Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 1: Why the Bush Blunders?

Chapter 1: Why the Bush Blunders?

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





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Chapter 1: Why the Bush Blunders?

7: The various theories and evidence for them are expertly assessed by the authors assembled in Jane K. Cramer and A. Trevor Thrall, eds., Why Did the United States Invade Iraq? (New York: Routledge, 2012). The “idiots” phrase is that of Feith, who was himself described by General Tommy Franks as “the f—ing stupidest guy on the face on the earth”: George Packer, The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq (New York: Ferrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), p. 138. On the frustrations of reading self-serving memoirs see Dana Millbank, “A dead-ender until the end,” a review of Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown: A Memoir (New York: Penguin, 2011), in Philadelphia Inquirer (Feb. 7, 2011), p. A15; and Peggy Noonan, “The Defense Secretary Who Let Bin Laden Get Away,” Wall Street Journal (March 12, 2011), p. A15.

7-8: Scott A. Silverstone, Preventive War and American Democracy (New York: Routledge, 2007. In his memoirs Bush performed a welcome service by defining his oft-misunderstood doctrine. “After 9/11, I developed a strategy to protect the country that came to be known as the Bush Doctrine: First, make no distinction between the terrorists and the nations that harbor them – and hold both to account.  Second, take the flight to the enemy overseas before they can attack us again here at home.  Third, confront threats before they fully materialize.  And fourth, advance liberty and hope as an alternative to the enemy’s ideology of repression and fear” (Bush, Decision Points, pp. 396-97).  Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon, “Why Hawks Win,” Foreign Policy 158 (Jan-Feb. 2007): 34-38, explains why “policymakers come to the debate predisposed to believe their hawkish advisors more than the doves.”  The shock of 9/11, needless to say, greatly reinforced this predisposition.

8: Kenneth Pollack, “Spies, Lies, and Weapons: What Went Wrong?” The Atlantic 293, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 2004); Kevin Woods, James Lacey, and Williamson Murray, “Saddam’s Delusions: The View from the Inside,” Foreign Affairs 85, no. 3 (May-June 2006): 2-26. The president claimed: “The stakes were too high to trust the dictator’s word against the weight of the evidence and the consensus of the world. The lesson of 9/11 was that if we waited for a danger to fully materialize, we would have waited too long”: George W. Bush, Decision Points (New York: Crown, 2010), p. 229.  SamTannenhaus interviewed Wolfowitz for the May 2003 issue of Vanity Fair.  For the transcript see

8-9: Two good examples of the genre are Elizabeth Drew, “The Neocons in Power,” New York Review of Books (June 12, 2003), pp. 20-22, and Anne Norton, Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire (New Haven: Yale University, 2004. But the best and most recent is Justin Vaïsse, Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge: Mass.: Harvard University, 2010). The timeless wisdom of Russell Kirk held “there is no surer way to make a man your enemy than to tell him you are going to remake him in your own image for his own good”: William S. Lind, “What’s So Special about Special Ops?” The American Conservative (Oct. 2012), p. 7. The timely wisdom of Zbigniew Brzezinski held that the geopolitical consequences of creating a political vacuum in Iraq would be calamitous: see his 2002 warnings in The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership (New York: Basic Books, 2004).  The Garfinkle definition appears in his brilliant and piercing “Reflections on the 9/11 Decade” (Sept. 11, 2011), p. 8, at:   See also Michael Lind, “Neoconservatism and American hegemony,” in Cramer and Thrall, Why, pp. 114-28, 225.  The Rumsfeld quote is in Jeffrey Goldberg’s critique of the Israel Lobby thesis: The New Republic (Oct. 8, 2007).

9: Jerome Slater, “Explaining the Iraq War: The Israel lobby theory,” in Cramer and Thrall, Why, pp. 101-13. The signature statement of the theory is John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2007.

9-10: On pre-invasion doubts about any benefits to be had from Iraqi oil see Trudy Rubin, “Talk about oil and Iraq is just that: A lot of talk,” Philadelphia Inquirer (Jan. 12, 2003), p. D5. The strongest argument for war on account of the oil might have been that of Kenneth Pollack, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (New York: Random House, 2002) because he stressed the danger letting Saddam spend the billions in oil revenue as he wished (including, presumably, WMD and support for terrorists). The strongest assertion of “what everyone knows: Iraq is largely about oil” was made by former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World (New York: Penguin, 2007), p. 463.

