Why did Bush go to war in Iraq?

In a 2002 column, Jonah Goldberg coined the “Ledeen Doctrine”, named after neoconservative historian Michael Ledeen. The “doctrine” states: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

  • Then President George W Bush is seen addressing the US Army soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas about the possibility of military action against Iraq in January 2003 [File: Jeff Mitchell/Reuters]
Then President George W Bush is seen addressing the US Army soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas about the possibility of military action against Iraq in January 2003

Sixteen years after the United States invaded Iraqand left a trail of destruction and chaos in the country and the region, one aspect of the war remains criminally underexamined: why was it fought in the first place? What did the Bush administration hope to get out of the war?

The official, and widely-accepted, story remains that Washington was motivated by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme. His nuclear capabilities, especially, were deemed sufficiently alarming to incite the war. As then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “We do not want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Despite Saddam not having an active WMD programme, this explanation has found support among some International Relations scholars, who say that while the Bush administration was wrong about Saddam’s WMD capabilities, it was sincerely wrong. Intelligence is a complicated, murky enterprise, the argument goes, and given the foreboding shadow of the 9/11 attacks, the US government reasonably, if tragically, misread the evidence on the dangers Saddam posed.

There is a major problem with this thesis: there is no evidence for it, beyond the words of the Bush officials themselves. And since we know the administration was engaged in a widespread campaign of deception and propaganda in the run-up to the Iraq war, there is little reason to believe them.

My investigation into the causes of the war finds that it had little to do with fear of WMDs – or other purported goals, such as a desire to “spread democracy” or satisfy the oil or Israel lobbies. Rather, the Bush administration invaded Iraq for its demonstration effect.

A quick and decisive victory in the heart of the Arab world would send a message to all countries, especially to recalcitrant regimes such as Syria, Libya, Iran, or North Korea, that American hegemony was here to stay. Put simply, the Iraq war was motivated by a desire to (re)establish American standing as the world’s leading power.

Indeed, even before 9/11, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saw Iraq through the prism of status and reputation, variously arguing in February and July 2001 that ousting Saddam would “enhance US credibility and influence throughout the region” and “demonstrate what US policy is all about”.

These hypotheticals were catalysed into reality by September 11, when symbols of American military and economic dominance were destroyed. Driven by humiliation, the Bush administration felt that the US needed to reassert its position as an unchallengeable hegemon.

The only way to send a message so menacing was a swashbuckling victory in war. Crucially, however, Afghanistan was not enough: it was simply too weak a state. As prison bullies know, a fearsome reputation is not acquired by beating up the weakest in the yard. Or as Rumsfeld put it on the evening of 9/11, “We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around by these kinds of attacks.”

Moreover, Afghanistan was a “fair” war, a tit-for-tat response to the Taliban’s provision of sanctuary to al-Qaeda’s leadership. Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith considered restricting retaliation to Afghanistan dangerously “limited”, “meager”, and “narrow”. Doing so, they alleged, “may be perceived as a sign of weakness rather than strength” and prove to “embolden rather than discourage regimes” opposed to the US. They knew that sending a message of unbridled hegemony entailed a disproportionate response to 9/11, one that had to extend beyond Afghanistan.

Iraq fit the bill both because it was more powerful than Afghanistan and because it had been in neoconservative crosshairs since George HW Bush declined to press on to Baghdad in 1991. A regime remaining defiant despite a military defeat was barely tolerable before 9/11. Afterwards, however, it became untenable.

That Iraq was attacked for its demonstration effect is attested to by several sources, not least the principals themselves – in private. A senior administration official told a reporter, off the record, that “Iraq is not just about Iraq”, rather “it was of a type”, including Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

In a memo issued on September 30, 2001, Rumsfeld advised Bush that “the USG [US government] should envision a goal along these lines: New regimes in Afghanistan and another key State [or two] that supports terrorism [to strengthen political and military efforts to change policies elsewhere]”.

Feith wrote to Rumsfeld in October 2001 that action against Iraq would make it easier to “confront – politically, militarily, or otherwise” Libya and Syria. As for then-Vice President Dick Cheney, one close adviser revealed that his thinking behind the war was to show: “We are able and willing to strike at someone. That sends a very powerful message.”

In a 2002 column, Jonah Goldberg coined the “Ledeen Doctrine”, named after neoconservative historian Michael Ledeen. The “doctrine” states: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

It may be discomfiting to Americans to say nothing of millions of Iraqis that the Bush administration spent their blood and treasure for a war inspired by the Ledeen Doctrine. Did the US really start a war – one that cost trillions of dollars, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, destabilised the region, and helped create the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – just to prove a point?

