John M. Schuessler on the Lead-up to the Iraq War

The sequence of events that lead to the 2003 Iraq War is receiving fresh attention as a result of Jeb Bush’s presidential aspirations. Here’s one take on the issue from James Fallows: The Right and Wrong Questions about the Iraq War.

In his forthcoming book Deceit on the Road to War: Presidents, Politics, and American Democracy, John M. Schuessler, Associate Professor of Strategy at the Air War College, writes on precisely this topic:

“George W. Bush faced a relatively permissive domestic political environment on the eve of war. With the public in a vengeful mood after the 9/11 attacks and Democrats in Congress not wanting to be seen as weak on national security, Bush had a relatively free hand in 2002–2003, although not so free as to allow for total candor. Accordingly, overselling played the leading role in his securing domestic support for the Iraq War. Misrepresenting the available intelligence, Bush and members of his administration suggested repeatedly that Saddam Hussein was an undeterrable madman, in league with al Qaeda, and on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. The overall effect was to obscure the preventive nature of the war by depicting Iraq as a clear and present danger when in fact it was a weak and isolated pariah.”

In his chapter “Overselling the Iraq War,” Schuessler writes:

“Why did Bush invade Iraq? The first point to make is that the Iraqi WMD programs and links to terrorism were not as crucial to the decision to invade as their prominence in the public debate would suggest. In other words, it is simply not the case that Iraq was an intelligence-driven crisis. Rather, Bush had already decided on a confrontation with Saddam Hussein by the time the relevant intelligence was scrutinized in detail. The movement toward war began almost immediately in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when hawks within the Bush administration, such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, pressed for Iraq to be included in the initial phases of the war on terror. Although the decision was made to deal with Afghanistan first, attention turned to Iraq as soon as Kabul fell, with military planning for what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom beginning in late November 2001.”

John M. Schuessler on the Lead-up to the Iraq War