Why did the USA invade Iraq?

An answer with references to the political, economic and ideological interests/purpose of the US, ignoring the reasons stated by the Bush administration and the Blair government.

Essay, 2008
14 Pages, Grade: Distinction


IRPG 843 International Relations of the Middle East

Sebastian Plappert

Why did the US invade Iraq? An answer with references to the political, economic and ideological interests/purpose of the US, ignoring the reasons stated by the Bush administration and the Blair government.

On September 11, the terrorist attacks against USA did not only reach an unprecedented level of damage, but also triggered far reaching consequences for the international community. America's response, the so called 'War on Terror', led to military engagement around the globe, culminating in a major deployment of military force in Afghanistan in 2001 and a full blown invasion of Iraq in 2003. Whereas the operation in Afghanistan was authorised by the UN, the USA had difficulties rallying international support for removing Saddam Hussein from power. The principal arguments offered for why Iraq should have been invaded were twofold, one being covert links between the Iraqi government and al Qaeda and the other being Iraq's possession and "capacity to produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction” (Calabrese 2005, p. 155). However, the former reason turned out to be utterly wrong (Zizek 2004, pp. 43-44), whereas the latter could not be proven (Schmidt & Williams 2007, p. 2), and no further UN resolution was issued (Larkin 2002, pp. 24-27). Despite the questionable legality of military engagement, the so called 'coalition of the willing' led by the US proceeded to invade Iraq in 2003 (Risse 2003, p. 3).

Although much has been written about the bureaucratic run up to the invasion (Woodward 2004; Cornish 2005; Fukuyama 2006), or the PR strategy the Bush administration deployed in order to sell the war to the public (Rampton & Stauber 2003; Miller 2003; Dutta-Bergmann 2005; Kumar 2006), the underlying motives remain highly disputed. Emanating from the assertion that those reasons stated by the US government were only of secondary importance (Wolfowitz 2003a), this essay will instead argue that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the result of a variety of intertwining motives, closely connected to the ideological position of key players in the Bush administration and their perception of America's role in the international arena. After shortly reviewing the fundamental premises of this 'neoconservative' ideology and its proponents, the paper will focus on the spreading of democracy and on the notion of U.S. American hegemony. Subsequently, a closer look will be taken at the geo- strategic importance of Iraq in regard to its oil reserves and its position in U.S. security planing, before considering economic issues. In doing so, the paper's structure presents arguments processing gradually from theoretical to practical issues.

It's the ideology, stupid

When George W. Bush became President of the USA after the 2000 elections, key members of his new administration were closely connected to a group of scholars and political advisors who were greatly displeased with the outcome of the Gulf War in 1991 (Halper & Clarke 2004, pp. 17-18; 98- 103; 139), and lobbied to "finish the war [… and] remove Saddam” (Kristol 2005, p. 9). This well connected group of policy advisers and practitioners see themselves as "the best and the brightest” (Halberstam & McCain 2001), "the intellectual heirs to the academic elite that Kennedy recruited […] in order to do what is right for America” (Afsah 2003, p. 904). Centred on the 'Project for a new American Century' think tank (PNAC 1997), there has been "an extraordinary amount of activity and development in the influence and infrastructure” (Parmar 2005, p. 9) of "neoconservative persuasion”, as Kristol (2003) calls it, essentially reaching back as far as to the Reagan era (Steinfels 1997; Peele 1985). Drawing on conclusions from the cold war, and on political thinkers such as Strauss (Afsah 2003, pp. 917-919), or present day scholars such as William Kristol and Robert Kagan (1996), a forceful solution to the Iraqi problem was put forward and propagated openly (Bölsche 2003), long before this "neoconservative network of hawkish policymakers” became part of the Bush administration (Freedman 2004, p. 299). Among others (Shank 2003, p. 27, Bookman 2003), prominent figures like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, signed, for instance, open letters to then President Clinton and to Parliament urging for regime change in Iraq (PNAC 1998b; 1998a). Once in power, this network's growing influence successfully provided the theoretical and policy content of the 'Bush Doctrine' (Falk 2005), which "is, essentially, a synonym for neoconservative foreign policy” (Krauthammer 2005, p. 22), and "underpinned the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and depose the leadership of Saddam Hussein” (Schmidt 2007, p. 5). Nevertheless, "only the shock to the system, the spectacular blow to the status quo struck by September 11, created the necessary political alignment for their [the neoconservatives] ascendancy” (Kirschenbaum 2005, p. 22). As soon as the next morning "Rumsfeld asked if the terrorist attack did not present an opportunity to launch against Iraq” (Woodward 2004, p. 25). Additionally, Woodward (2004, p. 26) mentions Wolfowitz being a "strong advocate for attacking Iraq at that point", instead of Afghanistan. Dominantly influencing the Bush government, this "neo-conservative intellectual network was able to exploit 9/11 to further its own purpose” (Parmar 2005, p. 2): to "finish the job” in Iraq (Larkin 2002, p. 20).

Hence, the war against Iraq was a result of neoconservative forces being "best positioned to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC” (Parmar 2005, p. 8). Thereby, the embraced "ideology of the Bush Administration was a critical factor in the invasion of Iraq”, because senior officials of the new government pursuing an agenda set long before and independently from September 11 (Thornton 2007, p. 3), seized that moment as their catalyst event (Kosterlitz 2003, p. 1541). As Kirschenbaum (2005, p. 27) concludes; "the initial desire to lunge at Saddam was a gut reaction in keeping with neocons [sic!] ideological predispositions”.

