The US-Iraq conflict is a two-phase war that took place between 2003 and 2011. The first phase of the war occurred briefly between March and April 2003. It involved the combined troops of the US and Great Britain. In the first phase, the Iraqi military and paramilitary bodies were effectively defeated within a short span.
The second and longer phase of the conflict took place immediately after the first one. This stage involved the occupation of Iraq. Opposition from insurgents characterized this occupation. After the insurgent activity began to fall in 2007, the US started a gradual withdrawal of its troops. This withdrawal process lasted until December 2011. This paper investigates the reason for this war from a liberal perspective. It will also recommend several strategies that could have been adopted to address the situation.
Liberal Theory of International Relations
The liberal theory of international relations has its roots from utopianism. The utopians subscribed to the belief that war could be negated by perfecting either humankind or the government. The modern liberal theory is attributed to Immanuel Kant. In 1795, Kant wrote an essay titled ‘perpetual peace’. Kant’s essay advanced three tenets that must be present for perpetual peace to be attained. The three elements later became independent strains in the post-World War II climate.
The first tenet was the neoliberal institutionalism of institutional liberalism. Under neoliberal institutionalism, Kant emphasized the need for stable international institutions to hold world peace in place. The second tenet, commercial liberalism, refers to economic independence accompanied by free world trade. According to Kant’s essay, the third arm of world peace is the democratic peace hypothesis. Kant argued that democracies do not easily engage in war. He emphasized the importance of an elected executive that is accountable to the electorate, as well as an independent parliament. Cristol (2011) observes three factors that dictate the modern liberal theory:
- States are the main actors in international politics
- Certain external factors regulate the behavior of the states
- States’ interests are numerous and dynamic
Reasons for the Iraq Invasion by the US
September 11 Attacks
The September 11 terrorist attacks were a great factor that revealed why the US invaded Iraq. In his address, while appealing for public support for the war, President George Bush suggested the immediate need to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) (Cramer & Thrall, 2013). This move was in line with the concept of liberalism, which upholds the need for peace between states. The question, “would the US have attacked Iraq were it a democracy?” (Lieberfeld, 2005, p. 6) best sums the argument by liberalists. Hence, chances are high that the US legislative body would have rejected the administration’s push for the attack if Iraq had qualified as a democracy.
Lieberfeld (2005) observes the lack of any record where two mature democracies have engaged in war. Bush also strongly linked the Hussein government with the terror group Al Qaeda, which had since owned up to 9/11 attacks. Public opinion showed that the majority of the Americans favored the invasion based on their belief that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 scenario (Kull, Ramsay, & Lewis, 2003). According to Kull et al. (2003), fifty-six percent of those who believed that Iraq was involved with the terror attacks favored an assault even in a scenario where the UN Security Committee would fail to sanction such a move. This revelation shows a great connection between 9/11 and the US decision to invade Iraq.
In early 2003, Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, appeared before the UN Security Committee in a bid to convince the convention to sanction the war. Powell tabled persuasive dossier substantiating the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as well as Iraq’s association with Al Qaeda and the September 11 assaults.
However, the spy agency shortly denied that any connection existed between the 9/11 case and Iraq (Calabrese, 2005). Nevertheless, analysts of the Bush administration argue that the Iraq-US war connection needed not to be real. In line with liberalism, the government was already determined to use propaganda to woo the public into supporting the war. Calabrese (2005) argues that all that mattered at the time was the administration’s continued firmness that Iraq facilitated the 9/11 attacks.
Therefore, upon this continued assertion, the public accepted it as the truth or stopped caring if it was fallacious (Calabrese, 2005). Lieberfeld (2005) reveals that international law plays an important role in informing a country’s decision to go to war. Liberalism suggests that global security is dependent on the extent to which democracy has spread across the world. The US is a superpower country whose security is dependent on the global state of affairs. Hence, the American security would have been compromised following Iraq’s instability and hence the reason the US chose to invade it with the view of taking control of the situation.
This rationale may be adopted to explain the best US’ decision to attack Iraq, even with the lack of clear information on whether the Asian nation was in possession of WMD. Lieberfeld (2005) observes that dictatorships are more likely to use deceptions such as concealing their possession of weapons to the disadvantage of the democracy enemy. This mistrust perhaps pushed the Bush administration to act against Iraq, fearing that Iraq would attack first.