More uncomfortable still is that the Bush administration used WMDs as a cover, with equal parts fearmongering and strategic misrepresentation – lying – to exact the desired political effect. Indeed, some US economists consider the notion that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country and the globe into war in Iraq to be a “conspiracy theory”, on par with beliefs that President Barack Obama was born outside the US or that the Holocaust did not occur.

But this, sadly, is no conspiracy theory. Even Bush officials have sometimes dropped their guard. Feith confessed in 2006 that “the rationale for the war didn’t hinge on the details of this intelligence even though the details of the intelligence at times became elements of the public presentation”.

That the administration used the fear of WMDs and terrorism to fight a war for hegemony should be acknowledged by an American political establishment eager to rehabilitate George W Bush amid the rule of Donald Trump, not least because John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, seems eager to employ similar methods to similar ends in Iran.

Lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck: Bush, Rumsfeld & Cheney Are a Troika of Tyranny & Should Be in Prison (but, why?)

JANUARY 24, 2019

As Venezuela faces an attempted coup supported by the U.S., Brazil and the European Union, we speak with human rights attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. In November, John Bolton accused Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua of being part of a “troika of tyranny.” Kaleck says the real “troika of tyranny” is George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who should be in prison for war crimes. Kaleck is a human rights attorney who for decades has been at the forefront of the legal fight to hold powerful actors and governments around the world accountable for human rights abuses. His new book, titled “Law Versus Power: Our Global Fight for Human Rights,” documents his remarkable career, including his time as whistleblower Edward Snowden’s lawyer in Europe. Kaleck is general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib: “I won’t apologize for my comments about Trump—I still want to impeach him!”

JANUARY 08, 2019

Newly elected Democratic Congress-Woman  Rashida Tlaib of Michigan made headlines last week for declaring, “We’re going to go in there, and we’re going to impeach the motherfucker,” in reference to President Donald Trump. Tlaib made the comment at a Washington, D.C., bar, days after she made history last week when she and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota became the first Muslim women sworn in to Congress. Tlaib is part of the most diverse and most female class of representatives in U.S. history.

Andrew Bacevich on Mattis & Why We Need to End Our Self-Destructive, Mindless Wars in Middle East

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has announced he will resign at the end of February, in a letter publicly rebuking President Trump’s foreign policy. Mattis resigned one day after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria and on the same day that reports emerged that Trump has ordered the withdrawal of about 7,000 troops from Afghanistan. The New York Times reports Mattis is the first prominent Cabinet member to resign in protest over a national security issue in almost 40 years. Much of the Washington establishment expressed shock over Mattis’s resignation. We speak with Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel and Vietnam War veteran. He’s the author of several books, including his latest, “Twilight of the American Century.” His other books include “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History” and “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.” He is professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University.

Jamal Khashoggi: Trump won’t listen to ‘terrible’ murder recording

Media captionThe BBC’s Frank Gardner looks at what could happen to the man known as MBS

US President Donald Trump says he has been briefed on a recording of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder – but will not listen to it himself.

“It’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape,” he told Fox News Sunday.

The CIA has reportedly concluded the powerful Saudi Crown Prince ordered the killing but the White House is yet to endorse that assessment.

Saudi Arabia has called the claim false and denied Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had any knowledge of the murder.

Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi government, was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October to obtain a marriage document.

Even supporters in the US Congress have been pressing President Trump for a tougher response to the killing, but with Saudi Arabia a key partner in the Middle East this may be something Mr Trump is reluctant to do.

Why won’t he listen to the tape?

The US president said he did not have to, given he had been fully briefed on its content.

“I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it,” he told Fox. “It was very violent, very vicious and terrible.”

The reportedly shocking and incriminating recordings were shared by Turkey with the US and other western allies.

US sends 3,000 more troops to Afghanistan

In August President Trump said: “We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists”

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis says the US will send 3,000 extra troops to Afghanistan as the Taliban gain ground and security deteriorates.

American combat operations against the Taliban officially ended in 2014, but over 8,000 US special forces remain in the country backing Afghan troops.

US President Donald Trump last month signalled he would keep US boots on the ground indefinitely.

The Taliban pledged to turn Afghanistan into a “graveyard” for foreign forces.

 

During the Obama administration, he repeatedly called for the US to withdraw from Afghanistan.

But once he became a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Mr Trump modified his stance.