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George Mason professor explains reasoning behind U.S. invasion of Iraq

| Wednesday, October 10, 2018

George Mason University professor Ahsan Butt presented “Why did the U.S. invade Iraq in 2003?” to students and faculty Tuesday afternoon in Jenkins and Nanovic Halls. The presentation, named after Butt’s research paper of the same title, was presented by the Notre Dame International Security Center.

Butt focused on one of the most commonly acknowledged reasons for the Iraq war: Saddam Hussein’s possession or mobilization of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). In addition to noting that the Bush administration was “sincerely wrong about this intelligence,” he went on to further squash this WMD argument.

“Many believe that uncertainty of intelligence led to the decision for war, but I would argue that the decision for war led to uncertainty of intelligence,” Butt said.

He continued by saying WMDs certainly can lead to war, but there was no evidence for that in this example.

Instead, Butt said the U.S. invasion of Iraq can be attributed to performative war thesis, an argument dependent on status and hierarchy. He said anxiety regarding the United States’ status led to a need to demonstrate hegemony and establish order. The United States’ motivations fell into three factors: the need for a “new beginning,” repairing reputation and avoiding peaceful bargain.

“The ’90s were a time of great peace and prosperity for the U.S., and all of that ended on 9/11 and America became vulnerable for the first time,” Butt said. “It led to a desire to show that we are in fact the hegemon and are not vulnerable.”

Thus, this new beginning was about fixing the United States’ global status, Butt said.

“The Bush administration wanted to remake the world’s political map,” he said. “These aren’t small goals and they didn’t have to do with WMDs.”

Another important point made by Butt was that Afghanistan, a vulnerable country itself, wasn’t enough, so why invade Iraq? The fact that Hussein was still reigning and powerful following the Gulf War presented a threat to which the U.S. could prove its hegemony, Butt said.

Lastly, Butt argued that there was never an opportunity for a peaceful bargain, for example, working through the United Nations following 9/11. The invasion of Iraq, Butt said, was not a question of if, but when.

“If there even was a decision, when was it taken?” Butt said. “Most likely on 9/11 and no later than October or November of that fall.”

Butt concluded his work on the performative war thesis by saying a bargaining model isn’t everything, and the case of the U.S. in Iraq was “rooted in assertive nationalism and American exceptionalism.”

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