Why did America invade Iraq?

I've been thinking about this lately - not just in terms of the reasons America felt at the time but in terms of the reasons many Americans now believe they felt.

1. Saddam was one of those responsible for 9/11.

Well, that one went out ages ago. Most Americans believed it even though George W. Bush didn't literally say it (although it was obvious that he believed it too).

2. Iraq had weapons of Mass Destruction and were a threat to America.

Well that one went out ages ago too. Five years later and still nothing... unless you bought into all the bull about them being shipped to Syria.

3. Saddam was a bad man and deserved to be overthrown.

That Saddam was a bad man is unquestionable - but the guy was no Hitler. He was a tinpot dictator in charge of a small country who gassed his own people. But did he deserve to be overthrown? If invading Iraq because Saddam was bad is a good enough reason then surely the case could be made for invading any number of nations around the world being run by tinpot dictators. Why Iraq?

I mean, think back to the 1980s when War-Hawk Ronald Reagan DIDN'T INVADE Libya and DIDN'T EXECUTE Colonel Gaddafi. Operation El Dorado Canyon was as bad as it ever got, and Gaddafi is still alive today, continuing to not be a threat to anyone any more.

In any case, life after "Mission Accomplished" was terrible for Iraq. Violence on a daily basis in the form of car bombs, suicide bombers and religious extremism did not exist while Saddam was in power. America replaced a cruel tinpot dictator with chaos, and the result was worse. Living under Saddam was certainly better than living under American rule. One possible reason why violence has tapered off recently may simply be that millions have either left the country or are internally displaced.

4. Our Intelligence was mistaken.

Forged, more like. I've already addressed this issue in an article I wrote 3 years ago. If the intelligence was so good, why was Colin Powell producing satellite pictures of water trucks and telling the U.N. that they were really mobile Chemical weapons labs?


So. Those are the stated reasons. Here are some of my own.

1. We really, really thought that WMDs were there.

This is one of those "faith based community" verses "reality based community" issues. I'm not talking here about American Evangelicals (although they fit into it) but rather the idea that our thoughts/beliefs shape reality, rather than the other way around. In this case, it didn't matter how many UN inspectors were running around Iraq in 2002 and finding nothing or how many times Hans Blix said "Iraq is co-operating... we still haven't found anything" - the fact was that Saddam was a bad man who said he had WMDs and we believe him! Nothing here about due process, nothing here about innocent until proven guilty. Instead we get Condoleeza Rice warning us that the smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud or Donald Rumsfeld reminding us that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Having faith in something doesn't mean you stop thinking altogether. Was it right to be concerned about potential Iraqi WMDs? Absolutely. Was it right to invade based upon the available evidence? Not at all - especially in hindsight.

2. We really, really thought that Iraq would be happy after we got rid of Saddam.

There's something Liberation of Paris that makes pro-war Americans lose their ability to think cogently. The thinking goes that if country A is ruled by dictator B, then sending troops to remove B will result in the liberation of A and make everyone love America. Sadly this rule doesn't always work, and when it doesn't the temptation is to either a) criticise the liberators for being ungrateful or b) repeat the mantra that everything is going fine and the media hates America and is reporting lies because they are in league with the terrorists.

The reality was that once Saddam's political and governmental regime collapsed, it was replaced not with a new order but with chaos. Rosy thinking - again the result more of "faith based" thinking that hard reality - being the cause.

3. We were still angry after 9/11 and had to attack someone.

I think this is the main reason. After Afghanistan was rightly invaded by America and its allies, the ease of the victory and the absence of Osama Bin Laden was too much. There was still too much anger at the horror of 9/11, but there was no way to direct or control that anger. Instead, Bush used the opportunity to invade Iraq for no other reason than misplaced revenge.


I want your comments.

Many of you who read my blog are American. I would really like your comments as to what you felt and thought at the time of the invasion of Iraq. Did you really think that Iraq was linked to 9/11? Did you really think Iraq had WMDs? If you changed your mind, what prompted it? I would like to find out.


Charles Kingsley Michaelson, III said...

I never, ever, not even fleetingly thought that Iraq had WMD, had anything to do with 911 or was a threat to the US. I have always thought the US over-reaction to 911 was pathological (and don't chide me, I was in NY on 911 and for a week after).
The only excuse that made sense was that "He tried to kill my Daddy". But it was simply about the oil.
Still is. ckm3

rto said...

I'm confident it was designed and influenced by a bunch of right-wing neocon academics. It seemed to be all about their dream of effecting peace in the Middle East.

Here was their logic:

1. Remove our troops from Saudi Arabia where they were no longer welcome.
2. Rid ourselves of Saddam Hussein and the 'containment' program, install a democratic government and give the U.S. a central military base from which to operate.
3. Responding to the prosperity and success of the Iraqi's, release a wave of democracy across the Middle East that overthrows the anti-American governments in Iran and Syria.
4. End the Palastinian conflict and thus guarantee the security of Israel.

