As a duty of memory, it is necessary, on the eve of the presidential election, to give a clear and definitive look at one of the most crucial events of the Bush administration and understand there was no room for hesitation. Let's consider three main facts.
First, the U.S. intervention was legitimized by the U.N. Charter itself. Indeed, there are two kinds of resolutions: Those that fall under Chapter VI; and those that fall under Chapter VII. Chapter VI resolutions require a pacific settlement of disputes, without any armed-force intervention — that is, for instance, resolutions concerning Israel and Palestine. Chapter VII resolutions allow, through Article 41, the use of armed force when all other means have failed — this type of resolution concerned Iraq. Therefore, undertaking a military course of action was legitimate, and the United States respected the spirit and principles of the U.N. Charter.
Second, it was not a new war. Technically speaking, the 1991 Gulf War was interrupted by an armistice, which is a cease fire, not a peace treaty. Fights are on hold and may resume at any moment without a new war declaration if negotiations fail. And they did, since Saddam Hussein did not fulfill his international obligations. Saddam did not show any proof to the United Nations that he disarmed, nor did he say explicitly that he did not own any weapons of mass destruction. He then represented a clear danger. Military intervention was necessary, and even a moral obligation, to eradicate this threat.
Third, to this military threat must be added the threat to human dignity. A humanitarian situation may justify military intervention. This is legitimate because the Security Council issued (under Chapter VII) Resolution 940 in 1994 that authorized military intervention in order to re-establish democracy in Haiti. Justifying such a course of action, the Security Council stated the disastrous humanitarian situation was a threat to peace. But a similar context was found in Iraq, too: Resolution 57/232 of the U.N. General Assembly of Dec. 18, 2002, stated clearly the violation of basic human rights in Iraq. Thus the violence of Saddam's dictatorship was internationally recognized: suppression of freedoms; use of torture; the use of rape as a political tool and so on, resulting in an all-pervasive repression and oppression sustained by broad-based discrimination and widespread terror. The price of non-intervention in Iraq should also be considered in the light of those acknowledged facts. Thus, leftist politicians and the media should think twice when they are questioning the U.S. intervention in Iraq.
Unfortunately, war is still waged today. But we should not ignore the analysis of it. Is the allied coalition responsible for Iraq's destabilization? Let's not forget that what we see today is the Iraqi democratic government victim of asymmetrical warfare, this new type of war led by terrorists. They conduct dramatic attacks against military or civilian targets in the sole aim of shaking the foundation of a legitimate democratic government by showing it is unable to protect its own population. Since terrorists are not responsible to any states, Iraqi authorities have no one to speak to, leaving the impression of weakness and chaos, the supreme trap of terrorists. We shall not fall into it.
Indeed, there is no room for balancing, nor for regrets. In the light of the above facts, President Bush's decision was responsible and legitimate. International law was not despised, it merely showed its limits and should be reconsidered and even rebuilt in the light of warfare changes. And at least now, there's hope for democracy in Iraq, even if the fight for it will be hard. But it is worth fighting.
Sylvain Charat is director of Policy Studies in the French think tank Eurolibnetwork and chief of staff for Alain Madelin, former secretary of finance for French President Jacques Chirac.