With U.S. troops currently engaged in Baghdad, it would be an understatement to call The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission timely. The frequency and vehemence of antiwar protests may have lessened somewhat since hostilities commenced, but Americans continue to question why the United States is undertaking a regime change in Iraq. In their compelling book, authors Lawrence F. Kaplan and William Kristol handily answer this and similar questions by first detailing the atrocities of Saddam Hussein’s regime, then comparing and contrasting the different approaches that the past three administrations have followed in dealing with Iraq. Finally, they outline the post-9/11 foreign policy of the Bush administration as expressed in the "Bush Doctrine," contending that the war against Iraq is just the first step in a redefinition of America’s role in the world. As President Bush vowed before Congress on September 20, 2001, "this country will define our times, not be defined by them."
Since labeling the triumvirate of Iraq, Iran and North Korea an "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush has received frequent criticism for his use of moral terms like "evil." However, a close study of Saddam Hussein’s regime suggests perhaps no better word with which to describe the Iraqi leader. As Kaplan and Kristol describe in detail in the first part of their book, Saddam’s regime has been marked by violence and brutality since its very inception. In the 1970s, the regime systematically persecuted and slaughtered its Kurdish citizens. This persecution continued after the Iran-Iraq War, when the Iraqi government gassed over 100,000 Kurds with chemical weapons, accusing them of collaborating with Iranians. Before being expelled from Kuwait during the Gulf War, Iraqi forces first brutalized Kuwaiti citizens, then laid waste to the country’s oil wells as its armies retreated back into Iraq. The first two chapters of The War Over Iraq detail widespread torture, murder and countless other violent acts by the regime of Saddam Hussein over the years.
Of more concern to the United States, particularly since the end of the Gulf War, have been Iraq’s efforts to acquire and stockpile weapons of mass destruction. By the end of the 1980s, the Iraqi regime had acquired a variety of "special munitions," including warheads, aircraft drop-tanks and missiles filled with chemical and biological agents. U.N. sanctions following the Gulf War required Iraq to declare and destroy these WMDs, but in the first year of inspections, weapons inspectors discovered nearly 10 times the amount of chemical weapons initially declared by Saddam—and still more WMDs, including 3.9 tons of nerve gas and 25 missile warheads filled with anthrax, were never located. The regime had also made significant progress toward developing nuclear weapons—by the efforts of a clandestine staff 20,000-strong—before the secret program was finally discovered by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The efficacy of the inspection scheme progressively deteriorated, until Saddam finally expelled weapons inspectors in 1997. Despite a fusillade of cruise missiles launched by the Clinton administration, Saddam did not back down until the U.N. agreed to accept mere "cooperation" from Iraq, instead of explicit "elimination" of its WMDs. Such capitulation exemplified the approaches followed in dealing with the ongoing crisis with Iraq.
Kaplan and Kristol explore such approaches in detail in the second part of "The War with Iraq." By contrasting the ways in which the last three presidential administrations have handled Saddam, the authors demonstrate that each was ineffective in its own way. It wasn’t until President Bush formulated his new vision in a post-9/11 world, which he described as "the union of our values and our national interests," that the U.S. finally began to take a tough, no-nonsense stand against Saddam Hussein.
The approach of the first Bush administration, characterized by the authors as "narrow realism," involved a belief that foreign policy aims should be achieved through a narrow pursuit of American self-interests. Thus, by following this realpolitik approach, the administration stopped short of marching on Baghdad in the Gulf War, believing stability—even under a dictator like Saddam—was preferable to the instability that could come from the potential fragmenting of Iraq in the power vacuum created by the overthrow of Saddam. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Bush White House subscribed to the logic of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," providing assistance to Saddam’s regime as a counterbalance against the radical theocracy in Tehran. This support included advanced weapons technology, agricultural aid and billions of dollars in credits and loan guarantees. In short, the Bush administration believed that U.S. interests in the Middle East were better served by propping up a stable regime in Iraq, even if that regime was ruled by a brutal and ruthless dictator.