The Post-Gulf War Climate
According to Calabrese (2005), the Iraqi war agenda had been consummated before the Bush administration came into place. A group of Republican conservatives had been in support of the Iraqi invasion during the Clinton administration era. This support emanated from the fear that Iraq could retaliate at any time against the US over the Gulf War outcomes.
The Republican strategists who were active members of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) later became high-ranking officials in President Bush administration. PNAC’s goal was “to promote American global leadership, through military strength and moral activity” (Calabrese, 2005, p 158). PNAC had always regarded any invasion of the Middle East nation as inevitable.
Geopolitics and the Oil Factor
Liberalists have advanced their explanations regarding the reason why the US attacked Iraq under the pretext of WMD. According to Cristol (2011), state interests influence states’ behavior. Such interests are self-motivated in nature. Applying this liberal perspective in the US-Iraq context, the presence of oil in the Middle East has sustained the US’ interest in the region. Some analysts such as Jones (2012) pin the oil factor to the Iraqi war of 2003. The US has always maintained a keen interest in the affairs of the Persian Gulf, as demonstrated by the various administrations.
Jimmy Carter, in a public address, stated that any outside power that would seek the dominance of the Persian Gulf would find itself at loggerheads with the US (Jones, 2012). Middle Eastern oil has gripped many nations’ interests since the beginning of the twentieth century. As Jones (2012) reveals, “America’s notable interest in the region began in the 1930s after Standard Oil discovered large quantities of petroleum in Saudi Arabia” (p. 209). The period that immediately followed the end of World War II was characterized by events that expressed America’s growing interest in the Middle East. One such event was when President Franklin Roosevelt hosted the Saudi Arabian monarch, Abd al-Aziz, to discuss the possibility of an oil deal.
The US-led invasion of Iraq was only another of many US’ activities in the Persian Gulf. Analysts argue that the war was an outgrowth of many years of strategic planning and oil deals (Jones, 2012). While terrorism played a great role in occasioning the 2003 invasion, focusing too much on it would be to downplay the influence of oil over the US decisions in the Middle East. Additionally, the interconnection between oil and war has become so strong that it appears to be a permanent one (Jones, 2012). This claim may be attributed to the militarization of the region by the US, a situation that further points to US’ unabated desire to maintain control of the region.
While mature democracies may not attack one another, they are likely to enter into conflict with non-democracies (Lieberfeld, 2005). The US felt that Iraq was dangerous because it lacked transparency and checks. For instance, Iraq did not need a Senate resolution to go to war. From a liberal point of view, Lieberfeld (2005) argues that this fear made the US more aggressive and hence the higher likelihood of it attacking Iraq. Therefore, by attacking Iraq in 2003, the US was motivated to protect its interests in the oil industry.
Through the control of oil, the US can exercise immense control over other nations. Klare (2008) asserts that the increasing shortage of natural resources has motivated states to resort to military occupation as a way of safeguarding those fast-disappearing resources. In addition, analysts such as Stokes (2007) and Bromley (2006) have also identified the US’ interests in the Persian Gulf. According to Mercille (2009), such interests include, “to make profits from oil, to consume oil, and to establish control over oil” (p 331). The advocates of these views argue that the invasion was a smokescreen to maximize profits for companies that had close links with the Bush administration.
Resolving the Current Conflict
Demilitarizing the Terror Groups
The main cause of conflict in the Middle East, particularly Iraq, is the presence of military weaponry. This situation is in line with liberal theorists who hold that a country’s decision to go to war arises from its internal environment, which is mostly influenced by the type of government (Lieberfeld, 2005). In this case, the US contributed to this militarization of the region in the 1970s (Jones, 2012).
As Britain was exiting the Persian Gulf in the late 1960s, the US expressed concerns over the possibility of a power vacuum. The US adopted a militarization policy, which resulted in too many firearms in the region. Dictators also emerged out of this new trend. Therefore, the current stalemate in the region stems from the “firearm culture” of the region. The first step to resolving it to resolve would be to demilitarize the region.
Under the Obama administration, the US foreign policy has shifted from militarization toward diplomacy. While the US military remains in the region, recent efforts to have been toward withdrawing the majority of its soldiers from the region. Instead, the US is opting to instruct the local jurisdictions on how to manage their domestic conflicts without external involvement. This move is a more practical one for the Middle East scenario, especially since the military approach has not worked in the last four decades.
