The False Iraq-Crimea Analogy

Arnold Ahlert is a former NY Post op-ed columnist currently contributing to JewishWorldReview.com, HumanEvents.com and CanadaFreePress.com. He may be reached at atahlert@comcast.net.


> on March 3, 2014 in Perevalne, Ukraine.Of all the strained analyses offered by the Left on the Crimea crisis, none is quite so ludicrous as the comparison of Putin’s invasion of the former Soviet territory to the 2003 Iraq War. As the Atlantic’s Peter Beinart put itPutin is just like “the American hawks who hate him most.” This sentiment was vocally seconded by Michael McFaul, a former Obama administration official who served as a special assistant to the president at the National Security Council and as ambassador to the Russian Federation. “As ambassador, I found it difficult to defend our commitment to sovereignty and international law when asked by Russians, ‘What about Iraq?’” 

Defending America’s commitment to sovereignty and international law vis-à-vis Iraq isn’t difficult at all, if one chooses to examine the facts, as opposed to the American left’s historical revisionism. To begin with, President Bush asked for and received authorization for the use of force in Iraq from Congress. Both chambers approved the measure with overwhelming majorities. On Oct. 10, 2002 the House voted 296-133 in favor, followed by the Democratic-led Senate’s vote of 77-23 a day later. “I believe it is important for America to speak with one voice,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) at the time. “It is neither a Democratic resolution nor a Republican resolution. It is now a statement of American resolve and values.” That sentiment was echoed by then-Senator Hillary Clinton, who called her vote “the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I cast it with conviction. I want this president, or any future president, to be in the strongest possible position to lead our country, at the United Nations or at war.”

The resolution authorized the president to defend America against the threat posed by Iraq and enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs). It also required that all diplomatic efforts be exhausted prior to the use of force and that reports to Congress be made every 60 days once action was undertaken.

The key element here is the authorization to enforce the relevant UNSCRs. Beginning in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein began serially dismissing UNSCRs, ignoring more than 17 of them and remaining in material breach of Iraq’s disarmament obligations. The last one in that regard, Resolution 1441, authorized on November 8, 2002, gave Iraq a “final opportunity to comply.”

Bush also established a coalition of 40 nations to depose Hussein, including Great Britain, Australia, Spain, Italy, Poland, 16 members of the NATO alliance, Japan, South Korea, and a total 12 of 25 EU nations. France and Germany sat on the sidelines, as did Russia, but the “nobility” of their position was belied by the oil-for-food scandal, in which a U.N investigation revealed that the three nations had paid a total of $1.8 billion in kickbacks and illicit surcharges to the Iraqi strongman.

Another inconvenient reality is that, left-wing mythology not withstanding, WMD possession was not sole premise of the Iraq War. While WMDs were one concern, many other activities of the Hussein regime posed extreme threats to international security, as articulated by Bush in his Sept 12, 2002 speech to the U.N. Aside from WMDs, Bush made clear that if Hussein wanted to avoid war he must “immediately end all support for terrorism,” “cease persecution of its civilian population,” “account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown,” and “immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program.”

Yet the comparison between Putin’s seizure of Crimea and Bush’s liberation of Iraq ultimately falls apart based on the simplest of realities. America invaded Iraq, disposed of a bloodthirsty dictator, did our best to establish a provisional and democratic government, and withdrew. Nor did we seek anything in the way of reparations: China has become the largest recipient of Iraqi oil, with India coming in second. 

Putin, however, is not at all interested in global security or bringing an internally recognized criminal to justice. Since 2008, Putin has engaged in invasions of two countries — Georgia and Ukraine — and many of Russia’s neighbors are now fearing the same fate awaits them. That fear is driven by the reality that Putin has characterized the breakup of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” and is eyeing other conquests in his determination to build a Eurasian Union of former Soviet states. Fear of Russian expansionism is further exacerbated by Obama’s killing of the missile defense systems that were to be installed in Poland and the Czech Republic in 2009, which were aborted in exchange for a “reset” in bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia.

