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Naval Institute Press
Dark Victory: America's Second War Against Iraq

Dark Victory: America's Second War Against Iraq

by Jeffrey Record


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A prominent national security analyst provides a critical examination of the origins, objectives, conduct, and consequences of the U.S. war against Iraq in this major new study. Focusing on the intersection of world politics, U.S. foreign policy, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Jeffrey Record presents a full-scale policy analysis of the war and its aftermath. As he looks at the political and strategic legacies of the 1991 Gulf War, the impact of 9/11 and neo-conservative ideology on the George W. Bush White House, and the formulation of the Bush Doctrine on the use of force, he assesses rather than describes, judges rather than recites facts. He decries the Bush administration's threat conflation of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, and calls U.S. plans inadequate to meet postwar challenges in Iraq.

With the support of convincing evidence, the author concludes that America's war against Iraq was both unnecessary and damaging to long-term U.S. security interests. He argues that there was no threatening Saddam-Osama connection and that even if Iraq had the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration believed necessitated war, it could have been readily deterred from using them, just as it had been in 1991. Record faults the administration for preventive, unilateralist policies that alienated friends and allies, weakened international institutions important to the United States, and saddled America with costly, open-ended occupation of an Arab heartland. He contends that far from being a major victory against terrorism, the war provided Islamic jihadists an expanded recruiting base and a new front of operations against Americans. Such a solid, thought-provoking study merits attention.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781591147114
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
Publication date: 04/01/2004
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.45(w) x 9.35(h) x 0.95(d)
Age Range: 1 Year

About the Author

Jeffrey Record is a former professional staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the author of six books, including Making War, Thinking History: Munich, Vietnam, and Presidential Uses of Force from Korea to Kosovo and The Wrong War: Why We Lost in Vietnam.

Read an Excerpt


America's Second War Against Iraq
By Jeffrey Record

Naval Institute Press

Copyright © 2004 Jeffrey Record
All right reserved.

Chapter One

The Unfinished Business of 1991

The most immediate legacies of the 1991 Gulf War were the restoration of a sovereign Kuwait and of American military self-confidence. But given the events of 2003, by far the most strategically consequential legacy was the failure to topple Saddam Hussein, whose survival, defiance, lust for revenge, and suspected continuing efforts to acquire nuclear weapons occasioned the second American war with Iraq. In a sense, the intervening twelve years were a continuation of war by other means, including the U.S. establishment of no-fly zones over most of Iraqi territory, repeated punitive air and missile strikes, the imposition and enforcement of stringent military and economic sanctions, and sponsorship of potential coups to get rid of the Iraqi dictator. That said, there probably would have been no second war absent the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Those attacks and the Bush administration's reaction to them set the United States on the road to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Ironically, it was only after the Gulf War that Saddam's removal became a declared objective of U.S. policy. Yet all measures short of invasion failed, leaving the policy choice that of continuing to pursue Saddam's containment and deterrence-even as the Gulf War coalition disintegrated-or resuming hostilities to destroy his regime. Until September 11, 2001, the administration seemed content with containment and deterrence, but the terrorist attacks on the United States produced a dramatic shift in policy.

Given the connection between the way in which the 1991 war was terminated and the perceived necessity to "finish the job" twelve years later-that is, given the likelihood that Saddam's destruction in 1991 would have voided the perceived need for a second riskier and more expensive war against Iraq-it is important to understand why the United States terminated the first war the way it did. Several facts contribute to this understanding.

First, though the George H. W. Bush administration, like virtually every one of its predecessors, cloaked its military interventions in the rhetoric of a moral crusade, the administration's foreign policy was predominately interest based. It used force in places like Panama and the Persian Gulf in situations where important, even vital, U.S. interests were threatened, and conspicuously resisted pressure for intervention in places, like the disintegrating Yugoslavia of the early 1990s, where such interests were believed to be absent, notwithstanding mushrooming Serbian atrocities that threatened to destabilize southeastern Europe. (The administration did send troops to Somalia for purely humanitarian reasons, but it did not anticipate either hostilities or a prolonged deployment.)

George H. W. Bush ultimately mobilized public opinion for war in 1991 on the basis not of appeals for a new world order free of acts of aggression but rather on the vivid postulation of a Saddam Hussein eventually armed with nuclear weapons. Ironically, this was the core argument for war against Iraq in 2003 advanced by George W. Bush, although this argument was embedded in a larger ideological vision of America's moral mission in the world.

