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May 14th, 2009
10:35 AM ET

A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars

Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, nonpartisan think-tank that serves as an educational resource on foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption= "Richard Haass calls the second Iraq war a war of choice."]
By Richard N. Haass
Special to CNN

I have been contemplating writing a book about the United States, Iraq, and the broader Middle East for some three decades. Over this time I have served in a number of government posts dealing with these issues. Two are particularly relevant.

First, from 1989-1993, I was the principal Middle East advisor on the staff of the National Security Council for President George H.W. Bush. In this post I was heavily involved in the making of U.S. policy toward Iraq before and after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Then, from 2001-2003, I was director of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department in the first administration of President George W. Bush. This experience was much different. I was on the periphery rather than at the center of policy making and I was uncomfortable with the policy, not one of its principal champions.

Still, I am one of only a handful of individuals to be involved at relatively senior levels of government in both the Gulf War of 1990-91 and the ongoing Iraq War launched in 2003. My experiences with the policymaking behind both conflicts form the heart of the book I published last week, entitled War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars. Unlike my previous books, which contained mostly foreign policy analysis, this one is a hybrid—analysis and history to be sure, but also personal reflections and recollections. In writing it I wanted to give a sense of why things happened and their consequences.

The book’s central argument is that the first Iraq war was a war of necessity while the second was a war of choice— and a bad choice at that. What characterizes each type of war? Wars of necessity involve the most important national interests, the absence of promising alternatives to the use of force, and the certain and considerable price to be paid if the status quo is allowed to stand. Wars of choice tend to involve stakes or interests that are less clearly “vital,” along with the existence of viable alternative policies, be they diplomacy, inaction, or something else but still other than the use of military force. One result is that wars of choice generally increase the pressure on the government to demonstrate that the benefits will outweigh the costs. If this test cannot be met, the choice will appear to be ill-advised and in fact most likely is.

The two Iraq wars also constitute two fundamentally different approaches to American foreign policy. The first represents a more traditional school, often described as “realist,” that sees the principal purpose of U.S. action in the world as influencing the external behavior of states and relations among them. What goes on inside states is not irrelevant, but it is secondary. The second Iraq war reflects an approach to foreign policy that is at once more ambitious and more difficult. It believes the principal purpose of U.S. policy is to influence the nature of states and conditions within them.

The difference between these approaches constitutes the principal fault line in the contemporary foreign policy debate. The two Iraq wars are important, both in themselves and for what they represent: the two dominant and competing schools of American foreign policy. They thus constitute a classic case study of America’s purpose in the world and how it should go about it.

Filed under: Iraq
soundoff (One Response)

    WE HAVE FAILED THIS MIDDLE EAST WAR.we failed the iraqi people,the Afghanistan people, and most of all WE FAIL AS AMERICANS TO STOP THESE ACTS THAT intrude on our most precious libertys .

    June 16, 2009 at 12:05 pm |