10, ¶ 1: An example of the first genre is Peter and Rochelle Schweizer, The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty (New York: Doubleday, 2004); of the second genre Russ Baker, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009); of the third Kitty Kelley, The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty (New York: Doubleday, 2004); of the fourth James W. Messerschmidt, Hegemonic Masculinities and Camouflaged Politics: Unmasking the Bush Dynasty and its War against Iraq (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2010).

10, ¶ 2: Karl Rove, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010), attributes the decision to invade Iraq to the nearly universal belief that Saddam Hussein in fact had WMD. Political calculation only entered the picture when the occupation turned sour and American public support for Bush threatened to “crater”. Every President labors under the two- and four-year electoral clocks.  But presidents called to redeem a shocking trauma on the scale of Fort Sumter, Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, or 9/11, are granted a roughly five-year carte blanche to do as they please before Americans tire of the crusade and go back to pursuing their happiness.  That is why Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and George W. Bush needed to finish their jobs by 1865, 1946, 1968, and 2006.  The first two succeeded only to perish at the end.  The last two failed and returned to Texas in disgrace.  David Eisenhower alerted me to this “crisis” clock.

10-11: Packer, Assassins’ Gate, p. 148; Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror (New York: Free Press, 2004), p. 265; James Kurth, “Iraq: Losing the American Way,” The American Conservative (March 15, 2004), which includes an incisive critique of the “Rumsfeld Transformation Project.”

11, ¶1: On “the efficacy of military force” see Andrew Flibbert, “Ideas and Entrepreneurs: A constructivist explanation of the Iraq War,” and Jane K. Cramer and Edward C. Duggan, “In pursuit of primacy: Why the United States invaded Iraq,” in Cramer and Thrall, Why, pp. 73-100, 201-43. Evidence that Rumsfeld (plus Bush and Cheney) already favored invading Iraq well before 9/11 and that no formal debate occurred has been gathered by Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), pp. 70-86; and John Prados and Christopher Ames, “Iraq War Part II: Was There Ever a Decision,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book 328 (2010) at Quotes from Adelman, “Cakewalk in Iraq” and “Cakewalk Revisited,” Washington Post (Feb. 13 and Apr. 10, 2003), and John Barry, “McNamara, Rumsfeld, and the Fog of War”:

11, ¶1 cont.: Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (New York: Penguin, 2006); Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (New York: Pantheon, 2009). Donald Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown: A Memoir (New York: Sentinel, 2011), admits to no mistakes or doubts about “Phase Four” planning for the aftermath of a successful invasion.

11, ¶2: In defense of the Bush administration it must be said that all Western intelligence agencies seem to have agreed that Saddam’s Iraq possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological agents and most likely sought nuclear capabilities. It seems not to have occurred to anyone that Saddam might be bluffing about WMD in hopes of intimidating his Iranian rivals or his own people. See Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown, pp. 499-500.  Feith, War and Decision, pp. 475-77, provides precise data on the contents and timing of Bush’s public addresses that mentioned Iraq.  Whereas prior to August 2003 he mentioned security concerns eight times more frequently than democracy, the ratio flipped nine to one in the opposite direction after that August.

12, ¶ 1: “Are Foreign Rebel Leaders Duping The American Right, Again?” The New Republic (August 11, 2003).

12, ¶2: See the sympathetic yet critical analyses of procedural failure at the White House level by Peter Rodman, Presidential Command: Power, Leadership, and the Making of Foreign Policy from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush (New York: Knopf, 2009), pp. 232-71; and at the Pentagon level by Dov Zakheim, A Vulcan’s Tale: How the Bush Administration Mismanaged the Reconstruction of Afghanistan (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2011).