Rather than Iraq, a far better comparison to Crimea is a more recent war, which the left was hypocritically silent to: Libya. From the very beginning, Putin has used appeals to humanitarianism as the pretext for his invasion of Crimea. He has cast himself as the “guardian” of the Russian-speaking people, even those residing in neighboring countries, such as Ukraine. For example, citing threats of violence toward the Russian-speaking citizens in the Ukraine, Putin said, “[I]f we see such uncontrolled crime spreading to the eastern regions of the country, and if the people ask us for help, while we already have the official request from the legitimate president, we retain the right to use all available means to protect those people. We believe this would be absolutely legitimate.”

In 2011, Obama used similar justifications for the U.S.-led NATO intervention in Libya, which at the time was in the midst of a chaotic civil conflict, not unlike that of Ukraine. “I have… stated that it is U.S. policy that Qaddafi needs to go,” Obama said of the situation. “But when it comes to our military action, we are doing so in support of U.N. Security resolution 1973. That specifically talks about humanitarian efforts, and we are going to make sure that we stick to that mandate.” The mission began as a no-fly zone over Libya, for the purpose of protecting civilian populations, but quickly escalated into unauthorized targeted air strikes and a manhunt for Qaddafi. While Obama and NATO were carrying out these strikes, which destroyed schools and non-governmental buildings such as the Libyan Down’s Syndrome Society, the president steadfastly maintained that intervention was necessary to pre-empt an imminent massacre by the Libyan regime. Notably, the intervention in Libya proceeded without the permission of the U.S. Congress in violation of the War Powers Act. 

In the background of the Libyan war was a philosophy that is currently in vogue in the left-wing foreign policy establishment — and in the Obama administration in particular. The responsibility to protect doctrine, known as R2P, is a pet doctrine of UN Ambassador and Samantha Power and National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The philosophy of R2P codifies the justification of military intervention on the basis of humanitarian reasons and rejects absolute rights of sovereignty. It sanctions “appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner” with regard to nations that fail to protect its populations from “genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.” Power even once envisaged invading Israel based on this principle.

What Power, Rice and Obama are no doubt learning from the Crimea episode is that rejection of the premise of absolute sovereignty and using humanitarian reasons for the bases of invasion and war is a double-edged sword. There will always be malignant state actors who will exploit the “responsibility to protect” for their own purposes. Indeed, Putin appears to have taken a page out of the Obama administration’s playbook — not George W. Bush’s. 

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  • Gee

    Whoops! How about the illegal wars in Pakistan and Yemen that are still going on? President Odumba has more wars going on than any other President

    • A Z

      I would not call the wars as illegal so much as showing a lack of commitment and resolve (i.e. gutless). If you do not have resolve you should not show up ion the battlefield or ORDER OTHERS TO SHOW UP!

      • Gee

        Illegal as in not authorized use of force by the United States Congress. So yes they are illegal under American laws.
        Will not comment about international laws

        • A Z

          So if we declare war on Al Qaeda and they are in Afghanistan all is good?

          Once they send some people to Lichtenstein, Central African Republic, Paraguay or somewhere else they are off limits?

          • Gee

            Congress authorized use of force for Al Qaeda not a location. But instead of attacking Al Qaeda your President aided them in attacking and destroying Libya without Congressional approval.
            Why does your President arm Al Qaeda in Syria? Why does the US aid terrorists in Gaza?

          • A Z

            I don’t agree with Libya or Gaza. Those were & are Lefty things.

            Going after Syria is on first blush a good thing. We have a dog in the fight. Assad aided terrorists headed to Iraq during the Iraq War. Assad also hurt us in Lebanon.

            But on review seeing how many hardline Islamic types there are I am not in favor of it.

