America’s Second War Against Iraq

Dark Victory: America’s Second War Against Iraq

Mary Ann Tetreault

Dark Victory: America’s Second War Against Iraq. By Jeffrey Record. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2004. 203 pages. $25.95.

Jeffrey Record’s analysis of the Iraq war finds the roots of the current conflict in “unfinished business” left behind by what some, myself included, saw as the untimely halt of coalition military operations against Iraq following the US-led liberation of Kuwait in February 1991. When the second President Bush entered the White House nearly a decade later, Saddam Hussein had more than demonstrated the costs of the first President Bush’s 100-hour victory. Saddam participated enthusiastically in helping to make a shambles out of United Nations weapons inspections and was consigned to charter membership in the Axis of Evil in the midst of an audacious campaign to unravel what remained of UN economic sanctions against Iraq. Saddam was not just “still there”; he seemed to be reveling in his own game of rollback. This was surely galling to the new President. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill told author Ron Suskind that planning for war against Iraq was on the table at the first meeting of George W. Bush’s National Security Council principals in January 2001.

Record offers a balanced account of the first year and a half of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I read his book in part as an indirect argument in support of the reluctant warriors of the first Bush Administration, who today look wiser and more prudent than they were given credit for in 1991. Even so, Record faults the senior President Bush for having closed his war down unilaterally, without demanding any quid pro quo from Saddam, and for having encouraged an Iraqi popular uprising he had no intention of supporting. Record also has withering criticism for the Clinton Administration, charging that its inner circle was as willing as the first Bush Administration to “[subordinate] the fate of an entire people to the fate of one man” by engaging in sporadic bombing of populated areas and enforcing sanctions that inflicted hardship and death on the Iraqi people while supporting a growing criminal class of regime allies who profited from flouting them. Record’s examination of the “second war against Iraq” thus begins from a strongly negative assessment of the moral, material, and political shortcomings of the policies that preceded it.

The shape of the second Iraq war was foreshadowed in a new national security doctrine, published in September 2002, which outlined the Bush Administration’s intention to devote considerable military resources to maintaining American primacy in world affairs, including by “act[ing] against … emerging threats before they are fully formed.” Record notes that this frank indication that the United States would include “preventive war” in its foreign policy repertoire “disconcerted allies and adversaries alike,” and he traces the role of the Bush doctrine in the decision to go to war with or without UN backing.

Record regards the evolution of the Bush doctrine as part of a neoconservative agenda developed over a period of years by proteges and colleagues of Dick Cheney and Richard Perle; he identifies ten members of this group who took top positions in the George W. Bush Administration. Most “neocons” advocated discarding interest-based policies for goals dictated by values. But some of the values they have promoted are at variance with those traditionally reflected in US diplomatic history and foreign policy. Record points out that the United States had resorted to preemptive and perhaps even to preventive war in the past, but he notes that most instances were covert (Guatemala in 1954) or represented as responses to attacks (Vietnam in 1964). Thus, the explicit inclusion of preventive war in the National Security Strategy evoked concern around the world, not only because of what it portended for future US behavior but also for the invitation it extended to others to do the same thing.

Another tendency exhibited by the Bush Administration is unilateralism. It was signaled early on by the Administration’s positions on international treaties to ban land mines and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, its later renunciation of US support for the International Criminal Court, and then US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia. In the same vein, the coalition assembled for Operation Iraqi Freedom did not achieve the degree of broad-based international political, economic, and military support that George H. W. Bush had mobilized for Operation Desert Storm. Record deplores these changes toward preventive war and unilateralism.

The costs of the current war have dwarfed the cost of the earlier conflict, and the lion’s share has been borne by the American people. Other costs weigh even more heavily: the American service men and women–and the uncounted Iraqi civilians as well–who have been killed or wounded. The most far-reaching cost, especially galling in light of the others, may be continuing and even rising insecurity for the United States and its allies. Contrasting the interest-grounded war in Afghanistan to depose the Taliban and capture Osama bin Laden to the values-grounded war in Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, Record joins security analyst Richard Clarke and others in identifying the major source of danger to the United States–and its interests–as the spread of anti-American/anti-Western terrorism spearheaded by al Qaeda. Although Record does not devote much space to an analysis of the Afghan campaign, he does note, quoting Frederick Kagan, that “it is possible, as we saw both in Afghanistan and in our earlier campaign against Iraq in 1991, to design military operations that are brilliantly successful from a strictly operational point of view but that do not achieve and may actually hamper the achievement of larger political goals.” This conclusion is brought forward to the Iraq campaign, where Record contrasts the interests and rationales for each war. There he shows in detail why he finds wanting much of what led up to the decision to invade Iraq, along with the strategy guiding the totality of the war’s prosecution, especially the inadequacy of planning for the aftermath of “regime change.”

Jeff Record’s book merits a large readership, especially in the policy community. It is notable for its concise, well-argued, well-documented analysis, and also for its highly readable prose. Despite the interval between writing and publishing (and unfortunately for the principals, the United States and Iraq), none of the criticisms Record makes in this first pass on the war has been superseded by events. But Record’s volume is more than a timely account of the Iraq war. It also clears the ground for further examination of the post-Vietnam Syndrome which, as Record shows clearly although he does not say it outright, remains an albatross around the necks of many of those responsible for making and implementing the foreign policy of the United States.

Reviewed by Mary Ann Tetreault, Ph.D., Una Chapman Cox Professor of International Affairs at Trinity University and author of books and articles on Middle East politics, US foreign policy, and globalization.

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