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Clark: US Failure in Iraq Rooted in Lack of Legitimacy
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Clark: US Failure in Iraq Rooted in Lack of Legitimacy

No amount of military intervention in Iraq can work without equal emphasis on robust diplomacy and political initiatives in the strife-torn nation, Clark said in a Jan. 22 lecture on the eve of Bush's national address.

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So by virtually every standard — purpose, effectiveness, the use of minimal force, protection of the innocent, proportionality, last-resort — we have undercut the legitimacy" of our actions in Iraq.

This article was first published in UCLA Today.

By Ajay Singh

IN HIS STATE of the Union address last month, President Bush emphasized that Iraq would be overrun by extremists if more U.S. troops were not sent there. Gen. Wesley K. Clark (Ret.), who campaigned against Bush in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, wholeheartedly agrees.

But no amount of military intervention in Iraq can work without equal emphasis on robust diplomacy and political initiatives in the strife-torn nation, Clark said in a Jan. 22 lecture on the eve of Bush's national address.

Given at the law school, "Legality, Legitimacy and Public Support: Reflections on Winning Modern War" was Clark's first public talk on campus since he became a fellow of the Burkle Center for International Relations last year.

The U.S., Clark told an audience of some 200 people, stands at a crossroads in Iraq. "The president said we're going to put 20,000 more troops in, but that's a really hard stretch — recruiting has been very difficult in this environment."

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group has recommended drawing down troops, Clark pointed out. But the group's recommendations are widely seen as "an admission of failure — and it's made Iraq even more triumphalist than it has already been."

Globally, he noted, the prestige and power of the United States are hanging in the balance. U.S. generals in Iraq have doubtless erred, but the Bush administration has made mistakes that are not only far more grievous but have "contributed to our continuing difficulties in our war on terror," said Clark, who commanded the 1999 NATO-led campaign in Kosovo.

The administration's biggest mistake, he elaborated, was the failure to appreciate the importance of law and the concept of legitimacy in the conduct of American affairs abroad.

"We went to war on legally sufficient grounds both nationally and internationally," Clark explained. "The problem was legitimacy." U.S. actions struck at the heart of the "just-war theory," which is codified in international law and which seeks to restrict the destructiveness of war, protect the innocent and inhibit the use or threat of war as instruments by nation states, he said.

"By February 2003, the president had begun talking about his aim of establishing democracy (in Iraq), undercutting the just-war purpose of the operation, which was directed at enforcing the United Nations Security Council resolution about weapons of mass destruction," Clark said. "States in the region understand that the United States was going into Iraq as a first step, not a last step, and that it wasn't about weapons of mass destruction — it was about broader geostrategic issues."

The attacks on civilians further damaged U.S. legitimacy. "Finally, there is this standard in just-war theory that, after all is said and done, the operation has to be successful or effective, otherwise it is manifestly unjust," Clark said.

"So by virtually every standard — purpose, effectiveness, the use of minimal force, protection of the innocent, proportionality, last-resort — we have undercut the legitimacy that should have been derived from the legal authority to undertake these operations," he said.

Is it any wonder, Clark added, that in recent polls the U.S. is seen by some as "the greatest threat to peace and, in some instances, President Bush more dangerous than Osama Bin Laden?"

Burkle Center for International Relations

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