Monday, June 14, 2010

War of Necessity, War of Choice

War of Necessity, War of Choice is a memoir by Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations, and he describes his experience serving in both Bush administrations in the run ups to their respective Iraq Wars. Haass asserts that while both wars share some superficial similarities, the two conflicts represent different foreign policy philosophies and illustrate how different presidents and administrations can reach different decisions. Haass ultimately concludes the first Iraq War in 1990-1991 was a war of necessity for United States, but the second Iraq War is a war of choice. Overall, Haass provides engaging insight into how the U.S. ended up going to war to Iraq twice in a twelve-year period.

Haass calls the first Iraq War a limited, traditional conflict intended to stop Saddam Hussein's aggression. The goal was to liberate Kuwait, preserve the security of Saudi Arabia, and prevent Iraq from becoming the dominant state in the Middle East. The United States used overwhelming force, gathered multilateral support, and attacked after twelve United Nations Security Council resolutions failed to deter Hussein.

The second war, Haass states, was and is a much more ambitious operation, designed to transform not only Iraq but the entire region into something democratic. While Haass identifies Hussein as an imminent threat in 1990, he asserts the Iraqi dictator was not an immediate threat to U.S. interests in 2003 (although there was reason to take steps against him). Thus, the attack was a preventative war, not a preemptive one, which gets into legal and international conditions regarding justification. The U.S. launched its attack after one U.N. Security Council resolution, convinced support for a second could not be raised. This left the U.S. in a more unilateral position, carrying the brunt of the work. Instead of overwhelming the enemy, the U.S. military used limited numbers, and this created security problems in the months following the fall of Saddam's regime.

Haass discussed other differences, but I think these were fundamental ones that illustrated how things in the second war managed to go wrong. The initial planning processes didn't seem to well thought out. The Bush (43) administration settled on war from the onset and gave little consideration to else.

Haass makes a great case that the first war was essential. Not only did Iraq invade Kuwait and threaten Saudi Arabia, this was viewed as the first big crisis following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and to let such aggression go unchecked, the U.S. and U.N. risked losing the credibility, which might have led to more aggression from other states. In addition, if Iraq became the dominant force in the Middle East, it could destabilize the region, threaten to Israel, and disrupt oil supplies.

What I took most from the book is just how complicated foreign policy really is. As Haass illustrates, every decision and action has implications around the world. One example is how the first Bush administration waited until after a meeting with Saudi officials to announce troops were being deployed there, so it wouldn't appear to the rest of the U.S. wasn't forcing itself on Saudi Arabia and acting like the aggressor. Perception really is a great factor in international politics, and the administration was always careful not to let Saddam look like a hero in the eyes of the Arab world.

The most intriguing aspect to me was the fatigue factor, which I've never really considered. Higher-ups in the government during crises often work eighteen to twenty-hour (or more) days seven days a week for months on end, and that kind of physical and mental exhaustion leads to mistakes and poor decision-making. Haass works in some personal background to illustrate this kind of commitment; he had to miss his honeymoon to go overseas during the buildup to Operation: Desert Storm.

Whereas Haass observed diverse thinking in the first Bush administration, he said he found the second to be more in solidarity in its thinking and less to discussion. In addition to the loss of life and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, Haass notes the biggest loss by going into Iraq was that diverted attention, if not resources, from other foreign policy issues: Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran.

War of Necessity, War of Choice offers a detailed and inside into the decision-making process of the executive branch in regards to foreign policy and offers examination of both Iraq Wars, including strategies, decisions, mistakes, reasons, and lessons. Haass manages to relate the complexities and pressures of such a high level job. It's a compelling, informative read.

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