It is now official. Saddam Hussein didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction at the time when Bush invaded Iraq, although the invasion took place on the grounds that he did have such weapons. On October 6, Charles Duelfer, the top American inspector for Iraq, reported, to quote a Page 1 headline in The New York Times, that “U.S. Report Finds Iraqis Eliminated Illicit Arms in 90’s.”
Saddam had reason not to shout from the rooftops that he had no chemical or biologic weapons: He feared that to do so would expose Iraq to a war by its traditional enemy, Iran. But even if Saddam had such weapons, the United States hardly would be his target, since we had been Iraq’s biggest backer in its eight-year war (1980-88) against Iran.
And Saddam had another reason not to assail the United States: After the Gulf War, when President Bush Sr. had Saddam on the run, Papa Bush did not try to destroy him. He just told Saddam to behave himself and get rid of the ugly weapons we had given him. And we now know that is exactly what Saddam did.
In light of this information, why did Bush Jr. launch his pre-emptive war against Iraq? There are three possible explanations: Freudian, political and economic.
First, the Freudian. One of Freud’s popular theories is the Oedipus Complex, the instinctive and subconscious yen of the son to kill the father. By ridding Iraq of Saddam, which Bush the Elder did not do, Bush the Younger would make his old man look like a wimp.
On the political explanation, it may have been the best way for Bush to get re-elected — in a legitimate manner. He (or his advisers) knew that he really did not win the election of 2000. For millions of Americans, Bush’s victory was stolen. So Bush had good reason, in a re-election, to prove that he was tested and not found wanting.
A timely war would be helpful to accomplish this, since presidents-at-war generally can tap patriotic sentiment to get re-elected — as in the case of Madison, Lincoln, Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. Repeatedly, too, we are reminded not to change horses in midstream. If Bush were to lose, this election would be a historic and ironic reversal of the norm, in which the sitting president lost primarily because of a war he started.
Finally, there is the economic factor. In a word, we refer to oil. Under Saddam, Iraq had nationalized its oil industry. If, in a “regime change,” Saddam were replaced with an American puppet, Bush and his buddies in the oil industry, like Vice President Dick Cheney, would have control of the rich Iraqi oil fields.
En passant , the same motive may have moved Britain’s Tony Blair to go along with Bush. In England, gas at the pump goes for something between $5 and $8 a gallon. If England could gain preferred access to Iraq’s oil and bring down the cost of gas to something like $2 or $3 a gallon, Blair would be a national hero.
So, which of these three reasons is responsible for Bush’s brash invasion of Iraq? Since they are not mutually exclusive, my guess is — all three!