One of the few points of general agreement between the American right and left today is that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a colossal strategic blunder. Yet, Abe Greenwald observes, much of the discussion of the war today is surrounded by “hysteria” that “has made it difficult to look back on the invasion of Iraq with the kind of seriousness that such investigations require.” He finds in Melvyn Leffler’s Confronting Saddam Hussein a much-needed sober evaluation:
Leffler frames the decision to invade Iraq as the last stage in a long-developing showdown between Saddam Hussein and the United States. And in his opening chapter on the life of Hussein, the accurate recounting of the facts is more than sufficient to create a lurid portrait of a life-long monster. There’s much here that the “Sure, Saddam was bad, but” crowd would do well to learn. . . .
Leffler’s characterization of George W. Bush’s path from first son to president is pedestrian by contrast, since the facts of Bush’s somewhat wayward youth and his religious redemption are already sufficiently known. But Leffler’s take is valuable in demonstrating that, upon taking office, neither Bush nor most of his foreign-policy team had any interest in toppling Saddam Hussein or establishing democracy in Iraq. Contrary to popular imagination, this was no neoconservative cabal.
What changed everything, of course, were the attacks of 9/11. But even after that, Bush was slow in coming around to focusing on Iraq. . . . And, for their part, what interested [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz about Iraq was not its dearth of democracy or the prospects for regime change, but rather its capacity to hit the U.S. even harder than al-Qaeda had. This wasn’t the position of the Defense Department alone.
At the same time, Hussein was making jihadist speeches and supporting Hamas. He had kicked weapons inspectors out of Iraq, and the international sanctions regime against him was falling apart. And he had duped inspectors in the past.