A further move by the Obama administration has been to restructure the military through reducing its funding and deploying smaller military across the world. Plans of downsizing the army by 8000 soldiers were underway (Ramos, 2015). A perfect example of the new US foreign policy was the country’s response to the atrocities of Gadhafi’s administration in Libya. The US intervened only because of securing democracy for the benefit of the Libyan people, a move that demonstrated a more reactive, as opposed to a preemptive approach. This strategy may help to diffuse the stalemate in Iraq if carefully pursued.
Emmanuel Kant identified strong institutions as an important tool for maintaining peace (Cristol, 2011). It is virtually impossible to maintain peace in Iraq as long as the government remains amorphous in a way that allows insurgents to attack from all sides. The post-Saddam government has remained weak in a region that is yet to fully embrace democracy. One effective way of establishing long-term peace in Iraq would be the restoration of a functional government.
Functional government and civil institutions are crucial in the struggle to re-establish sovereignty in the war-torn nation. In 2003, the US attempted to instill a government in Iraq to establish legitimacy. The legitimacy was hoped to bring forth long-term stability. While the pro-Washington government has not been very successful, the move was in the right direction. Current efforts to reestablish stability must focus on strengthening the existing tools of governance in Iraq.
Another move in ensuring peacebuilding is achieved would be the elimination of the current stalemate caused by the two main insurgent groups, namely, Al-Nusra and ISIS. The two factions are currently the main cause of instability in the Middle East, with the region around Iraq and Syria being the most affected. Restoration of peace in the region must focus on eliminating these terror groups. The Al-Nusra should be eliminated first since it is much easier to combat owing to the fact that the forces are concentrated in a smaller geographic region. On the other hand, ISIS is more diffused across a wider geographical region. The removal of the Nusra will prevent its possible evolution into an immediate replacement for ISIS in the event the latter group is defeated.
Support for the Iraqi Army
As noted earlier, the US foreign policy has evolved to a more diplomatic one, which has seen the US become less involved in military terms in the foreign arena. However, the US must support the Iraqi army if it will have any prospects of defeating the ISIS (Patten, 2015). Therefore, America should focus on building capacity for the Iraqi army to ensure it becomes professionalized enough to counter the ISIS insurgents. Professionalism must be emphasized over mere effectiveness. The latest reports have shown the army fairing badly against ISIS, with the armed forces losing their weaponry to the terror group in some instances.
Well-justified concerns over the capability of the Iraqi army to fight the ISIS effectively have been rising. When ISIS launched its major offensive mission in 2014, Iraqi’s Second Division was crushed almost effortlessly. This situation allowed the jihadists to capture a large section of the country, including massive weapons.
Other units of the army have not had any meaningful success either (Chulov & Hawramy, 2014). Ironically, another militant group, the Shiite, has been credited for successfully holding off ISIS from capturing Baghdad. Therefore, the US policymakers should be concerned about the viability of continuing to fund an ineffective military. It is worth observing that the Iraqi army was strong before 2011 under the supervision of the US brigades in Baghdad. However, since the American troops left, the president began replacing the well-trained soldiers with untrained ones.
The paper has utilized the concept of liberalism to demonstrate how the majority of the American community believe that the Bush administration should not have attacked Iraq because the country nether possessed WMD nor had any immediate associations with Al Qaeda. Various analysts have advanced reasons for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Some of the presented reasons revolve around the liberal theory, which regards states as the major actors in global politics. The theory holds that various interests trigger countries to engage in wars.
The paper has expounded on the above reasons as the key forces that led the US to invade Iraq. America claimed that Iraq had WMD and that it had abetted Al Qaeda in the September 11 attacks. These claims have since been disputed, a situation that has led analysts to advance liberal suggestions such as interest in the control of strategic oil as the main motive behind the invasion. To end the current conflict in the country, several measures must be taken, including the demilitarization of the terror groups.
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Chulov, M., & Hawramy, F. (2014). Iraq army capitulates to Isis militants in four cities.
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Jones, T. C. (2012). America, oil, and war in the Middle East. Journal of American History, 99(1), 208-218.
Klare, M. (2008). Rising powers, shrinking planet: The new geopolitics of energy. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books.
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Patten, D. A. (2015). Defeating ISIS, rolling back Iran. Middle East Forum, 22(4), 1-2.
Ramos, M. A. (2015). A Shift in Diplomacy: The Arming and Disarming of Foreign Policy. Strategic Informer: Student Publication of the Strategic Intelligence Society, 1(2), 9-13.