1) Forcible Disarmament is Easier on Paper:
In the winter of 2002 the plan for the upcoming Iraq war involved a combination of US technical know-how, the resolve of the US population and a keen sense that the Iraqi population would accept the US and its allies as benevolent partners. When the US and its allies crossed from Kuwait into Iraq on March 20, 2003 this facade quickly faded. In forcibly disarming Iraq, the US-led coalition had to contend with a fractured and fratricidal society. Even if the objectives were limited to non-proliferation efforts such as seizing materials like uranium, destroying or dismantling weapons facilities, and detaining skilled individuals with marketable weapons expertise, the US and its allies would still have to occupy a country of 31 million people in one of the roughest neighborhoods of the world. Furthermore, as my colleague Jon Miller pointed out, the 1999 Desert Crossing war games already confirmed that an occupying mission would be a mess. This fact should be kept in mind especially as the US gaze is now focused on Syria and Iran.
2) Dictators Lie, Democrats Lie:
And no, I don’t mean the party that has the donkey. Instead, we should focus on how neither of the two major leaders of the Iraq War told the truth. George Bush was clear in positing that the war was a preventative measure designed to remove the threat of Iraqi WMD, which never materialized. Ironically, the one person who could assuage this fear, Saddam Hussein, failed to provide evidence until it was too late. After his capture, Hussein explained to the FBI that he was more afraid of Iran than the US and he knew that UN inspectors would reveal his weaknesses, especially that he had slowly dismantled his WMD programs. The fact that leaders have agendas is well known. However, in 2013, there is much more information available than there was 10 years ago. On the non-proliferation front, we can buy or rent satellite imagery to see what is actually happening on the ground. If Iran constructs a new facility or North Korea digs another tunnel we can know in near real-time. Furthermore, as the cyber realm becomes more transparent, we can see into the bureaucratic thought processes of individual governments. As Wikileaks and the hacking of the Syrian presidential emails have shown, privileged government communication is more accessible today. Consider how history may have changed if we had Iraqi emails circa 2002.
3) The Iraq War Did Not Start the Second Nuclear Age:
Many commentators have argued that the Iraq War lead to further nuclear proliferation since it highlighted the risks that proliferating countries must face before they reach breakout capacity. Under this argument countries such as North Korea and Iran redoubled their efforts to get the bomb after seeing what happened to Saddam Hussein and Iraq. While it’s true that North Korea obtained nuclear weapons in 2006, 3 years after the start of the Iraq War, its program, like the weapons programs of Pakistan, Iran, Libya, and also Iraq, can be traced to previous decades. This second nuclear age differs from the previous global nuclear arrangement through its participation of Asian states who tend to be nationalistic and underdeveloped. Paul Bracken, who has written extensively on the topic, pinpoints a possible start of the 2nd nuclear age with the 1974 Indian nuclear test. The Iraq War was a symptom of the second nuclear age; it didn’t cause it.