On 1 May 2003, after a dramatic tail-hook landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, George W. Bush addressed sailors assembled on the ship's deck. Behind him was draped a banner that boldly proclaimed ‘Mission Accomplished’. ‘Major combat operations in Iraq have ended’, he said, ‘In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.’ The crowd exulted and the media echoed the applause. Baghdad had fallen with the same ease with which the Taliban were vanquished in 2001. The US military appeared invincible. Washington was triumphal. The success encouraged some neoconservatives into goading. Anyone can go to Baghdad, they said, ‘real men go to Tehran’.
Events of the following years frustrated this optimism. With ‘shock and awe’ giving way to the attrition of ambushes and improvised explosive devices, the vaunted US military proved not nearly as formidable. By December 2011, when it finally exited Iraq, it had suffered five thousand losses and caused the deaths of 461,000 Iraqis. Iraq's ancient heritage was stolen, vandalised, or destroyed. The conflict nearly bankrupted the US economy and cost the world in excess of $6 trillion. The public had long since switched channels.
Much has been written about the war since 2003. The journalistic accounts are understandably partial; they focus on specific individuals, isolated parts of the government or particular aspects of policy. Scholarly accounts are ballasted with the dead weight of deterministic grand theory, ignoring agency. Autobiographies are predictably self-serving. And though many have written about the role of the neoconservatives, their specific contributions and likely motivations are often mislaid. Salient among the latter is the security of Israel.
Since the end of World War II, US policy towards the Middle East has been guided by two competing concerns: oil and Israel. The former mandates friendly relations with Arab states; the latter is mandated by domestic political imperatives. That US interest in the region's oil and its support for Israel have remained constant leads some analysts to see the two concerns as complementary. They are not. Over the past seven decades, on too many occasions, perceived US interests have collided with Israeli interests as defined by its vocal domestic supporters. The most vociferous among these are the neoconservatives.