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"Sanctions were working!"

The latest talking point I've heard is that the Iraq War was unnecessary because “sanctions were working and the inspections were finally working just before the war. We didn't have to invade, we could have kept Saddam contained.”

I think this is a pretty dumb statement to make. Here's my reasoning:

1. At the last minute, right before the coalition invaded, Saddam was suddenly much more cooperative with the inspectors. That's true. What's also true is that we had about 150 – 200,000 troops on his border. How long could we have kept them there, and what would the impact on the Arab world have been had we done so? I think the answer is “Not as long as needed” and “Possibly worse for the US than the invasion.”

As a supplement to this point, I certainly doubt Libya would have seen the light about its WMD program without the Iraq War.

2. Containment and the various embargoes we had erected around Iraq were leaking, and leaking progressively more and more. At what point would they have become so leaky as to be ineffective?

3. Saddam was using the skimmed funds from Oil-For-Food to weaken the Western coalition, by bribing executives, journalists, and politicians from a number of countries.

4. Sanctions were hurting the Iraqi people a lot more than it was hurting Saddam's government. The people saw their incomes collapse and the Iraqi infrastructure decayed while Saddam built palaces and was screwed out of millions on deals to buy North Korean missiles.

Of course, then there's the flip side. There was a well-developed international movement to lift the inhumane sanctions on Iraq. Just to end them, because the human cost was unacceptably high. How many organizations that were for ending sanctions neatly changed position 180 degrees when they became anti-war?

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