For the most important belligerents in the Iraq war, the war ended with an enormous victory this week. Shortly after Jalal Talabani was sworn in as the new president of Iraq, Ibrahim Jaafari was appointed as the new prime minister. Saddam Hussein, who reportedly watched much of these proceedings from his jail cell, must have snapped his plastic spork in his apple brown betty at the news. Mr. Talabani, you see, is a Kurd and Mr. Jaafari is a Shiite.
In a very real sense, George W. Bush didn't start the war in Iraq. He finished it. For decades, the Kurds and the Shiites fought bloody wars for self-determination, often with the United States standing in the way. In 1975, for example, Henry Kissinger helped broker an accord between Iraq and Iran that left the Kurds high and dry. Without the backing of Washington and Tehran (then run by the Shah), the Kurdish rebels were pulverized. A little more than a decade later, the U.S. supported Saddam during the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds, in which 100,000 to 200,000 men, women and children were killed, in some instances with chemical weapons. Our policies were not intentionally sinister; there were strong national-interest arguments on the other side. But certainly, with the benefit of hindsight, America comes up short in moral calculus.
We lost even more credibility in 1991, when America fought a just war in the name of national self-determination - but only for Kuwaitis. Sure, we encouraged Shiites and Kurds to rise up, but when Saddam slaughtered them with his helicopter gunships, we stood back and did nothing.
America established the famous no-fly zones in the north and the south in order to end the slaughter and keep Saddam in his famous "box." For some bizarre reason, most Americans took the status quo in the 1990s as a state of "peace" between America and Iraq, despite the fact that Saddam tried to have the first President Bush murdered and we bombed the dickens out of various military installations in Iraq repeatedly throughout the decade.
America had no peace treaty with Iraq. We had a ceasefire. Saddam consistently defied the terms of that ceasefire, so we bombed him for it. After he tried to murder George H.W. Bush in 1993, we lobbed cruise missiles at him. In 1996, Saddam invaded the no-fly zone in the north, capturing Irbill. We bombed and extended the no-fly zone even closer to Baghdad. In 1998, Saddam refused to comply with the U.N., so the U.S. and Britain launched Operation Desert Fox. More bombing. And so on.