As "realists," those who formulated U.S. foreign policy from 1989 to 1993 focused on the international, not the internal, behavior of states. They rejected "do-goodism" for its own sake, including military intervention in circumstances where the United States had no concrete material interests, though they were certainly willing to drape American values over their realpolitik for the sake of mobilizing domestic public opinion. They went to war in the Gulf not for the sake of the Kuwaiti or the Iraqi people but to prevent the rise of a hostile hegemon in a region of incontestable strategic importance to the United States and its allies. For the George H. W. Bush administration, the Gulf War was first and foremost about oil and power, not about forging a "new world order" or ending tyranny in Baghdad. Indeed, the president had served for eight years as vice president in a Reagan administration that had strategically embraced Saddam Hussein as a de facto cobelligerent in Iraq's war against Iran.

Second, the Bush administration of 1991 preferred a restoration of the status quo ante to regime change in Baghdad. The latter goal exceeded the UN mandate that the president had worked so hard to obtain. It also threatened to destabilize Iraq, for whose political and economic reconstruction the administration was not prepared to assume any responsibility. When the administration looked at Saddam Hussein, it saw an Arab Hitler, but when it looked at a march on Baghdad, it saw a desert Vietnam-an Arab quagmire in which disintegrated central political authority in Iraq mandated an open-ended U.S. occupation of the country as an alternative to Iranian intervention.

The administration would have welcomed a coup that removed the dictator, but it was not prepared to support the replacement of autocratic military rule in Iraq. It preferred stability over justice. In 1998 Brent Scowcroft, who had been the president's national security adviser in 1991, told ABC Television News, "I frankly wished [the Kurdish and Shiite uprising] hadn't happened. I envisioned a post-war government being a military government.... It's the colonel with the brigade patrolling the palace that's going to get [Saddam] if someone gets him." According to Richard Haass, who in 1991 was director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council staff, U.S. policy was "to get rid of Saddam Hussein, not his regime."

Third, the Bush administration of 1991 had good, perhaps even compelling, reasons for terminating the war the way it did; there was no international dissent, and no internal administration dissent, with the notable exception of Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. In their joint memoir of the administration's major foreign policy accomplishments published in 1998, Bush and Scowcroft admit that "[t]he end of effective Iraqi resistance came with a rapidity which surprised us all, and we were perhaps psychologically unprepared for the sudden transition from fighting to peacemaking." With respect to Saddam's fate, they believed that "[t]rying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about changing objectives in midstream, engaging in 'mission creep,' and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs." Also: "Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land." Moreover, the idea of "forcing Saddam personally to accept the terms of Iraqi defeat at Safwan [the site of the cease-fire discussions] ... and thus the responsibility and political consequences for the humiliation of such a devastating defeat" was in the end rejected because "we asked ourselves what we would do if he refused." (Obviously, nothing.)

Secretary of State James A. Baker III recounted after the war that the administration's "overriding strategic concern ... [was] to avoid what we often referred to as the Lebanonization of Iraq, which we believed would create a geopolitical nightmare." He also said that President Bush's unilateral cease-fire decision "was enthusiastically endorsed by the military, our coalition partners, the Congress, and American public opinion." He dismissed the "marching-to-Baghdad" option as a "canard," asserting that "the real objective was to eject Iraq from Kuwait in a manner that would destroy Saddam's offensive military capabilities and make his fall from power likely." Marching on Baghdad "would make a nationalist hero out of Saddam" and transform the coalition war to liberate Kuwait into "a U.S. war of conquest." Baker also raised "the specter of a military occupation" and "ensuing urban warfare" that would create "a political firestorm at home" and prompt "the dissolution of the coalition." He concluded his discussion of war termination by declaring, "Saddam's departure was never a stated objective of our policy. We were always very careful to negate it as a war aim or a political objective."

Colin Powell's memoirs display a particular sensitivity over the way the administration he served in 1991 handled war termination. "What tends to be forgotten is that while the United States led the way, we were heading an international coalition carrying out a clearly defined UN mission," he wrote. "Of course, we would have loved to see Saddam overthrown.... But that did not happen. And the President's demonizing of Saddam as the devil incarnate did not help the public understand why he was allowed to stay in power. It is naïve, however, to think that if Saddam had fallen, he would necessarily have been replaced by a Jeffersonian in some sort of desert democracy where people read The Federalist Papers along with the Koran." Powell concluded: "I stand by my role in the President's decision to end the war when and how he did. It is an accountability I carry with pride and without apology." Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded Operation Desert Storm, declared in his memoirs that "at the time the war ended there was not a single head of state, diplomat, Middle East expert, or military leader who, as far as I am aware, advocated continuing the war and seizing Baghdad." Had the United States done so, "we would have been considered occupying powers and therefore would have been responsible for all the costs of maintaining or restoring government, education, and other services for the people of Iraq.... [W]e would have been like the dinosaur in the tar pit-we would still be there."

