American invasion of Iraq: the official position meted out by the Bush administration on the one hand, and the position most scholars and foreign policy analysts support on the other. The latter position is that invading Iraq served distinct foreign policy goals that were not being honestly articulated but which nevertheless underwrote official decisions. Within these two broad camps are a number of more specific explanations as to why the United States invaded Iraq, and the most salient of which was the need to maintain American political and fiscal hegemony.
At the time of the public announcement to invade Iraq in March of 2003, President Bush offered the following three reasons: “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam’s support of terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people,” (cited by Kramer and Thrall 1). All three of these reasons sounded good on paper and helped rally some initial popular and Congressional support. Indeed, Hussain “had continued to sponsor terrorism, had over the years invaded or attacked four of his neighbors, and had killed tens of thousands of his own people,” (Hanson). However, less than a year after Bush made his public assertion coupled with his “axis of evil” rhetoric, evidence emerged to show that none of these three reasons could have been the real purpose for invading Iraq. No connection between Saddam Hussain and Al Qaeda could be found, no WMDs were found, and the United States certainly did not seem as altruistic about the Iraqi people as Bush had claimed. Certainly there was no connection between the events of September 11 and Iraq. September 11 did present, on a silver platter, a justification for invading Iraq. The September 11 terrorist attacks offered a “window of opportunity” for aggression “without public censure,” a reason to invade even if a spurious one (Kramer and Thrall 6). The invasion of Iraq may have occurred even if September 11 did not, but it might have been harder to garner support for a second Gulf War if the fear of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction had not been at the peak levels they were in the aftermath of September 11.
If none of the “official” reasons for invading Iraq were true, then the deeper reasons were ostensibly illegitimate, if not wholly sinister. A leaked secret memorandum, known as the Downing Street Memo, which was written to senior British intelligence and military officials including the Defense Secretary, indicated that Washington had for some time viewed a war in Iraq as “inevitable,” and that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the” bellicose policy (Rycroft). If that was the case, then deeper reasons for invading Iraq had to do with preserving American interests not only in the Middle East but globally. The false pretenses used to initiate the invasion of Iraq served distinct purposes such as providing a semblance of legitimacy, and also drew some initial attention away from the real power brokers and stakeholders (Fallows). Those stakeholders included those with special interests in maintaining the stability of oil reserves in Iraq, as well as those with special interests in ensuring American hegemony throughout the world.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 marks what some believe to be the first of potentially many “resource wars” of the new millennia (Ahmed). Iraq possessed not only a critical quantity of oil but also a strategic geographic location poised at the crossroads between East and West. China and India vied for access to oil supplies as their economies grew exponentially. Saddam Hussain controlled all oil within Iraq, but unlike the Saudis, maintained “erratic and unpredictable energy export policies” that were frustrating for American interests and not conducive for the management of American political hegemony either. As many analysts suggest, oil revenues were likely secondary to political power in the decision to invade Iraq. The invasion of Iraq was about “stabilising global energy supplies as a whole by ensuring the free flow of Iraqi oil to world markets,” (Ahmed). Proof of this ultimate goal can be found in the reconstruction plans and procedures in Iraq, which were decidedly not humanitarian but capitalist instead. The American government presented “extensive plans for postwar reconstruction … but they did not consider humanitarian and societal issues of any significance, focusing instead on maintaining the authoritarian structures of Saddam’s brutal regime after his removal, while upgrading Iraq’s oil infrastructure to benefit foreign investors,” (Ahmed). Oil fields that had once been state-owned were now privatized, enabling American energy concerns like Halliburton to wedge into Iraq. With Cheney as Vice President and the chief “decider” with regards to Iraq, it becomes clear that oil cannot be dismissed as a conspiracy theory of why the United States invaded. In fact, a survey revealed that 93% of scholars and foreign policy experts believed that Cheney was “most important decision maker” behind the invasion (Kramer and Thrall 3).
The decision to invade Iraq is firmly rooted in realist political philosophy, coupled with a worldview of what is known as “primacy,” or the need to maintain American supremacy and hegemony (Cramer and Duggan). Realists make decisions like the invasion of Iraq rationally, to promote particular national interests. War is not a necessary component of a realist political philosophy, but is used judiciously in order to achieve core objectives. Using a realist framework, it is easy to see why the invasion of Iraq made perfect sense. First, the leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussain, proved to be erratic, unpredictable, and not friendly to American interests or to American allies. Second, “Iraq had accessible ports, good weather, flat terrain, a far more literate populace, and oil,” (Hanson). The United States would have focused more on Afghanistan if it had been a more “realistic” target; as it was, Iraq pulled ahead in the cost-benefits analysis. It was easier to invade Iraq, cheaper, and more profitable than invading Afghanistan. Invading Iraq would pay off financially as well as politically, whereas hunting down terrorists in Afghanistan was not only proving difficult; there would be few spoils of war. Saddam Hussain was also a relatively weak dictator. Although Hussain had invaded Kuwait and fought hard with Iran, he was far from being a threat to the United States. The realist approach would have highlighted the simplicity of a planned Iraq invasion, based on what the United States already knew about Hussain and the geography of Iraq from the first Gulf War.
Neoconservatives had bolstered the realist argument by interjecting the desire to maintain American hegemony in the Middle East. The “primacy” point-of-view shows that key players and strategists like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Scooter Libby operated under the assumption that (a) Iraq posed a clear and present danger to Israel, and (b) American hegemony in the Middle East was therefore critical for protecting Israel, the only democratic country in the region and committed friend of the United States (Cramer and Thrall). Members of pro-Israel political lobbies in Washington tended to firmly support the neoconservative position, which changed the domestic political landscape in America as well as abroad. Kramer and Thrall found that 84% of foreign policy experts and scholars ranked neoconservatives, “bolstered by the pro-Israel lobby, as the second most important decision maker” in the invasion of Iraq. The motivations of the pro-Israel lobby, coupled with domestic Israeli politics, remain unclear, though. Whereas clearly Iraq posed no direct threat to the United States, it did theoretically have the potential to impact regional politics that could have had a devastating impact on Israel. Unfortunately, little substantive evidence exists to suggest a proven immanent threat posed to Israel from Iraq, making the neoconservative argument for invading less convincing than the argument more simply in favor of oil stability and regional hegemony.
American hegemony has become an entrenched geopolitical reality since the Second World War. It may occasionally seem easy to take for granted that the United States simply enjoys its hegemony passively. In fact, the United States has worked and continues to work hard to maintain its supremacy in political status and economic potency. Numerous global military operations have been undertaken to promote America’s general self-interest, whether that interest is national security or financial gain. Interfering with sovereign nations is nothing foreign to American foreign policy, and in fact the 20th century presents countless situations similar to Iraq — from Korea and Vietnam to Guatemala and Nicaragua. Saddam Hussain was already a known “public enemy” figure in the United States. The first Gulf War, a response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, was undertaken for similar reasons as the second Gulf War. The main difference between the motivations for these two invasions of Iraq was that in Bush Sr.’s case, the political and financial motivations appeared to be more transparent than they were for Bush, Jr. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and previous wars with Iran showed that Saddam Hussain was in fact a brutal dictator who threatened the political stability of the region, undermined social stability, and also weakened the economic stability of the…