Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Review The United States And Iraq Since 1990, A Brief History With Documents


Brigham, Robert, The United States And Iraq Since 1990, A Brief History With Documents, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014

The United States And Iraq Since 1990 by Robert Brigham was written as a short college textbook covering America’s long experience with Iraq. It covers four broad periods starting with the Bush administration and the Gulf War, then the Clinton administration, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and finally the American occupation. After each chapter there are a few primary source documents with questions about them. The book provides a good introduction to America’s Iraq policy, however there are some issues in the second half.

The book’s main thesis is that America’s involvement in Iraq starting with the Gulf War led to the 2003 invasion and occupation of the country. President Bush came into office continuing his predecessor’s policy of reaching out to Iraq believing that it could be a bulwark of stability in the Middle East. That had no effect upon Saddam Hussein however as shown by his invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the Gulf War the next year. The president was only interested in expelling the Iraqis from Kuwait fearing that going to Baghdad would lead to a costly and open ended occupation of the country. Besides the White House hoped that a coup would remove Saddam anyway. That didn’t happen and the ensuing 1991 uprising was brutally crushed leading America to move into Kurdistan to help with the refugee crisis there and set up a no fly zone. This began America’s decades long entanglement with the country. The U.S. would enforce two no fly zones, be the main backer of continued sanctions and United Nations weapons inspections for years afterward. Neoconservatives immediately began complaining about Bush not removing Saddam and continued to lobby for that end through the Clinton and into George W. Bush’s presidency. Many prominent officials would also consider Iraq unfinished business. That would eventually lead to the 2003 invasion. President H.W. Bush’s fears of what that would entail also came true.

The United States And Iraq Since 1990 then traced the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations’ policies towards Iraq. Clinton continued Bush’s containment policy, but was increasingly angered by Iraq’s non-cooperation with weapons inspectors. That eventually led to 1998’s Iraq Liberation Act which funded opposition parties to Saddam and the Operation Desert Fox strike. Like too many books Brigham emphasized the role of neoconservatives in pushing for the 2003 invasion even though they were not top officials in the government. Although he mentioned that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also wanted to attack Iraq right after 9/11 there was nothing on Bush’s motivation, which is a gaping hole in much of the literature on the subject. The major events in the early U.S. occupation follow next, then the 2007 Surge, and finally Obama orchestrating the military withdrawal from Iraq. Some examples of the documents included were the October 1989 National Security Directive by Bush that laid out his plan to improve relations with Iraq, a 1997 statement by the neoconservative Project for a New American Century advocating Clinton to remove Saddam, and the 2002 Downing Street Memo where the British Ambassador to the U.S. wrote about how the Bush administration was intent upon war and was looking for justifications to start it. There were a couple sticking points with this section of the book. First, Brigham brought up how claims made by the U.S. in the past were wrong, but failed to do so at some crucial moments. For instance, he wrote that Saddam’s son-in-law Hussein Kamal defected to Jordan in 1995 and said that Iraq had worked on far more WMD programs than it admitted to inspectors, but also destroyed all of its stocks after the Gulf War. The U.N. used this to demand more in depth inspections. Brigham didn’t bring up the fact that Kamal was telling the truth that Iraq had no more WMD, which of course would prove hugely important in 2003. Second, there were some factual errors. He claimed that the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the first U.S. occupation authority was only focused upon democratization when it only planned for short term dilemmas like oil fires and refugees, and then had to ad lib everything after that when those issues didn’t occur. Finally, from the Surge into the Obama administration the author went more and more into American domestic politics. There were seven pages just on Congressional criticism of the Surge. There was little on how the Surge worked.

Despite having some issues The United States And Iraq Since 1990 is still a quick read on how America’s move towards Iraq in the 1980s would lead to a thirty year and ongoing engagement. If one thing is to be learned from this history it’s that Iraq has rarely gone the way American policy makers hoped. Saddam didn’t turn out to be a bastion of stability as Reagan and Bush hoped for. He refused to comply with inspectors during the 1990s. The occupation wasn’t as easy as the Bush administration believed it would be, and the U.S. withdrawal didn’t work out as well either. It seems like Washington has always tried to project its hopes upon Iraq without taking into account the country’s history or politics at a great cost to both.

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