Book review: WAR OF NECESSITY, WAR OF CHOICE By Richard N. Haass

Book review by Steven R. Maher

There are a lot of books out there about Iraq. Many of them are poorly written, partisan to one viewpoint or another, and down right depressing. Richard N. Haass’ “War of Necessity, War of Choice” is different. It flows smoothly, is non-partisan, and avoids dwelling on the depressing aftermath of the 2003 invasion. It looks at the process by which America twice went to war with Iraq.
Haass was a senior director on the staff of the National Security Council from 1989 through 1993. He was present at many of the meetings that led to the successful first Iraq war in 1991 under the first Bush presidency of George H.W. Bush, when the United States drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
Haass from 2001 to 2003 was a principal adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was involved in the process that led to the controversial second Iraq war in 2003 under the second Bush presidency of George W. Bush, when the United States occupied Iraq.
From the unique perspective afforded by these two vantage points, Haass draws a compelling picture of how the United States approached the two Iraq wars under the two Bush presidencies. He compares and contrasts the approach each Bush took toward Iraq. What emerges is a vivid portrait of how foreign policy is made and how history evolved.

War of choice

The title of the book sums up how Haass feels about the two wars: the first Iraq conflict was a war of necessity, fought to protect American national interests. The second conflict was a war of choice, unnecessary to defend American interests.

“Wars can either be viewed as essentially unavoidable, that is, as acts of necessity, or just the opposite, reflecting conscious choice when other reasonable polices are available, but are deemed to be less attractive,” explains Haass.

“History offers us numerous examples of each,” continues Haass. “Any list of modern wars of necessity from the American perspective would include World War II and the Korean War. Wars of choice undertaken by the United States would include Vietnam, Bosnia, Kosovo, and a century before, the Spanish-American War.”

Haass then applies the paradigm to Iraq.

“This was a war of necessity if there ever was one,” says Haass of the first Iraq war in 1991. “A Saddam who controlled Kuwait would dominate the oil rich Middle East, given the value of Kuwait’s oil and the likelihood that other Arab states would fear standing up to him lest they suffer Kuwait’s fate. It would only be a short while before he gained nuclear weapons. Israel’s security would be badly compromised.”

“The second Iraq war was not necessary,” contends Haass. “To paraphrase what a French statesman of the eighteenth century said about an ill-advised and unwarranted execution, it was a blunder. There were other viable policy options available to the United States..Odds are that Saddam Hussein would have remained in power, but his ability to threaten his neighbors would likely have been circumscribed. The United States could well have accomplished a change in regime behavior and a change in regime threat without regime change.“

Contrasts approaches

Haass contrasts the approach to war by the two Bushes. The first Bush conducted policy reviews, explored his options, and then made an informed decision to go to war with Iraq for substantiative reasons. The second Bush made the decision to invade Iraq without policy reviews or exploring other options, and then engaged the foreign policy apparatus. Writes Haass: “I will go to my grave not fully understanding why, although I believe I have a good if not complete understanding of how, this second Iraq war came about.”

The difference between the two Bushes may have been that the first President Bush was more restrained in his willingness to use military force.

“[The second] Bush was comfortable with the exercise of power, and his presidency was consequential by any measure; my prediction, though, is that historians will rightly assess the consequences as mostly negative,” concludes Haass.

Haass’ book has won critical acclaim from both conservative and liberal reviewers. This is a must read for those trying to understand how the current Iraqi events metastasized.

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