chapter  6
18 Pages

Iraq: from pre- emption to counterinsurgency

The intervention in Iraq that began in March 2003 was based on a set of complex but mutually reinforcing rationales. The primary bases of US-led unilateral military action in Iraq were the perceived need for enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions requiring Iraq to comply with a range of disarmament and inspection obligations, and the doctrine of preemption, which stated that the US had a right to pre-empt threats before they form in an era when threats to security were perceived to be transforming. Both of these rationales were extremely controversial especially in light of the existing understanding of international law concerning selfdefense. Another important basis of intervention was the democratization of Iraq, which was given as the end-point of regime change to result from the war of pre-emption. What underlined these ambitious goals was the deeply held belief within the Bush administration that the global war on terrorism was an ideological struggle between democracy and totalitarianism, and optimism that US primacy would enable it to successfully pursue such ambitious goals. Power-political bases-namely that the threat of terrorism had to be rooted out from Iraq, that failed states posed dangers to security that had to be confronted, and that Iraq had to be disarmed to protect US and international security-also played a role. The assumption that it would be a swift war of regime change with easy postwar stabilization was also critical in shaping how the war was fought. Taken together, these rationales were consistent with the emerging strategy of the Bush administration, which centered on the idea of preemption in response to the way the strategic environment was transformed by the events of 11 September 2001. In essence, this new strategy, termed “the Bush doctrine,” was intended to replace deterrence, which the administration argued was ineffective in the face of threats from individual terrorists and rogue states with potential access to destructive technologies and weaponries. The 2003 Iraq War was the first application of the new strategy, with Iraq fitting the image of danger represented in the doctrine. The so-called “Surge” strategy (2007-08), involving an increase in troop level by five army brigades and two marine battalions, to provide

security and to protect the population in key areas, was an attempt by the Bush administration to finally defeat the insurgency that had raged in the country since 2003, and to avoid a humiliating withdrawal in the face of intensifying violence. The Surge was an attempt to increase the legitimacy of the operation and create conditions for the sustained impact of the operation, which in itself formed one source of legitimacy. The Surge was intended to help enhance the political legitimacy of the government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki by providing a secure environment and pressuring it to develop more even-handed policies and more broadbased support. The success of these endeavors, which in the end was achieved, would become the basis for further US involvement. Thus, the Iraqi case shows clearly how both strategy (in this case resting on the new doctrine of pre-emption and relevant rationalizations) and law (formal UN resolutions and the claim that the boundaries of self-defense should be changed as set forth in the doctrine of pre-emption) form the bases of legitimacy, both affecting level of support, independently and through performance.1 These bases were also highly consistent internally, and were presented as a new strategy to affect change in the existing order based upon the traditional doctrine of self-defense and deterrence. How the bases of war were articulated by policy-makers, in addition, was important because the initial rationalization of the war later had a profound influence on the way the war was planned and executed, thereby determining war’s performance. In the case of Iraq, the initial ambitious and optimistic view of the validity of the pre-emption doctrine, as well as the ideological conviction of the rightness of the strategy based on that theory, combined with the assumption of an easy postwar restoration of peace, resulted in disastrous consequences. This chapter examines the bases of the March 2003 Iraq intervention. Due to the highly complex nature of the case, the examination of performance and support will be the subject of the subsequent two chapters. In the following sections, after a brief review of the Iraq War, the ethical bases on which it was fought, and then the power-political bases of intervention will be discussed, demonstrating the complex but internally consistent nature of the rationalization for the war. The formal ethical bases were enforcement of UN resolutions, the doctrine of pre-emption, and the democratization of Iraq, while the de facto ethical basis was belief in so-called democratic peace. The formal power-political bases were the need to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and delivery technologies banned under UN Security Council resolutions, to eliminate the threat of terrorism perpetrated from or assisted by Iraq and the assumption of a swift war. The de facto power-political bases were the need to deal with failed states and their implications for security and the need for an increased troop level (2007-08 Surge) to defeat the insurgency.