          • Gee

            In our region the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy. Assad is a nasty person – am not defending him. Too many people believe that anybody that takes on a tyrant must be good.
            Well in the Arab world those that oppose a tyrant do so not because he is wicked, but because they want to be in position to do the exact same thing

          • Drakken

            I say sit back, grab a bourbon and watch the muslims slaughter each other to their little jihadist hearts content, the more the merrier.

          • A Z

            I was not that way at first on Syria. but the more the muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda came to the fore as well as Gulf State funding for the rebels, I don;t want either side of it.

            The same Gulf states that find radical mosques here in the U.S.

            and not one damn politicians cares about the Christians in Syria. John McShame is a joke.

    • A Z

      Pakistan is okay with the drone strikes except for 2 reasons.

      They are doing the whole public condemnation for public political consumption and a privately are okay with it.

      The other reason they are against the drones is because some of the fighter, who get wasted are some of their protégés/pawns. They are okay with some terrorists getting slammed just not their terrorists. Think of the deal the the Cuban intel officer offered the Americans in the movie “Clear & Present Danger”.

      The Pakistanis are playing a double game. But we are not actually doing anything immoral or illegal.

      • Gee

        So why does your President ignore American laws? It is not the action that is objectionable but the lack of accountability by your Emperor

        • A Z

          That I agree with

  • A Z

    “. “As ambassador, I found it difficult to defend our commitment to sovereignty and international law when asked by Russians, ‘What about Iraq?’” ”

    - Michael McFaul a.k.a weak minded fool

    Does Michael McFoul know how many times Iraq violated the terms of the 1991 armistice?

    Does McFoul know how many terrorists and how many terrorists groups Hussein supported?

  • RMthoughts

    So, it is easy, “Defending America’s commitment to sovereignty and international law”. Don’t think so…….
    If it is easy to defend then it must be easy to defend “our” commitment to our own national sovereignty and rule of law in face of the largest influx of illegal immigration in our history
    How do you defend our commitment to law in the face of the lawless Obamacare; Fast and Furious operations that are illegal and offend our neighbors sovereignty and carried out with Impunity;
    How about the IRS targeting, intimidating and persecuting Americans and limiting the right of political speech;
    Overthrowing or attacking sovereign regimes around the world as Libya, Egypt, etc.
    How about taking American citizens private property or use thereof, through dictatorial EPA policies.
    How about Spying and collecting data American citizens, does that protect our rule of law and our individual rights as citizens of a sovereign country. Not to mention the international spying of the NSA surely that reflects our incredible commitment to international law = and the list can go on and on.
    If Charity begins at home, then the commitment to sovereignty and rule of law also begins at home. As American we have failed or sat by while our government has failed to live up to the exceptional standards we imagine we still stand for stand for before and to the world.
    Before we dicate to the rest of the world and spreading our new post modern renegade exceptionalism we have a lot to fix at home lest we spread the disease that has infected our body politic to the world.

  • Texas Patriot

    Putin is defending Russian interests, just as Moshe Dyan and Ariel Sharon defended Israeli interests and John Kennedy defended American interests. Putin is a nationalist, and defending national interests is the first responsibility of any leader of any nation. Unfortunately, most leaders in the West over the last fifty years have been quite willing to subordinate the interests of their own nations and their own people to foreign and international interests, and nowhere has that trend been more evident and more disastrous than in America. So now, if Putin is making Western leaders feel uncomfortable about their own lack of leadership and disloyalty to their own nation and their own people, so what. The truth is that globalization and multiculturalism are destroying Western Civilization, and the sooner Western leaders start taking care of business on their own turf and in their own backyards, the better.

