The one question that everyone keeps puzzling over in analyzing the Iraq debacle is why? Why did the US attack Iraq? It has become increasingly clear that the Bush administration had long wanted to invade Iraq and was just waiting for an excuse to do so. The events of September 11, 2001 was seized by them as a means to persuade the public to support them in their mission, although we know now that the case making the links between Iraq and September 11 was fraudulent.
The reason most often proposed by the administration, that the invasion was an important part of the war on terror, can be dismissed since we know that despite strenuous efforts by the administration, the purported links have proven to be next to non-existent.We also now know that the other “official” argument, that Iraq had or was on the verge of acquiring WMDs, is also false. So other reasons must be at play and people have been resorting to all kinds of speculations.
The following is a list of the many other reasons that have been speculated about by various people: the control of Iraqi oil; the need to establish a strategic and long-term military base in the Middle East since Saudi Arabia was asking the US to leave its soil; Iraq as the first step in a successive series of invasions of other countries such as Iran and Syria so that eventually the US would control the entire region; to act in Israel’s interests and disarm an enemy of Israel; to bring democracy to Iraq; to project US power and show the world that the US had the power to invade any nation it wanted to, thus cowing any other nation’s ambitions to challenge the US in any way; to prevent Saddam Hussein from switching to the euro as a reserve currency for oil purchases, thus threatening US financial markets; an opportunity to test the new generation of weaponry in the US arsenal; to finish what was seen as unfinished business from the first Gulf war in 1991; to avenge the alleged attempt by Iraq on George H. W. Bush’s life; to enable George W. Bush to show his father that he was tougher than he was; because George W. Bush, despite his efforts to avoid actual military service himself, was enamored of the idea of being Commander in Chief and dearly wanted to be a ‘war president.’
We see that the possible reasons span the range of political, economic, strategic, personal, and psychological. We may not know the actual reasons for some time but my own suspicion is that there may not be a single or even two or three reasons for invading Iraq. It may be that there were many groups with differing agendas jockeying for influence in Washington and the one action they could agree on as to invade Iraq, even though they each had different reasons for doing so. This might explain the incoherence of the administration’s case for war. Policies based on bad reasoning often occur because while everyone can see the flaws in the rationale proposed by others, they do not criticize it too strongly since they want the action to be taken for other reasons. So none of the rationales are really subjected to tight scrutiny. While each argument for the action is weak, the fact that many people can agree on the action itself makes the action seem more reasonable that it really deserves to be.
Another thing that I think they agreed on and sincerely believed was that invading Iraq would be easy. Cheney said he expected it to be a cakewalk and I think that in that one statement at least he was actually telling the truth. After all, the US had easily overthrown the Taliban government in Afghanistan and it was well known to intelligence sources that after almost a decade of war with Iran, followed by a humiliating withdrawal from Kuwait during the first Gulf war, and then another decade of debilitating sanctions, the Iraq military was weak reed, easily crushed by the powerful US army.
So dangling before policy makers was a tempting option: Invade Iraq because that would please all the different pressure groups desiring this action and cause them to support the president, achieve a quick victory, reap all the diverse benefits outlined above, and then bask in the political adulation that victorious military operations always brings to a nation’s leaders. It must have seemed at the time like a no-lose proposition. As an additional bonus, the people of Iraq would be rid of an autocratic leader, thus enabling the US to polish its credentials as opponents of dictatorships.
Thus one can see why the fateful decision was made to attack Iraq even if one cannot isolate a single specific reason. And the actual invasion of March 2003 was a ‘cakewalk’ as predicted, enabling Bush to first pose in a flight suit and then stand proudly beneath the ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner on an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003.
And that’s when things started to fall apart, as we will see tomorrow.