The objective of the Iraq intervention was to rid the region of a dictator so that the West could install a beacon of Democracy. Critically Discuss.
“The road to hell, Samuel Johnson famously observed, is paved with good intentions. Even the noblest motivations may lead to unpleasant, unanticipated consequences.” This famous statement seems particularly true in the case of the United-States-led invasion and occupation of Iraq which started in March 2003. Their intervention has been greatly criticised for many reasons. One of the major ones being that this intervention did not rise from humanitarian concerns, but on more geopolitical grounds. This seems especially true when one considers Iraq's location and the country's 'sous-sol'... Moreover, this is not the first time that the country that was once known as Babylonia has been the focus of international attention. It even seems that in the past centuries, the 'normal' state of affairs for Iraq is being occupied... These are the reasons why it seems useful to ask ourselves whether “the objective of the Iraq intervention was to rid the region of a dictator so that the West could install a beacon of Democracy”, and whether this pledge is successful. This statement leads us to consider that it is the 'objectives' of the war and not merely its consequences that justified the American intervention. Here, the focus on Iraq also remembers us of the 'axis of evil' which also comprises Iran and Syria: next targets on the American agenda? In addition, the statement also tells us that the aim was to 'rid' the region of a local despot: but was it only the case? And of course, the idea that the 'West' was willing to intervene to establish is of course far-stretched, since only the 'coalition of the willing' (thirty states such as Afghanistan, Albania, Macedonia... and the United Kingdom ) supported the mere idea of a war against Iraq. Finally, the statement brings us to ask ourselves whether the official goal of this war has been achieved. Consequently, I will divide this critical assessment of the previously essay question in three parts, considering firstly that the statement is true to some extent, secondly, that the truth goes beyond this statement, and finally, that if this was can be partly justified by its purposes, its results seem counter-productive anyways.
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In a first part, let us see how the Unites States government justified the invasion of Iraq, and why their word can be trusted. In their article, Takeyh and Gvosdev describe the Middle East as a region of stagnant autocracies, failed economies, decrepit institutions, “and a political culture sanctifying suicide bombings and attacks on one's own people.” Of course, this ought to lead to the consensus that the regions local 'satraps' must be removed and replaced by democratic governments, which in turn would be natural allies of the United States, even on matters such as the war on terror or the “normalization of relations with Israel.” This widespread opinion led the United States of America to justify the war partly by the will to put an end to the regional democratic deficit. Thus, for Iraq, the plan was to promote democracy through a political transition under the form of the election of a constituent assembly followed by the restoration of national sovereignty and by general elections . Furthermore, even though this is not a novelty , since the Kosovo intervention in 1999 and the war in Afghanistan in 2001, there is a shared preoccupation in the international community on post-war recovery, with the help of international organisations and non-governmental organisations , the problem being that post-war recovery is the based on “presumed” rather that “assessed” needs. But at least, this aims to minimise the impact of war. Since the end of the Post Cold-War, after conflicts, battlefields (or to be precise, 'battle-regions') are under attention from government and non-governmental organisation activity, firstly, “for relief and reconstruction activities”; secondly, because seemingly 'new' conflicts bring new problems; thirdly, because we have witnessed a number of “post-violent conflict situations” since 1989; fourthly, because in the near past, “the declaration of a ceasefire or peace accord rarely heralded the end of the conflict.”; and finally, because we have a vision of “a world in flux”, and are therefore afraid of the 'contamination' of our countries by a nearby unstable region . As a result, to the France government's point of view, the democratisation of Iraq ought to lead to a 'Four-step' plan for the Middle East. It would consist of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, building a regional civil society, liberalizing local economy and tying it to the rest of the world's, and finally, to prevent any potential military rival from rising. Thus, William I. Robinson can conclude that “the overall objective was to force on the region a more complete integration into global capitalism.” This can be linked to the pacification of the region, since it is often thought that democratic nations sharing economical bonds seldom go to war with one another. However, this economical aspect of things brings us to think that the democratisation of Iraq also serves the United State's national interest.
