Why Did the U.S. Attack Iraq in 2003?

Bush knew for sure that Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction (see, for example, here, here, here and here.) If Iraqi WMD presented no excuse or rationale or justification, why did the U.S. attack Iraq?

The answer is that this decision was brought about by the neocons surrounding Bush and influential in Washington. The single most influential in this group was Dick Cheney, the Vice-President at that time. To understand why the U.S. attacked Iraq, one cannot ignore Cheney’s reasons. He was a key instigator of it.

It may be reasonably argued that oil and Israel were reasons. However, when we look at what Cheney was thinking, what he wanted and how he influenced others, we find a rather different set of ideas than simply oil and Israel or enriching companies he was close to or irrigating the military-industrial complex with new flows of money.

An accessible reference on Cheney’s thinking is here. Here is some of what he has written:

“I stressed that preventing the next attack had to be our top priority. We had to make sure we were leaving no stone unturned in that effort.

“We also had to realize that defending the homeland would require going on the offense. Relying only on defense was insufficient. The terrorists had to break through our defenses only one time to have devastating consequences. We needed to go after them where they lived in order to prevent attacks before they were launched.

“Although we had discussed Iraq earlier in the day, I also took time now to say that Afghanistan, where the 9/11 terrorists had trained and plotted, should be first. I believed it was important to deal with the threat Iraq posed, but not until we had an effective plan for taking down the Taliban and denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan.

“The most effective diplomacy happens when America negotiates from a position of strength.”

Newsweek wrote “Of all the president’s advisers, Cheney has consistently taken the most dire view of the terrorist threat. On Iraq, Bush was the decision maker. But more than any adviser, Cheney was the one to make the case to the president that war against Iraq was an urgent necessity.”

In 2011, Cheney wrote

“The president and I were determined to do all we could to prevent another attack, and our resolution was made stronger by the awareness that a future attack could be even more devastating. The terrorists of 9/11 were armed with airplane tickets and box cutters. The next wave might bring chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

“When we looked around the world in those first months after 9/11, there was no place more likely to be a nexus between terrorism and WMD capability than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. With the benefit of hindsight–even taking into account that some of the intelligence we received was wrong–that assessment still holds true. We could not ignore the threat or wish it away, hoping naively that the crumbling sanctions regime would contain Saddam. The security of our nation and of our friends and allies required that we act. And so we did.”

If you agree that the decision to attack Iraq has been a disaster for America and Iraq, even before Obama became president, then Cheney’s approach to terrorism, which was his primary concern, must have been wrong.

What was his approach? How did he propose to deal with terrorism? What were his assumptions about terrorism? Where did he go wrong in his analysis?

It is not difficult to understand his thinking about terrorism and to understand what strategies he proposed to deter it or fight it. I leave that to the reader. It is not difficult to make a list of all of his flawed assumptions and ideas.

My point is that his thinking about terrorism and fighting terrorism has to be fundamentally flawed. It must contain basic ideas that are in conflict with the realities, because the results of making one war after another have not been worth the costs. Cheney’s ideas and therefore his entire approach were wrong then and they’re wrong now.


5:59 pm on October 1, 2014