Pretext, Cause and Beginning
The Iraq War from a Polybian POV

by Iconoclast

WMD’s were one of the pretexts, not one of the causes, of the war against Iraq. Given the media and political obsession with the Bush administration’s case for war, it seems that most have confused pretext with cause, in an effort to ascertain whether the war was justified or even legal.

A sub-product of this debate is the alleged wrongdoing of the present administration in presenting its justification for war: did the administration purposefully manipulate Congress and public opinion?

I am awestruck that this “sub-product” should still be the subject of debate. Senior administration officials have admitted as such, in so many words. "For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on," Mr. Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair. It is clear that we have been manipulated, and given the scantiness and poor quality of the intelligence presented, the door is open to accusations of incompetence.

But since the administration and even its critics seem to be obsessed with analyzing the pretext, the shoddy excuse for one will have to defend itself as best it can. In other words, the administration is so intent on basing its all on the pretext that its actions will be judged as per the plausibility of the same, and not on the true causes of the conflict.

On a political level, the lack of WMD's, the detection of exaggerations or outright falsehoods, and even allegations of incompetence (clearly seen in the pre-war diplomatic fiasco) have the potential to damn the administration.

This is ironic – condemnation on the quality of the smokescreen.

Yet even if the administration is condemned (penal or through non-reelection), justice -poetic or otherwise- cannot be served without a real understanding of the issue. Why was the war fought, who benefited from the war?

Polybian analysis of the war:

"Now I maintain that it is most essential both for writers and for students to know the causes from which all events spring and grow. But most writers are guilty of confusion in this matter, owing to their not observing the difference between a pretext and a cause, and between the beginning of a war and pretext for it." (Polybius)

It is much too early to make a true historical analysis of the conflict. Much, if not most, of the key information is inaccessible, and given the virtual repeal of the FOI Act and the exercise of executive privilege, I doubt that any of us will ever see it. This analysis is largely based on conjecture, but I hazard to say that it is informed conjecture.

It is not much of a reach to say that the latest war was really a continuation of the previous one (Desert Storm). The only differentiating characteristic between the two was the invasion of Kuwait - all the other pretexts (from WMD's, nukes, massacres, etc.) were also applied to both.

What was the true cause of the conflict between the US and Iraq?

It should be noted that in the 1980's Iraq was supported by the US in its war against Iran. This was because the greater perceived danger was that of fundamentalism and the possibility of the export of the Iranian Shiite fundamentalist model.

What was endangered by this expansion? Certainly not the military security of the US and/or Europe. The danger lied, and lies, before Israel and oil supplies. The danger to Israel is clear. As for oil, it should be noted that a fundamentalist control of oil supplies does not mean a threat to US or European access to oil - fundamentalist regimes need income and wouldn't sit on their oil because of religious taboos. The danger to oil supplies is really a question as to who makes more profit.

Fundamentalist regimes, if expanded, would likely nationalize their oil industries. Iraq, however, had already nationalized its oil industry before Saddam Hussein came to power (between 1972-1975).

Some might venture that an embargo by fundamentalist regimes as a means to pressure the West regarding Israel would be possible. But said embargo would be doomed to failure in the short term, due to the economic needs of said regimes. With alternate sources of oil we could weather the storm and outlast them.

The oil “danger” is really an oil “opportunity”. Since the French and Russians had the bulk of exploitation rights for the distribution to Europe, firms from other countries (especially the US, UK and Holland) did not have access.

It has been stated and debated that the invasion of Kuwait was a manipulation (the Glaspie affair). Regardless of the veracity of this theory, the US was singularly equivocal regarding the ongoing crisis between Iraq and Kuwait. This is noteworthy if one considers that the US has directly or indirectly intervened in Iraq at least 5 times in this generation: “…U.S. arms and aid for propping up an Iraqi monarchy in the 1950s. CIA-backed coups in 1963 and 1968, one bringing in the Baathists and the second bringing in Hussein himself. The Gulf War. Now its sequel. Five times in a generation, Washington intervened to ensure that Iraq did not defy U.S. interests….” (From "Freedom, American Style" by Roger Morris, Commentary, Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2003 ).

The question at hand is not “why did we turn against Iraq?”, but why did we escalate from indirect and covert intervention to overt military intervention.

Quite frankly, we changed our policy on Iraq during the policy vacuum leading from the fall of the Soviets. Bush Sr.'s "New World Order" was the beginning of a new policy shift, ultimately to be expressed by the PNAC. This has some political and many economic undertones, the control of Iraqi oil being the deciding factor amongst the latter.

It should be remembered that one of Iraq’s primary concerns at the time had been its tremendous debt - a debt to Gulf states (especially Kuwait and S. Arabia) incurred during their war against Iran. From an objective perspective, the Gulf States and the US had obligations to Iraq, as Iraq had fought their battle no less than their own.

The US chose to abandon Saddam, chose to send unclear messages to their erstwhile ally, and a cornered Saddam (cornered domestically, internationally and financially) absorbed an artificial nation.

I, for one, refuse to believe that the US was so incompetent that it could not have avoided the invasion of Kuwait. Saddam's situation was well understood, he had made overtures to all interested parties, and all turned their back on him.

At this point it should be remembered that Iraq had nationalized its oil production between 1972 and 1975 - before Saddam was in control. It should also be remembered that the advance of the peace process in Israel had left the militant Muslims without a visible leader outside of the fundamentalist circle. Saddam had tried to identify himself with said role, with mixed results.

Meanwhile, France and Russia had increasingly large stakes in Iraqi oil. Thus the profit of distributing Iraqi oil to its natural market (Europe) was in European (and not American) hands. This posed a dual problem: coalition firms were unable to tap this lucrative market and the Dollar was threatened by Euro payments.

Thus, the causes of the shift to overt military action can be expressed as the satisfaction of conceived needs:

- Furthering the security of Israel.
- Furthering the security of client states such as S. Arabia.
- Reversing the nationalization of important oil reserves.
- Redistributing the Iraqi oil pie, giving access to coalition-based companies.
- Eliminating a potential charismatic leader for anti-Israel groups.
- Minimizing the risk of a transference of oil wealth from dollars to Euros.
- Etc.

After Desert Storm, these objectives were further defined by the PNAC (

The pretexts, which have been shifted, changed and amplified depending on changing circumstances, are/have been:

- WMD threat.
- Nuclear threat.
- Terrorism threat.
- Threat to neighboring states.
- Human rights concerns.
- Self-determination for minorities.
- Spread of democracy.

In conclusion, the true causes of the Iraq conflict have not been stated and are likely to diverge greatly from the pretexts so clumsily presented to the world.