They sort of made it to #2.

The fact that a huge amount of the world's oil reserves didn't hurt in getting support for this grand experiment.

Noni Mausa said...

For an undertaking of this sort, I suspect there must be a regular Pavlova [1] parfait of "reasons", only some of which need be true.

All the ones you mention were only for window dressing.

I think the true reasons are twofold, both of which require a war which does not have a natural end or any hope of success

-- in order to have the excuse and twisted pride of a "wartime" and a "wartime president". Great for rhetoric and for keeping people from questioning you, pretty good for secrecy too.

-- in order to provide a pipeline to suck wealth out of the US treasury, a pipeline which could be large, not monitored, and for tasks not subject to oversight.

-- building a mercenary army for future use would come in handy too. Will we know who these men are and what they did while "working overseas" once they come back? I doubt it, and I worry about it.

Oso, your reasons are simply too nice. I never thought they were simply mistaken. There's a saying, "The meaning of a message is the response of the hearer." Similarly, the purpose of an action is its outcome. Especially if the action was planned long before it was undertaken, and then carried out for longer than the Second World War.


[1] Someday, I hope and pray, I too shall have a Pavlova. I've only read about them, but still... Mmmmm.

One Salient Oversight said...


I've got to disagree. I've always believed that the power of stupidity will always be greater than the power of malice.

In other words, I see Iraq as a huge, stupid mistake - a plan, yes, but a plan that went awry rather. I'm no conspiracy theorist.

I ate some pavlova a few days ago when some friends bought some for dessert. Yum.

Noni Mausa said...

Alas! To not only be wrong, but ... no Pavlova either. *sniff* I must go forthwith and make some pudding.

Sometimes I wonder whose stories were trotted out for which purposes, leading up to that war. There's boundless scope for stupidity to cause harm, but in the Bush administration, all the stupidity seemed to point the same way.

On the other hand, "Me got owie! Me bash heads!" is a fine old traditional excuse to have a war with someone not necessarily connected with the owie.


Anonymous said...

Well, I thought that there were WMD's and that Iraq had provided either money and/or sanctuary to terrorist activity and that something bigger than 9/11 was in the works.

We actually know someone who was very high ranking (now retired) and in the thick of it in Iraq. He said there were no WMD's and he would know if there had been. He feels we didn't go there to win because they weren't equipped to win. He also thinks it was about oil.

All that being said, however, there is another side to what is happening in Iraq that we have heard about over and over from those who have been there and that is that a great deal of the Iraqi people are afraid that we are going to leave and that those that cooperated with the U.S. will be retaliated against.

I personally feel that, no matter what the reason for going in was, we need to stay until they are truly on their feet and functional. We cannot walk away from there leaving them worse off than before. I also feel that if we just pull out we will have to go back in... or if we pull out and just let whatever happens happen and it isn't good... that we will have taken the lives that have been lost there and dishonor their sacrifice.

We need to make it right.

Unknown said...

I'm not American, and I'm also a week late, but nevertheless my 2c, fwiw:

- Cheney possibly really did think Saddam had WMD's, and just didn't care that they didn't have evidence going in, he was sure they would find it once they were there. Why? Well, according to the reputable source of a documentary I watched and vaguely remember* the CIA didn't pick up Saddam's nuclear program before the first Gulf War, and they only found out about it after going in, so Cheney had very little faith in the CIA & intelligence community anyway, and assumed the same thing would happen this time around.

*Documentary was probably an excellent Frontline production, if that helps, which should be mandatory viewing for anyone interested in the issue

- Wes Clark's comments about the suggested neo con strategy of knocking off several countries in a few years are pretty telling imo (http://www.salon.com/opinion/conason/2007/10/12/wesley_clark/ ) - it seems pretty obvious that Iran was definitely next given Dubya & Cheney's (failed) attempt to beat the war drum again. It's kind of insane that these guys actually tried to rewrite the Middle East with US military might. I don't think people who support/ed the invasion really understand just how mad these guys were. It's like people would write it off as a kooky conspiracy theory, except it you know, actually did happen (well them getting to part 1 of the plan at least).

- Then there's the whole PNAC thing, and the fact Iraq makes some kind of weird (as in, very disturbed) sense in a longer historical narrative - the US backed him against Iran in the 80's, didn't dispose of him in 91, and then finally did so in the 00's. There's a long conservative thread with Iraq that runs from Reagan to Bush I to Bush II, with people like Cheney and Rumsfeld having been players to some extent through the whole thing. In that sense, Dubya was just a charismatic face for them continuing quite a long policy, spurred on by 9/11.

Again, I think most people see it as Dubya just waking up one morning and deciding he wants oil and is going to invade Iraq. It's a shame the broader historical context isn't more widely known and understood. Not because it makes it seem less harmless, but because the sheer magnitude of the crazy involved can only be seen in full view in the broader context.

So, still an incredibly stupid decision.