8.4.5        America’s Political Perspective

 (This is a current extract from the Patterns of Power Repository.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition02/845.htm)

America’s desire for regime change in Iraq had been formally adopted as government policy with the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which was approved by Congress during the Clinton Administration.[1]  At that time, though, the emphasis was upon working with the Iraqi people to "promote the emergence of a democratic government".[2]  It reflected the neoconservative belief that a democratic Iraq would be conducive towards peace in the Middle East because liberal democracies do not make war on each other.[3]

Four years later, Bush's Cincinnati speech made no mention of working with the Iraqi people to help them to change the way that they are governed.  Instead he listed some demands, which he acknowledged were unlikely to be met, upon the Iraqi regime.  He prepared his audience for the likelihood of war – making this promise:

“If military action is necessary, the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi people rebuild their economy, and create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq at peace with its neighbors.” [4]

(Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had not, though, planned for nation-building at that time).[5]

The American people had been shocked by the 9/11 attack the previous year, and Bush's "war on terror" had been launched in response.[6]  In his State of the Union address on 29 January 2002 he had characterised Iraq as part of the "axis of evil" and linked it to 9/11 as a threat to America.[7]  In his Cincinnati speech he again connected the two issues, even though there was “no evidence of formal links between Iraqi ex-leader Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda leaders prior to the 2003 war”.[8]  His reason for drawing this connection was to make the invasion of Iraq politically possible: to give Americans the impression that by invading Iraq they would be making themselves safer from terrorism.  He was seeking the political legitimacy afforded by a powerful external threat (6.3.6), capitalising on the fear created by the 9/11 attack, so he wanted to move quickly.

Other political pressures might also have been relevant:

·      As noted earlier, the oil industry had made significant donations to the Republican Party (6.4.5).  Vice-President Dick Cheney had been connected to Halliburton and the company benefited from oilfield services contracts after the invasion.

·      There was hubris in what have been referred to as "the pitfalls and risks of Cheney’s certainty", in what could be seen as an example of personality politics (6.3.4.2) when combined with Bush’s oratory, pursuing a policy based upon American global dominance:

“The primary impetus for invading Iraq…was to make an example of [Saddam] Hussein, to create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States.”[9]

·      America’s Jewish lobby is an interest group (6.4.4); it would be expected to favour an invasion designed to neutralise the Iraqi threat against Israel, in line with the Israeli government’s support for such policies (8.3.4).

It is hard to determine the significance of these pressures, but it is equally hard to completely dismiss them. 

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014



[1] The text of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 was available in April 2014 at http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/105/hr4655/text.

[2] The United States Department of State released an information memorandum entitled Origins of the Iraq Regime Change Policy, dated 23 January 2001.  It concluded with this sentence:

"In the final analysis, change has to come from the Iraqi people themselves".

The text was available in April 2014 at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB326/doc03.pdf.

[3] Francis Fukuyama, in his book The End of History and the Last Man, observed that "there have been few, if any, instances of one liberal democracy going to war with another" (p. 262).  The extract was available in April 2014 at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=4HQjTGWNfhwC&pg=PA262&lpg=PA262&dq=%22there+have+been+few,+if+any,+instances+of+one+liberal+democracy+going+to+war+with+another%22&source=bl&ots=jh5h21IZMA&sig=M7TnvZxnzKoec0llikUc4DFIVAQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=kuA6U5rIKcaZ0QXCm4DIAg&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22there%20have%20been%20few%2C%20if%20any%2C%20instances%20of%20one%20liberal%20democracy%20going%20to%20war%20with%20another%22&f=false.

[4] As previously noted, the full text of Bush’s Cincinnati speech was published by the White House and by several newspapers. It was available in April 2014 at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/oct/07/usa.iraq and at http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/cahier/irak/a9683.

[5] On 10 October 2008 USA News published an article by Anna Mulrine, entitled New Army Manual Shows War's Softer Side With Focus on Nation-Building.  This article quoted Donald Rumsfeld's famous remark in 2003 – "we don't do nation-building" – but said that military thinking had now moved on. The article was available in April 2014 at http://www.usnews.com/news/national/articles/2008/10/10/new-army-manual-shows-wars-softer-side-with-focus-on-nation-building.  The manual referred to is the Army’s Stability Operations Field Manual.

[6] President Bush launched a “war on terror” in an address to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night, September 20, 2001:

“Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there.

It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”  

The transcript was available in February 2014 at http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/09/20/gen.bush.transcript/.

[7] As noted previously (7.4.2), the text of Bush’s State of the Union address on 29 January 2002 was available in April 2014 at http://edition.cnn.com/2002/ALLPOLITICS/01/29/bush.speech.txt/.  That was the speech which introduced the expression “axis of evil”.

[8] A 2005 CIA report was released by the Senate's Intelligence Committee on 8 September 2006, as widely reported at that time.  A BBC article, entitled Saddam 'had no link to al-Qaeda', was published on 9 September 2006 and was available in April 2014 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/5328592.stm.

[9] On 6 March 2014, the New York Review of Books published an article by Mark Danner entitled In the Darkness of Dick Cheney which was available at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/mar/06/darkness-dick-cheney/?pagination=false.  It described his character, and the policy thinking behind the invasion of Iraq – quoting Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11, p. 123.