  • Godagesil Rex

    Are all of our so called leaders ignorant of recent history? Putin is doing the same thing a small moustachioed fella from Austria did in 1939 that led the world to war. Hitler did the same thing claiming the need to protect “ethnic” Germans in Poland, Austria and Czechoslovakia. We all know where that led. If Russia’s actions stand, there will be more in the future. Europe is showing the same gutlessness that it showed in 1939 and I hope they pay the price tag in blood, while the US sits the next one out. Putin is using a threat to “Ethnic” Russians in the Crimea to seize land that was deeded to Ukraine in exchange for other territories of Ukraine to Russia during the border adjustments after the break up of the Soviet Union. Stalin moved national borders west after WWII giving parts of Germany to Poland, parts of Poland to the Ukraine, and took parts of Ukraine for Russia. Then forcibly relocated millions of people to the adjusted territories. So what Putin did would be liken to Mexico moving military forces into Southern California claiming our police are treating their illegally immigrated citizens harshly and then holding a referendum about that part of California becoming part of Mexico. The only thing preventing it is our military is a bit more efficient than theres. But with the services pandering to illegals to join and awarding citizenship to them and their families, how long do you think that will last? It didnt’ work for the Roman empire and it won’t work for the US.

    • Drakken

      If we could get the Russians to invade Kalifornia, you might be on to something, at least he would put that cesspool state right again, Putin would get every wetback out of the state and make the libtards cry, I call it a win win for everybody.

  • Erudite Mavin

    Excellent commentary and good to know there are a few people left who actually know and understand history.

    The uninformed who don’t know history or world affairs believe the isolationist talking points in support of Putin. The isolationists can spin this every which way they want but the facts are, they are repeating what the U.S. and Europe did in the 1930s, look the other way while Hitler marched into other countries.

    What could have been stopped in short order without the loss of millions more
    is what is happening now, Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, what next, Moldova, the remainder of Georgia, then the independent countries of Lithuania which is Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran, Latvia, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Orthodox and Estonia which is predominantly Lutheran. Then who after that.
    Putin is also lining up with Marxist Cuba, Venezuela, and others in that neighborhood, just south of the U.S.

    About Iraq, false analogy re Crimea is correct. The isolationists must know, there are some of us who actually know history , current events, read facts.
    Want more facts on Iraq before the 2003 war, read:

    “Saddam, King of Terror” by Con Coughlin; executive editor of the London Sunday Telegraph and noted authority of the Middle East.

    “Saddam’s Ties to Al Queda” by Sam Pender – over 600 pages of documentations.

    “Both in One trench” Saddam’s Secret Terror Documents” by Ray Robinson

    “The Connection” How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America by Stephen F. Hayes.

  • 11johnmac66

    I find a few things wrong with Ahlert’s analysis, in that the justification he makes of the US invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is made on the grounds that Bush had the approval of congress ( and not necessarily disputing that it wasn’t ) is analogically incorrect when determining if Putin had justification for annexing the Crimea since Putin no doubt had the backing of his own house of parliament… but perfectly correct in regards to Obama’s aid in overthrowing Gadaffey ( as he aided and abetted Americas true enemies, reinforcing them and undoing the hard work – and cost – of the previous administration.)
    Neither can that comparison be made because Bush overthrew a bloody tyrant and Putin invaded a sovereign jurisdiction simply to gain -or regain old territory…the people of the Crimea do not feel Invaded but relieved to be back where they belong…And it is not just people on the left who have difficulty in outright condemnation of Putin’s move or indeed an understanding of that very position.
    Putin has done the right thing for the people of the Crimea and Russian interests. Please note that it has practically been a bloodless occurrence; The will of the Crimean people has announced itself.
    Hindsight is easy enough, but if the cost to America in lives and finance could be known George W Bush’s response after 9/11 might have been different… Call out Islam and its doctrine and do not make the fallacy of declaring how a few rouge Islamists have hijacked ”the religion of peace” . Knock out the Taliban for what it worth but forget about trying to bring democracy with that.
    Power and Rice might like to take their policy of R2P to N Korea and several Islamic States and stop the nonsense on Israel ( pigs will fly first – although in fairness to Power she did recognise that Israel was getting unfair treatment in the UN )

  • Nabukuduriuzhur

    One wonders how many people know that as of 3 years ago, some 400,000 in mass graves had been found. Killed by Saddam.

    Certainly they don’t know that Bosnia was a lie, with only three small “mass” graves found to date.