As Kakeyh and Gvosdev cleverly put it, America's fight for the spreading of democracy across the world is no crusade, “it's a foreign policy of enlightened self-interest.” Wolfowitz himself did not hide this state of affairs when, on the 4th of June 2003, he wrote in the Guardian that “the most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.” By mixing to such an extent democratic humanitarian preoccupations and national interest, Americans are often considered as “curious imperialists, demanding to predominate yet be liked”, which researchers characterise as 'Wilsonian Hubris' . To complete this, Greg Muttitt reports the France point of view that “the country should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war.” However, since we know that “oil accounts for 95% of Iraq's government revenues” , it is clear that the impact of such a policy would have a tremendous impact on the country's economy. Furthermore, in his research, Robinson found out that countries primarily targeted by U.S. 'democracy promotion' are those that France wishes to destabilise, that wish to get rid of their pro-U.S. elites, or that are in transition such as Eastern Europe in the 1990's . Finally, by invading Iraq, not only did the United States promote what they thought to be their national interest, but the overthrowing of the Baathist regime was also a means to undermine potential European rivals' interests in the region. Thus, France dreaded a U.S. intervention would go against its interests in Iraq , and “the issue of whether or not France, a notable opponent of President Bush's Iraq policy, would be shut out of reconstruction efforts and post-Saddam private sector deals became a focus of considerable media attention.”
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Albeit what has been seen until now, even though the democratisation of Iraq was one of the purposes of the invasion of the country, because is served the justification of the operations and because it serves America's interests, in this second part of the essay, we will see that the United States have used other arguments to go to war and obeyed to major geopolitical interests by 'settling' in the region. Firstly, even though Saddam Hussein – president of Iraq until 2003 – was considered as the 'great evil', we must not forget that the U.S. previously supported him, and that they have only attacked him because he did not serve their interests anymore . Furthermore, the U.S. benefited from the Iran-Iraq war, since it considerably exhausted Iran and destabilised Iraq, thus preparing it for U.S. invasion... Finally, even though the U.S. invasion of Iraq may have been partly based on humanitarian concerns, one must not forget that the United States previously supported the U.N. sanctions on Iraq which the 'Research Unit for Political Economy' of the Monthly Review considers as 'genocidal'. Additionally, it pinpoints that fact that “by 1993, the Iraqi economy [...] shrank to one-fifth of its size in 1979”, and that things worsened in the following years ! Nevertheless, even though we can clearly see flaws in the White House's humanitarian and democratic arguments for going to war with Iraq, the 'intervention' was also based on quite obvious geopolitical reasons.
Acting with reference their geopolitical context has always been essential to states' survival. This is why we may consider that the invasion of Iraq may have well been based on more 'strategic' and less 'democratic' reasons... In the 1998 British Strategic Defence Review, one could already read that “outside Europe [the United Kingdom's] interests are most likely to be affected by events in the Gulf and the Mediterranean. Instability in these areas also carries wider risks. We have particularly important national interests [there]. Oils supplies from the Gulf are crucial to the world economy.” Indeed, it is because 70% of the known petroleum reserves are there, that U.S. strategists also consider that “whoever controls Persian Gulf oil controls the world's economy and, therefore, has the ultimate level over all competing powers.” There was even the hope that with the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime, “Iraq [would join] Russia as a possible alternative to Saudi Arabia”, for it possesses 11% of the world's known reserves, and it is strategically located close to the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, as well as to the European and Asian markets... In the past, it is in fact constantly that Iraq has been the goal of imperialist powers aiming to “grab its vast oils wealth” and attempt to stop others from acting likewise , thus stirring a strong “nationalist opposition among the people of Iraq”. The Research Unit for Political Economy even adds that “at the start of the twenty-first century, broad themes of Iraqi history from the first half of the twentieth century return: imperialist invasion and occupation to grab the region's resources, and rivalries between different imperialist powers as they strain for the prize.” Notwithstanding these facts about Iraqi resources, one must not forget the importance of the geographical position of Iraq is also exceptional to the strategists' eyes, since they consider that “the new central pivot of world competition is the south-central area of Eurasia.” This importance given to geopolitics is of course not new, and during the Cold War, the ideological competition. Was in fact, it was mostly about geopolitics, “and the reason for both the Korean War and the Vietnam War was understood at the highest levels in terms of the U.S. interest in control of the Pacific Rim.” Here, the United States objective is understood – and officially detailed by Wolfowitz in the Pentagon's “Defense Planning Guidance document for 1994-1999 – as maintaining a favourable balance of power vis-à-vis rivals only waiting for the right occasion to gain some power on the back of the U.S. . Hence, Michael Klare's opinion is that the purpose of the war in Iraq was mainly to redraw the geopolitical map of Eurasia “so as to insure and embed Russia power and dominance in this regions vis-à-vis [...] other potential competitors” such as Russia, China or the European Union. Undeniably, Eurasia can be considered as a 'heartland' of the world, and the past has shown that “whoever [controls] this heartland by definition [controls] the rest of the world, because of the concentration there of population, resources, and industrial might.” Thus, we can see that the invasion of Iraq was aimed to impress China, Russia, and Europe as much as to frighten Syria or Iran.
