Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



After seventeen years, this question persists: how did we get involved in Iraq, and will we ever get out? A new book by James Mann "The Great Rift: Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and the Broken Friendship," provides new details on why things went in Iraq.

Key players in the 2003 invasion were: President George W/Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

There were four questions that weren't adequately addressed in the run-up to invasion and occupation of Iraq:

  1. Why did Bush and Cheney believe Iraq was a vital national interest?
  2. Why did Rumsfeld and the Pentagon grossly underestimate resistance by Iraqis to American occupation?
  3. Why was Colin Powell's emphasis on diplomacy and his military experience ignored by DOD?
  4. Why did President Bush fail to stop the internecine warfare among his national security team?

A vital interest?

Vice President Cheney and the Pentagon decided soon after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 that it was time to settle scores with Iraq's brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein. He had invaded neighboring Kuwait ten years earlier and Gen. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, carried out a U.N. sanctioned invasion that included NATO allies and Middle East supporters, in the short Gulf War. That forced Saddam to accept tough U.N sanctions, which he ignored. Cheney, then secretary of defense, was convinced Saddam intended to invade Saudi Arabia, seize its oil industry, and control Persian Gulf oil supplies to the world. That was a vital U.S. interest, according to Cheney and President Bush agreed. Although Powell did not disagree, he argued that Bush should not launch war against Iraq without U.N. approval. Bush then decided to put the issue before Congress, as his father, George H.W. Bush, had. In October 2002 Bush won large bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, and its resolution authorized the president to use force against Iraq if necessary.

Iraqis resistance

Like Cheney, Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz predicted that Iraqi's would welcome Americans as "liberators" and cooperate with the occupation. Their failure to prepare for resistance by Iraqi irregular forces, who mounted a large operation of roadside bombs and insurgent gunfire, caused many U.S. casualties. In addition, the Pentagon's plan to send a full division of ground troops into northern Iraq required Turkey's cooperation, which was blocked by its parliament. The reality was that U.S. forces were woefully understaffed for the task they were given, a result of poor planning by the Pentagon. In 1991 Powell had organized a force of 500,000 American and allied troops for the Gulf War; Rumsfeld's force totaled less than 200,000 to occupy the entire country.

Denigration of diplomacy

It became clear soon after Bush took office in 2001 that Colin Powell and his department would not have a prominent role in setting national security policy; Cheney had a low regard for diplomacy: His emphasis was on military power and a willingness to use it. Success of invasion in Afghanistan emboldened Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz to urge the president to invade Iraq and finish the job left unfinished in 199l. In addition, Cheney asserted in July 2002 that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). As the military built up forces in the Persian Gulf, Powell and the State Department were ignored. But Powell persuaded Bush to take the case to the U.N, and the Security Council voted unanimously to confront Saddam for refusing to carry out U.N. resolutions, including inspectors. However, the Council did not authorize the use of force. That failure caused Bush, in March 2003, to act without U.N. support. By then, Cheney and Powell were agreed that Saddam had WMD and planned to produce nuclear weapons. In the end, France, Germany, and Canada refused to support the war. Only Great Britain and a few smaller countries joined the invasion.

Bush's indecisiveness

President Bush bears ultimate responsibility for failure in Iraq. He should have pressed the Pentagon to adequately prepare for war because he was assured that it would be an easy task. He also turned the entire operation over to the Defense Department which ignored important considerations voiced by the State Department. He trusted Cheney's judgment beyond what was prudent for any president contemplating war. And he failed to force Cheney and Powell to coordinate their advice to him, with disastrous results. In sum, the Iraq war should have fielded a much larger military force, and Powell might have been given a couple more months to convince allies to support the war. In the end, the invasion of Iraq had unexpected bad consequences, which we are living with today.

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