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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2014

6 - The Iraq War: American decision-making


The story of the American decision to go to war against Iraq in March 2003 is straightforward. The attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, changed the strategic outlook of President George W. Bush. He accepted the calls from some in his administration, for which he had previously shown no particular enthusiasm, that a military campaign to unseat Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was a vital American security interest in the context of the new “war on terrorism.” Once that decision was made, arguments were marshaled (with less than rigorous regard for their factual accuracy and unseemly willingness to disregard the complexity and ambiguity of the Iraqi reality) to mobilize international, domestic public and congressional opinion in support of the decision. The international element of that campaign largely failed, while the domestic element was very successful. With the strong support of Congress and substantial American public opinion support, but with little preparation for what would come after, President Bush took the country to war.

So why rehearse the story in any more detail? Because there is a strong suspicion that September 11 was simply a pretext for the Bush administration to implement a preexisting war policy toward Iraq. This is certainly the import of accounts offered by former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, former counterterrorism director Richard Clarke, and retired general Wesley Clark.

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