God's gift to humanity

Accordingly, a fundamental part of the 'neoconservative' agenda, favouring the invasion of Iraq, is the promotion of democracy (Daalder & Lindsey 2003, p. 15), "which they believe is the most powerful political ideology on the face of the earth” (Mearsheimer 2005, p. 3). Liberal democracy is not only "America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity” (Bush 2003). If all people alike crave for freedom and prosperity, then, from a neoconservative perspective, all that the USA "need to do is to give people a chance, liberate them from their imposed constraints, and they will embrace America's ideological dream” (Zizek 2004, pp. 44). "Neoconservatives […] believe that a world populated by democracies is ultimately the guarantee to global peace and stability” (Thornton 2006, p. 8); and, theoretically, Fukuyama's (1992) "end of history” could be reached by modelling a growing number of states after the American prototype. "By embracing democracy as the universally best form of government and by committing themselves to spreading democracy across the globe”, the US encompasses peace and security, even though, forcefully at times (Schmidt 2007, p. 11). Moreover, with "the advancement of democracy [… being] the touchstone of a new ideological American foreign policy”, the U.S. pursues its very own economic and security interests (Krauthammer 1989, p. 47). The spreading of liberal values and democratic institutions abroad, serves to boost national economy by opening up new markets and undermine hostility in creating common interests (Cox et al. 2000).

Consequently, removing Saddam Hussein from power was supposed to result in positive relations between the U.S. and a "grateful” Iraq (Hudson 2005, p. 303). Furthermore, a democratic Iraq would not only dramatically change its foreign policy, but play an important role in "transform[ing] the Middle East into a democratic zone of peace that would be beneficial to the entire region in general, and America […] in particular” (Schmidt 2007, p. 12). Drawing on the Kantian idea of democratic peace, the positive effects of regime change expected by key members of the Bush administration as well as their sense of mission contributed to the decision to invade Iraq.

Pax Americana

Even more important, however, is the notion of American hegemony underlying the U.S. foreign policy of the Bush government. In the face of "American unipolarity” since the end of the cold war (Krauthammer 1990, p.29), Kristol & Kagan (1996, p. 23) declare that "American hegemony is the only reliable defense against a breakdown of peace and international order”. Accordingly, a presumption is that "what is good for American preponderance is, de facto, good both morally and strategically for most of the rest of the world too” (Ryan 2006, p. 2). As a consequence, "the preservation of American pre-eminence” as "the most important priority of the neoconservative strategy” (Ryan 2006, p. 11; p. 1), "assigns to the United States the role of supervising the remaking of the world” (Ryn 2003, p. 384). Hence, in preventing the emergence of a rival power Washington is constructing and enhancing a "benevolent global hegemony” (Kristol & Kagan 1996, p. 20). Thereby, it is "guided by a firm belief in the superiority of the American experience with democracy” and its universal values (Afsah 2004, p. 923). Neoconservative thinkers strongly promote 'liberty' "as an umbrella term for the kind of political regime that they would like to see installed all over the world” (Ryn 2003, p. 385). Being "an identifying badge of neo-conservative ideology” (Harper & Clarke 2004, p. 26), U.S. military capabilities have to be and remain so overwhelming and globally eminent (Donnelly 2000, p. i; Posen 2003), that any opposition would be rendered futile (Bush 2002; Jervis 2003, pp. 376-377). However, regimes challenging this ‘new world order’ have to be punished (Liberman 2007), first to prove to the world that, being the global hegemon, the U.S. is setting the rules (Jervis 2003, p. 376), and second to demonstrate its power and political will to remain in its superior position at all costs (NSS 2002, p. 15, p. 31; NSS 2006, p. 20, p. 22). In order to do so, the U.S. cannot “allow North Korea, Iran, Iraq or similar states to undermine American leadership, intimidate American allies” and get away with it (Donnelly 2000, p. 75). Iraq’s non-compliance with UN sanctions during the 90’s were not only considered as provocative (Kagan 1998b, 1999), but together with the Clinton administration’s failure to attain decisive action (Wolfowitz 1994, pp. 28- 43), the continuity of Saddam Hussein’s regime undermined the American notion of unfettered hegemony in the international arena. Considering the political reality faced by the U.S., “the war in Iraq was needed to discourage and defeat” opposing forces to American hegemony (Del Poro 2005, p. 13), and thereby restoring its credibility as global superpower (Kagan 1998a, p. 8). Moreover, “it gave the United States the opportunity to demonstrate that it would override strenuous objections from allies if this was necessary to reach its goals” (Jervis 2003, p. 375). Set as an example of American power, the operation in Iraq was supposed to trigger “bandwagoning” effects (Mearsheimer 2005, p. 2). As Kagan & Kristol (2002) stated, a powerful appliance of force in Iraq would persuade smaller powers, allies as well as potential enemies, to “jump on the bandwagon” in order to join forces with the hegemon. Essentially based upon power, US hegemony has to be enforced in order to prevail.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Why did the USA invade Iraq?
An answer with references to the political, economic and ideological interests/purpose of the US, ignoring the reasons stated by the Bush administration and the Blair government.
Macquarie University
IRPG 843 International Relations of the Middle East
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
412 KB
8 pages text, 4 pages sources, no index
Bush, Blair, Iraq, USA, Intervention, Invasion
Quote paper
Sebastian Plappert (Author), 2008, Why did the USA invade Iraq?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/154621


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