Invading Iraq – a misuse of power

In an article on 6 March 2013, entitled 10 years later, Arianna Huffington drew attention to the way in which political power was used in deciding to invade Iraq in 2003.  She noted the way in which the American people and Congress were intentionally misled so that they would support the war, and the fact that those responsible have not been held to account.

The Iraq war did not benefit the American people.  This was foreseeable, but warnings were ignored.  Why did Congress not prevent the Administration from making such a costly mistake?  The checks and balances in the American Constitution failed.  The inappropriate haste of the decision was prompted by political considerations, not by operational need.  And there was no operational need to invade Iraq, rather the contrary.

The President and the British Prime Minister were able to override the advice they received, and the public demonstrations against the war, to pursue their convictions.  These convictions may have been honestly held, but that is no excuse for the political system as a whole; voters should ask themselves how it failed to protect them from incompetence – and ask why no-one has been held to account.  The governance failings are examined in more detail in chapter 8 of the book Patterns of Power, where they are summarised in section 8.7.6.


  • A very just set of remarks. I speak as one who marched against this naive, dishonest and disastrous intervention whose (totally foreseeable) effect has only been to increase resentment against the USA and the UK. Democracy cannot come about at the end of a gun.

  • anonymous

    I dont really understand how the invasion of Iraq was justified by the leaders involved. It was clearly wrong as far was I concerned.

    What I do know is that many people in Iraq welcomed the invasion with open arms. I have just returned from an assignment evaluating a health project in Iraq, and the doctors and senior professionals I worked with, who were part of the Iraqi National Navy at the time, fighting under Saddam, were waiting eagerly for it to begin.

    They described how as soon as the first big guns on the ships out in the Gulf started firing (literally in the first minutes of open combat) huge swathes of the military lay their guns down thankfully, impatiently, and ran towards what they assumed would be a better life. Still today, they are so thankful for the freedom that the allied invasion brought, despite the horrible sectarian violence that has plagued the place ever since. They knew under Saddam they were living within a terrible dictatorship, and could not believe the world had let them stay in these conditions.

    Im not speaking about all Iraqis, just those I met and worked with during my time in Basra last month. There is no absolute right or wrong in this whole messy situation. But this view is an important counterpoint to the one expressed in this blog entry. So maybe its a good job that the march in London mentioned above failed. Apparently Iraqis were watching it with horror, praying the leaders would not change their mind about the invasion….

    • Your comment is very interesting because it shows the views of some of the Iraqi people. There are several aspects to take into account, though:
      1. Saddam Hussein had singled out the south of Iraq for brutal treatment, because the Marsh Arabs had been involved in an uprising against him. The people in Basra are not necessarily representative of the Iraqi population as a whole.
      2. When considering whether the invasion benefited the Iraqi people, it will be impossible – even after another 10 years – to compare what has happened in practice to what might have happened had the invasion not taken place.
      3. In addition to considering whether the Iraqi people benefited from the invasion, there are further considerations of whether the world as a whole benefits from powerful countries taking unilateral action rather than supporting the United Nations and an international rule of law.
      The political processes in Britain and America were the focus of the blog post. The people in both countries should hold their politicians to account on the question of whether the latter had made their decisions responsibly and after due consideration – irrespective of the practical outcome.
      The question that you have raised, about benefits to the Iraqi people, will never be fully answered – but it is useful to keep an eye on what is happening there.


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