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In a last part, we must see that if the essay question speaks of 'objectives' to the war in Iraq (justification 'a priori'), and if we agree that they do play a great part in the justification of governmental action, we must not forget that results also play a part in justifying wars after they have started, and even after they have taken place (justification 'a posteriori'). And here is where everything seems to go terribly wrong with America's 'objective' achievement... For the moment, democracy seems merely unachievable. This, of course, is opposed to the U.S.'s government's opinion before the war. Indeed, in 2003, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that “The costs of leaving Saddam Hussein in power far exceed the cost of anything that might involve the disarmament and reconstruction of Iraq.” Moreover, this failure may have something to do with the American way of dealing with Iraq, as expressed by Donald Rumsfeld before the invasion of Iraq: “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” It seems that this was not the solution after all... Even before the war, the Research Unit for Political Economy of the Monthly Review foresaw this dead-end when it considered that the Iraqi army may not be able to resist the Washington might, but the people will surely resist, “And that fact itself carries grave consequences for Washington imperialist designs.” In addition, it seems that the Americans slightly forgot that it is the local despots who usually support them, not the local populations... and that in the region, popular opposition to the United States of America is widespread and anchored in the populations' minds .
But maybe is the fact that the United States cannot establish a democracy – as it seemed to be their intention – not all that bad, be it for them of for the region. In fact, some researchers such as William Robinson sustain that the U.S. have three goals in the region: first of all, cultivate transnationally-orientated elites, secondly, isolate anti-American elites, and finally, to “establish the hegemony of [the transnationally-orientated] elite over the Iraqi masses” , in order to prevent their politicisation, which could possibly be in favour of anti-American movements. As a result, Washington may never have wished to install democracy in Iraq; for this idea was “intended to give an aura of legitimacy to U.S. intervention.” Instead, after having relied on despotic rulers, it intends to “promote polyarchy” by putting into power “transnationally-oriented elites” agreeing to “integrate their countries into the new global capitalism.” Furthermore, the White House seems to believe that this is the only “political order that can achieve internal stability.” To sum up, it appears that “weaving together a pro-Western elite [...] is only half the U.S. strategy. The other half is to control and suppress alternative political initiatives” . However, for some researchers, this is far from being a problem. For example, Takeyh and Gvosdev do not believe in the promotion of Western-style democracy in the Middle East, and would rather see the United States expand the Turkish liberal-autocratic model instead of what they qualify as “quixotic Wilsonian campaigns” ...
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Finally, we can conclude by affirming that by invading Iraq, the United States have 'offered' a 'protectorate' to themselves, that this situation cannot be everlasting, and that “it may only 'freeze' a complicated situation, which sooner or later will erupt.” In addition, some thinkers foresee a new Cold War starting in the region, because of the fact that Russia's, China's and the U.S.'s interests collide there . As a result, what was hoped did not happen: “In the short-run, however, the unstable situation in Iraq [...] may ironically make the United States more dependent on Saudi oil” . Result of all of this? I think that as Takeyh and Gvosdev put it, promoting democracy by means of force is both “dangerous and self-defeating.” But will the international community manage to force rogue states such as North Korea only through 'discussions' and conferences?