country is also at stake.  Popular opinion in the rest of the world is very unfavourable towards Americans – they don’t seem to make a distinction between the government and its populace.  According to Robert Kagan,

“To forge a renewed political consensus on the use of force, we first need to recognize that international legitimacy does matter. It matters to Americans, who want to believe they are acting justly and are troubled if others accuse them of selfish, immoral or otherwise illegitimate behaviour. It matters to our democratic friends and allies, whose support may attest to the justness of the cause and whose participation may often be necessary to turn a military victory into a lasting political success.” [3]

Although the Iraq war was not sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council, there are other parameters for evaluating its legitimacy.  There are certain conditions under which an invasion is warranted.  But the important question is who decides.  In the absence of the Security Council sanction, a consensus among the world’s leading democracies might provide the necessary legitimacy to any military intervention.  Recent world history is comprised of several examples of successful application of this method.  The latest of them was the war in Kosovo.  However, in the case of the Iraq War, there was no unanimity in the decision to invade.  France under the leadership of Jacques Chirac was vocal in its opposition to the war, while Germany’s stand was ambiguous.  The only ready partner for this venture was the United Kingdom, which is no surprise.  In the post World War world, United Kingdom’s role in world politics is one of a junior partner to the dominant military power.  Hence, Robert Kagan contends, that the 2003 invasion’s legitimacy is a dubious one.

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