12-13: Richard N. Haass, War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of the Two Iraq Wars (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009), pp. 254-55; George Tenet, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 417-25. Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown, p. 481, takes refuge in the fact that unintended consequences and “unknown unknowns” cannot be factored in to a decision, but that does not excuse the absence of “insurgency” in his “Parade of Horribles” list of things that could wrong in Iraq. On October 11, 2002, the Senate voted 77-23 and the House 296-133 to authorize military force against Iraq.  Many Democrats and at least one Republican, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, accused the administration of misleading them about the alleged evidence of an Iraqi WMD threat and its own alleged intention to pursue a diplomatic solution.  “Both political parties failed to do their job,” Hagel lamented.  “Congress abdicated its oversight responsibilities and fell silent and timid.” See also Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), pp. 249-50; Tenet, Center of the Storm, p. 362; Scott McClellan, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception (New York: Public Affairs, 2008), pp. 120-25.

13-14: See, e.g., Ricks, Fiasco; Gordon and Trainor, Cobra II; Tommy Franks, American Soldier (New York: Regan Books, 2004). For devastating critiques of the Afghan “nation-building” efforts by U.S., NATO, UN, and non-government organizations see Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus, Can Interventions Work? (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011); Tim Bird and Alex Marshall, Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Way (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University, 2011); and Brian Glyn Williams, Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America’s Longest War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2012). On the light footprint see Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown, pp. 395-405, and Rumsfeld’s speech “Beyond Nation Building” (Feb. 14, 2003) at  For a scintillating, if depressing analysis see Harvey Sicherman, “Adventures in State-Building: Bremer’s Iraq and Cromer’s Egypt,” The American Interest (May-June 2007): 28-41. 

13-14 cont.: Gordon W. Rudd, Reconstructing Iraq: Regime Change, Jay Garner, and the ORHA Story (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2011); L. Paul Bremer III, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006). Packer, Assassins’s Gate, pp. 144-45, complained in 2005 that no one explained the choice of Bremer. That is still true today.  The media first claimed it was a victory for State since the discarded Garner and ORHA had been creatures of the Pentagon.  Barbara Bodine, a Rumsfeld aide, speculated that the only person with the “knowledge, access, and influence” to impress on Bush the need for a firm, civilian proconsul in Iraq was Tony Blair.  That’s intriguing, but another such person was Dick Cheney, whose 550 page memoir manages never to mention Bremer at all.  Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone (New York: Knopf, 2006), suspects Cheney because his chief of staff Scooter Libby was an old friend of Bremer.  Garner attests that when he returned from Iraq and congratulated Bush on the choice of Bremer the President replied, I didn’t choose him.  Rumsfeld chose him.”  Yet Bremer’s own memoir, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), p. 12, quotes Bush to the effect that he “was neither Rumsfeld’s nor Powell’s man.  I was the President’s man.”  Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown, pp. 493-507, takes credit for suggesting that Bremer report to the President directly.  Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown, p. 484, attests to having forwarded Rodman’s memorandum to Cheney, Powell, Tenet, and Rice in hopes of dissuading them from a long U.S. occupation.  He does not explain why Bremer, his presumptive choice for CPA administrator, ignored his wishes from day one!  Many participants and journalists have described the Afghan, Iraqi, and global anti-terrorist campaigns following 9/11, but a good first stab at a synthetic interpretive history is Terry H. Anderson, Bush’s Wars (New York: Oxford University, 2011); on Operation Iraqi Freedom, pp. 131-67.

14: Anderson, Bush’s Wars, pp. 169-213; quotes pp. 169,181, 190; Zinni cited by Toby Dodge, Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied (New York: Columbia University, 2003), p. 157; Lt. Gen. (ret) William E Odom in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Jan. 18, 2007) at:

15, ¶ 2: G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (Rockville, Md.: Serenity, 2009 <1905>), p. 132. He is referring here to Britain’s Boer War and the America’s War with Spain, for which he held both powers in contempt.

15-16: Quoted in Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), p. 291.

16: Michael J. Mazarr, “The Risks of Ignoring Strategic Insolvency,” The Washington Quarterly 35:4 (Fall 2012): 7-22; Garfinkle, “Reflections on the 9/11 Decade,” p. 10; James Kurth, “Ignoring History: U.S. Democratization in the Muslim World,” Orbis 49, no. 2 (Spring 2005): 305-22, and “The Neoconservatives are History,” Orbis 50, no. 4 (Fall 2006): 754-69. The latest retrospectives of the denouements in Afghanistan and Iraq are Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq From George W. Bush to Barack Obama (New York: Pantheon, 2012) and Stanley McChrystal, My Share of the Task. A Memoir (New York: Penguin, 2012).


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