University of Michigan

Iraq: National Security Policy Blunder
Political Science 300 Tyrone Schiff 11/10/2008

“It is now clear that Iraq is the biggest blunder of the Bush years,” wrote Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman expressing his complete disdain for the most dominant feature of U.S. national security policy over the last five years.1 Indeed, the situation in Iraq has been completely mismanaged, and thus renders the U.S. in its current state of national security policy confusion. In light of this, now is the most critical time for U.S. national security policy to be reassessed based on the lessons drawn from the failed Iraqi experience. In order to most comprehensively address these issues, a thorough investigative analysis of the existing national security policy is necessary. In terms of Iraq, national security policy will be considered through three separate lenses: the intentions and outcomes of the Iraqi invasion, the degree to which U.S. interests have been protected, and the perception of the U.S. abroad. These perspectives will provide a holistic view of national security policy, which will provide the basis of two fundamental recommendations the Obama administration is urged to consider. The war in Iraq is largely the result of persuasive powers of neoconservatives in the Bush Administration.2 These include prominent members such as former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Chaney.3 According to Francis Fukuyama, a columnist for The New York Times, these officials held the philosophy that the “root cause of terrorism lay in the Middle East’s lack of democracy.”4 Following the September 11 attacks, an opportunity arose in which action could be taken in the region. Although the American intelligence community was unable to verify the


Rachman, Gideon. 2007. "America’s self-inflicted war wounds," Financial Times (Sept. 10). Fukuyama, Francis. 2006. "After neoconservatism," New York Times Magazine (Feb. 19). Kirk, Michael. 2003. "The War Behind Closed Doors." (View the PBS "Frontline" program online).




Ibid. at 2


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extent to which Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or their relationship with al-Qaeda5, the neoconservatives were able to justify and convince the American public to engage in a unilateral preventative war on terror.6 When the U.S. invaded Iraq, there were radically different results than were to be expected. Soon after entering Iraq, the conquest shifted its focus and became a hunt for Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.7 This reveals a retreat from the original strategy outlined to the American people by its government. Furthermore, the Iraqi offensive proved to be counterproductive in its attempts to contain and eliminate terrorism.8 After the invasion, Iraq became a failed state, meaning the government became so ineffective it was unable to control the region, which allowed Iraq to become a thriving breeding ground for terrorism.9 The American Enterprise Institute estimates that 90 percent of the al-Qaeda presence in Iraq post-invasion was made up by locals that spawned out of a “national insurgency.”10 While this was going on, troops fighting the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan were redirected to Iraq giving both terrorist cells ample time to reorganize their efforts.11 To this day, the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden are still unknown. In Iraq, violence and disease have led to the deaths of an excess of 655,000 Iraqis12 and 4,153 Americans.13 It’s depressing how much life has been lost to an

Ibid. at 1 Ibid. at 2



Kagan, Robert. 2008. "The September 12 paradigm: America, the world, and George W. Bush," Foreign Affairs, Sept./Oct.).

Ibid. at 1 Ibid. at 1 Ibid. at 1




Ibid. at 1 Brown, David. 2006. "Study claims Iraq's 'excess' death toll has reached 655,000," Washington Post (Oct. 11).




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evidently unsubstantiated cause. While the intentions and outcomes of the Iraq war reveal glaring problems, there are also faults concerning thenational security’s protection of U.S. interests. While it is true that seven years have passed since the September 11 attacks without further incident on U.S. soil, defending American interests may not be at the core of national security policy.14 According to the Congressional Budget Office, $165 billion was spent on the Iraq war in 2007, set to increase to $188 billion in 2008, which equates to a cumulative total of $752 billion spent on the Iraq war since 2001.15 These are enormous appropriations being directed to a national security mistake. An article by David Leonhardt of the New York Times provides alternatives for these funds, which could be used to directly benefit the American people.16 Unfortunately for the American tax-payer, the Bush Administration and the neoconservative thinking that forced America into Iraq in the first place are more willing to use tax money on bombs and guns rather than teachers and medicine. Alas, the U.S. checkbook isn’t the only thing that’s been taking a beating since the start of the Iraq war. “The global view of the United States' role in world affairs has significantly deteriorated over the last year according to a BBC World Service poll of more than 26,000 people across 25 different countries.”17 The Iraq war is an especially corrosive factor in the decline of the American perception worldwide. Based on an average of 25 countries, 73 percent of respondents disapprove of the U.S. government’s handling of the Iraq situation.18 Further, the mere presence of the U.S. military in the Middle East is perceived to provoke more conflict than it is currently

Ibid. at 7


Congressional Budget Office. 2008. "Analysis of the growth in funding for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the War on Terrorism." Washington, DC: CBO.

Leonhardt, David. 2007. “What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy.” New York Times (Jan. 17).


Program on International Policy Attitudes. 2007. "World view of US role goes from bad to worse," College Park, MD: University of Maryland (Jan. 22).

Ibid. at 17


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preventing.19 The waning view of the U.S. on a global level will have severe consequences if it is not resolved in a timely fashion. The U.S. has established itself as a world power and has worked very hard to achieve and sustain its reputation. Allowing the Iraqi conflict to eradicate all of that progress would be irrational and disrespectful to the storied history of the United States of America. Therefore, the Obama administration is recommended to more closely align public diplomacy with the national security policy strategy. Soft power will prove to be the key to healing the policy blunders of the Iraq war. Soft power refers to the “ability to attract others by the legitimacy of U.S. policies and the values that underlie them.”20 In the Arab and Muslim world, dramatic changes can be realized in a short amount of time contingent on relatively small investments. In 2003, the United States was spending less than $200 million on public diplomacy in majority-Muslim countries.21 Compared to the finances already devoted to the Iraq war, the current allocation for public diplomacy is minimal. There is also good evidence that an increase in soft power will be an effective policy approach.22 Public polls consistently show that many in the Middle East do not actually hate the U.S., but rather admire American values and culture.23 And what would be more admirable than withdrawing troops from an engagement in Iraq that has done more harm than good, has cost a fortune, and has jeopardized the character of the U.S? A swift yet steady departure is in order. When the Iraq war is put to rest, resources can then be devoted to the true struggle against terrorism in Afghanistan where the Taliban, al-Qaeda,

Ibid. at 17


Nye, Joseph S., Jr. 2004. "The decline of America's soft power: Why Washington should worry," Foreign Affairs, 83 (3): 16-20.

Ibid. at 20 Hamid, Mohsin, 2007. "Why do they hate us?" Washington Post (July 22).



Ibid. at 20


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and Osama bin Laden grow stronger every day. The repercussions of such a move are hard to gauge precisely. It is unlikely, however, that the U.S. will become more vulnerable to terrorism.24 Military strategy seems to agree with this notion. Jeffrey Record, author of six books on military strategy concluded in a report published by the Army War College that, “the United States should scale back its ambitions in Iraq, and be prepared to settle for a ‘friendly autocracy’ there rather than a genuine democracy.”25

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Rachman, Gideon. 2007. "America’s self-inflicted war wounds," Financial Times (Sept. 10).


Ricks, Thomas R. 2004. "Study published by Army criticizes war on terror's scope," Washington Post (Jan. 12), p. A12. (The full study by Jeffrey Record is available from the Strategic Studies Institute.)


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