Fourth, the Bush administration of 1991 made its decision to halt the war on the basis of an erroneous picture of the battlefield. President Bush gave the order to cease hostilities on the assumption that Iraq's Republican Guard, an indispensable pillar of Saddam's rule, had been destroyed in combat or trapped in southern Iraq. It thus believed the military victory to be of a greater strategic magnitude than was actually the case. Bush and Scowcroft admitted that, shortly after the cease-fire, "[w]e ... discovered that more of the Republican Guard survived the war than we had believed or anticipated. Owing to the unexpected swiftness of the Marine advance into Kuwait, the Guard [operational] reserves were not drawn south into battle-and into the trap created by the western sweep around and behind Kuwait as we had planned." Powell also conceded that "more tanks and Republican Guard troops escaped from Kuwait than we expected," but that did not mean that "Saddam had pulled off some sort of Dunkirk at the end of Desert Storm."

In fact, though crushing the Republican Guard had been one of six stated coalition military objectives, about half (four-plus out of eight divisions) of the Republican Guard in the Kuwaiti theater of operations escaped with most of their weapons and equipment. The Marine Corps attack into Kuwait from the coalition right flank was expected to encounter tough resistance by frontline Iraqi regular army forces, thereby buying time for Republican Guard forces, withheld as an operational reserve, to move forward (southward) to reinforce the Iraqi line. At that point, Schwarzkopf would unleash the massive "left hook" that would encircle the Iraqis from the rear and "close the gate," thus bagging the entire lot, including the Republican Guard. Schwarzkopf, however, failed to adjust his battle plan to the unexpectedly swift collapse of the regular Iraqi army resistance to the marine advance into Kuwait. The "left hook" was not launched to "close the gate" in time to prevent a fighting withdrawal of many Republican Guard units back into Iraq.

It was of course the escaped Republican Guard forces that crushed the Shiite and Kurdish rebellions. Because of this mistaken assumption about the guard, the administration had good reason to believe that Saddam would not survive the coalition victory. Baker conceded that "we never really expected him to survive a defeat of such magnitude." Thus, because of the coalition's misfire against the Republican Guard, wrote Bush and Scowcroft, "[w]e were disappointed that Saddam's defeat did not break his hold on power, as many of our Arab allies had predicted and we had come to expect."

Fifth, even though enough of the Republican Guard got away to keep Saddam Hussein in power, the Bush administration, via the combination of the Gulf War and subsequent imposition of a tough sanctions and inspections regime, still managed to eliminate Iraq as a territorial aggressor state. Indeed, by the time Desert Storm was launched, Kuwait's liberation had become incidental to the larger strategic objective of taking down Iraq's conventional military power and war-making infrastructure. Operation Desert Storm thus contained a powerful element of prevention in the form of attacks on targets deep inside Iraq, such as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons research and production facilities, that had no bearing on Iraq's ability to defend Kuwait. The administration "clearly placed great weight on the need to destroy Iraq's military machine, including its incipient capabilities in weapons of mass destruction," observed two critics of the administration's war termination behavior. "This barely disguised motive for the war recalled the classic justification for preventive war, which has always been that offensive war is an indispensable and justified means for dealing with future, though probable, threats to the vital interests of a state."

Should the United States have marched to Baghdad and brought down Saddam and his regime? It is difficult to envisage the perceived necessity of a second war against Iraq absent Saddam Hussein's survival of the first. But at the time the arguments against doing so were convincing, at least for an administration riding the crest of a spectacular military win and determined to avoid stumbling into an Arab Vietnam. The Gulf War was fought for limited objectives, and the Bush administration was determined, as a matter of principle, to hold the line on pressures to escalate those objectives. Harry Truman had failed to do so in Korea and was punished by Chinese intervention and a bloody, stalemated war. So too, Saddam Hussein might escape capture or death indefinitely; the Bush administration had been embarrassed in its 1989 invasion of Panama by dictator Manuel Noriega's initial escape for two weeks.

Marching on Baghdad probably would have compromised Desert Storm's political legitimacy, which President Bush had assiduously cultivated by making the Gulf War a United Nations response to Iraq's flagrant violation of the UN charter.


Excerpted from DARK VICTORY by Jeffrey Record Copyright © 2004 by Jeffrey Record. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1The Unfinished Business of 19911
2The Neoconservative Vision and 9/1117
3The Bush Doctrine30
4Enemies: Osama's Al-Qaeda and Saddam's Iraq45
5War Aims64
6Analogies: Munich, Vietnam, and Postwar Japan78
7The War90
8The "Peace"117
9Dark Victory141

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