Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

12 - Iraq


The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 is an important, highly controversial military case in the history of American military intervention. The fundamental purposes of the invasion were “to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger” and to destroy those “selected” military targets – the destruction of which would “undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war.” From the beginning, senior American officials explicitly linked the decision to invade Iraq with the U.S. policy during the Bush administration to use military force to attack and destroy regimes that support terrorism, to destroy (for reasons long since discredited) Iraqi WMD, and to encourage the development of democratic governance in the Middle East.

As defined by this theoretical narrative, the initial outcome of the U.S. invasion of Iraq generally aligned with strategic victory. The goal for strategic victory was expressed when President Bush declared in his March 19, 2003 address that the objective of “helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable, and free country will require our sustained commitment” and that he “will accept no outcome but victory.” However, despite the initial strategic victory against the Iraqi military, the United States was soon mired in an intense insurgency that was waged by remnants of the Baath Party regime and foreign jihadists, including al Qaeda, whose objective was to defeat the United States and establish a base of operations in Iraq for waging war against the West.