Under President Clinton, U.S. foreign policy pursued a sort of "wishful liberalism," whereby the U.S. deferred to the international community for legitimacy. The Clinton administration pursued a variety of diplomatic and incentive-based approaches in conjunction with the United Nations to try to modify Saddam’s behavior, but the only result was an increasing defiance on the part of the Iraqi dictator. While the administration ostensibly tried to enforce the post-Gulf War U.N. sanctions, the net result of the its half-hearted efforts was a "slow-motion capitulation" in which, among other things, the U.S. agreed to abolish altogether the U.N.-imposed ceiling on Iraqi oil sales. Subordinating U.S. interests to the judgment of the United Nations, the Clinton administration similarly failed to act against the genocide in Rwanda, almost sat out the conflict in Bosnia, and made no response to the Khobar Towers and USS Cole terrorist attacks. In the final analysis, as Kaplan and Kristol point out, the political imperative of the Clinton administration was not to contain or disarm Saddam, but rather simply to keep Iraq "off the President’s desk."
The administration of George W. Bush began with a similarly lackluster approach to dealing with Iraq. But that changed after September 11. The terrorist attacks focused the president’s resolve against Iraq, revealing an "urgent duty" to act against the regime before the regime acted against the U.S. or shared its WMDs with terrorist organizations. This concept of preemption was one of the key components of the so-called Bush Doctrine, the codification of the president’s transformed foreign policy. In a small and dangerous world standing at "the crossroads of radicalism and technology," the principles of containment and deterrence were no longer effective—if they ever had been for a country like Iraq. Understanding the changed nature of national security in the twenty-first century, the president articulated the three principles of the Bush Doctrine: preemption, regime change and American leadership.
In spending the final part of The War Over Iraq analyzing these principles, Kaplan and Kristol make their most convincing arguments. Recognizing the futility of deterrence when one deals with undeterrable opponents, such as mentally unstable dictators or stateless terrorists bent on suicide, the Doctrine promoted preemption as its primary tenet. Critics have railed against this principle, calling preemptive attacks such as that currently underway in Iraq violations of international law. But scholars as far back as Thomas More have supported the notion of preemption. Especially in this day and age, when one strike by a weapon of mass destruction could deal another stunning blow to America, a policy of reaction rather than preemption is folly. Critics further allege that preemption is invalidated by the very fact that it is unilateral. But, as Kaplan and Kristol keenly rebut, the United Nations is not a higher moral authority than the United States because it is multilateral; on the contrary, it is "simply a collection of sovereign states," one that has become more of a hotbed of propaganda and hypocrisy than of international diplomacy.
The Bush Doctrine’s principle of regime change, too, is odious to many on the liberal left. However, in a world in which Islamic radicalism can bring about such terrors as the World Trade Center attacks, removing despots from power becomes a matter of national security, not national egoism. To the charge of hegemony, Kaplan and Kristol answer that the ideals of freedom and democracy are universal ideals, not strictly American ones. The export of such notions promotes human rights and dignity, not American dominance.
Finally, maintaining America’s leadership role as the sole superpower will influence stability throughout the world. By taking proactive action in undermining aggressive dictatorships and helping oppressed peoples, America will send a message to those who would act to destabilize the world. Most importantly, the authors contend, if the U.S. does not take such a strong leadership role in shaping the world order, others will do so in ways that will likely not reflect American interests or values.
"September 11 and the threat from Iraq combined to produce a national security doctrine that responds to the broader dangers of the new century," write Kaplan and Kristol. That doctrine "transformed the war [against terror] from a police action to round up the perpetrators of September 11 into a campaign to uproot tyranny and export democracy." The prior approaches of engagement, containment and deterrence at best preserved the status quo. The Bush Doctrine’s principles of preemption, regime change and American leadership provide a blueprint for protecting national security and achieving international peace through democratization in the twenty-first century. Though a regime change in Iraq is a primary goal of the Bush administration, it is only the first step in the implementation of the Bush Doctrine.
Few people who read The War Over Iraq will fail to see the logic—no, the imperativeness—of this bold foreign policy. Kaplan and Kristol lay a strong foundation in support of the ideas expressed in the Bush Doctrine, exposing the flaws in the arguments of its detractors along the way. Their book should be required reading for anyone wishing to express an opinion on the future of U.S. foreign policy.