Thursday, December 10, 2009

Quick Look at Iraq War From an Individual Level Analysis

This is just a tid-bit from a recent class discussion. The thought is not fully developed.  You are welcome to develop it further.

Looking at the Gulf War(s) from an individual level analysis there are two stand-out players. In the first Gulf War it was Saddam Hussein against George Bush. In the second Gulf War, which was more correctly a war in Iraq, it was Saddam Hussein against George Bush. Any similarity? Well, yes and no. The Bushes were obviously different, and although there are theories about the second Bush having sought revenge for the first, I tend to think those arguments are tantamount to conspiracy theories. But, in both situations the pervasive thought was what John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt discuss in their 2003 Foreign Policy essay as (2003), "Saddam must be toppled because he cannot be deterred from using weapons of mass destruction (WMD)" (p.52). This was certainly the case in the second Gulf War, or Iraqi Freedom.

Although the Bush administration (W not HW) tried to craft a comprehensive policy against Iraq, the reality of the policy was that the U.S. was going to prevent his use of WMD. At the time it was a plausible reason to pursue Saddam and his regime because Saddam's history suggested he "is a warped human being who might use WMD without regard for the consequences" as Mearsheimer and Walt explain. The threat at the time was easily sold to the public, and in 2003 we attacked Iraq. Much good and much bad has come of Iraq since. One thing that has not come, however, are any relevant WMDs.

Mearsheimer, J. J., & Walt, S. M. (2003, January/February). An unnecessary war. Foreign Policy , pp. 50-59


  1. "The United States did not go to war in Iraq solely because of WMD. In my view, I doubt it was even the principal cause. Yet it was the public face that was put on it. The leaders of a country decide to go to war because of core beliefs, larger geostrategic calculations, ideology, and, in the case of Iraq, because of the administration's largely unarticulated view that the democratic transformation of the Middle East through regime change in Iraq would be worth the price. WMD was, as Paul Wolfowitz was quoted as saying... something that 'we settled on' because it was 'the one issue that everyone could agree on.'"

    -George Tenet, former DCI
    At the Center of the Storm

  2. I think an interesting part of George Tenet's comments is his point about the administrations "unarticulated view" about basically everything else the war was supposed to be about besides WMD. Personally I think the lack of articulation was attributable to two things. One, the administration was not very good at articulating many positions. As a result, they were open to filleting by the media and other outlets, or liberals as conservatives would say. But, part of the job of the administration is to articulate things. I think they could have done so more effectively. When you look at the Iraq argument aside from WMD, the argument makes sense. I do not think it was entirely necessary, but it makes sense.

    Two, I think there was a concentrated effort, as Tenet implied to focus the argument around WMD. Although, the alternate consequences of going to war were potentially equally valid, the urgency of dealing with WMD gave the administration and the U.N. a reason to act immediately. In the first Iraq war, George HW, spent months to build a coalition to deal with a more urgent threat. Iraq had invaded Kuwait. With the second Iraq war, George W., pressed the argument that time was of the essence, although the threat was even at that time still unrealized.


Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your interest in the topic. It adds a little more to how we understand our world.