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Explaining the Iraq War
Counterfactual Theory, Logic and Evidence

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  • Date Published: November 2011
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107676589

$ 36.99 (P)

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About the Authors
  • The almost universally accepted explanation for the Iraq war is very clear and consistent – the US decision to attack Saddam Hussein's regime on March 19, 2003 was a product of the ideological agenda, misguided priorities, intentional deceptions and grand strategies of President George W. Bush and prominent 'neoconservatives' and 'unilateralists' on his national security team. Despite the widespread appeal of this version of history, Frank P. Harvey argues that it remains an unsubstantiated assertion and an underdeveloped argument without a logical foundation. His book aims to provide a historically grounded account of the events and strategies which pushed the US-UK coalition towards war. The analysis is based on both factual and counterfactual evidence, combines causal mechanisms derived from multiple levels of analysis and ultimately confirms the role of path dependence and momentum as a much stronger explanation for the sequence of decisions that led to war.

    • Combines factual and comparative counterfactual analysis as a new method of evaluating the relative strengths and weaknesses of competing explanations for the origins of the Iraq War
    • Outlines detailed and compelling evidence to confirm path dependence and momentum as stronger explanations for the war; combines causal mechanisms derived from multiple levels of analysis - leadership, domestic political, societal, institutional, organizational and international
    • A much richer historical account of US-UK strategies that goes well beyond simplistic, first-image theories of the war; the book engages (rather than ignores) the intellectual legacy of international relations and foreign policy theory
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    • Winner of the 2013 CPSA Prize in International Relations

    Reviews & endorsements

    "Counterfactuals are too often rhetorical weapons of mass destruction rather than conceptual tools for parsing the logic of causal claims. Harvey brings much needed rigor to a particularly bitterly divisive what-if debate: that over the 2003 Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq."
    Philip E. Tetlock, Annenberg University Professor, University of Pennsylvania

    "A sophisticated use of counterfactuals to go beyond ideologically motivated explanations for the Iraq War. Harvey’s method and its application will impress even those who are not persuaded by his argument that a Gore administration would also have gone to war."
    Richard Ned Lebow, James O. Freedman Presidential Professor, Dartmouth College

    "In a provocative study of the 2003 Iraq War, Harvey challenges standard interpretations that trace the origins of the war to the beliefs and personality of George W. Bush and to the influence of his neoconservative advisors. Not all readers will be convinced by Harvey’s innovative use of counterfactual analysis to argue that international and domestic pressures would have also led Al Gore to a decision for war. But all subsequent analyses of the Iraq War must take this argument seriously."
    Jack S. Levy, Board of Governors' Professor, Rutgers University

    "Harvey serves up an interesting cocktail. He combines a provocative thesis about the relatively minor role of George Bush in the explanation of the 2003 Gulf War with one of the most methodologically sophisticated counterfactual analyses I have seen."
    Gary Goertz, Professor of Political Science, University of Arizona

    "Frank P. Harvey has written a lucid, penetrating, and provocative account of the origins of the Iraq War. Regardless of where one stands on this controversial set of decisions, it is a must read."
    Janice Gross Stein, Director, Munk School of Global Affairs

    "Harvey's book is an outstanding addition to the literature on international relations, the presidency, and foreign policy analysis. For methodological, theoretical, and empirical perspectives, it serves as a superb model for research design in counterfactual analysis. Summing Up: recommended."
    W.W. Newmann, Choice

    "Frank Harvey is to be congratulated for producing an exemplary book. It makes sophisticated use of counterfactual argumentation to challenge the conventional wisdom about the causes of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. For methodological and substantive reasons it should be read by everyone with an interest in foreign policy."
    H-Net Reviews

    "Explaining the Iraq War will become one of the most important books on the topic. Political scientists have sometimes been criticized for being little different from journalists, but this book is a model in what political science can bring to a topic largely dominated by journalists in its analytical rigor, theoretical sophistication, attention to evidence, and boldness in argument. Even the most rigid neoconists should be challenged to reconsider their views in light of this book."
    Robert S. Snyder, The Review of Politics

    "Using sophisticated counterfactual arguments, Frank Harvey presents an imaginative, bold, and provocative reinterpretation of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Basing his analysis on a wide variety of documentary sources and other empirical evidence, he carefully and methodically challenges, and dismantles, the standard explanations for the war that overwhelmingly locate causality within the administration of George W. Bush. This book not only makes an important contribution to our understanding of the 2003 war, a conflict whose effects continue to impact global politics; more importantly, it demonstrates how path dependence and counterfactual theorizing, rigorously and imaginatively applied, can enhance our understanding of international relations."
    Canadian Political Science Association International Relations Book Prize 2013 Jury Report

    "For this reviewer at least, the tightness of Harvey's argument, the extent of the evidence that he supplies, and the care and fastidiousness with which he presents his conclusions combine to produce a book that mercilessly assaults the notion that the responsibility for the 2003 war in Iraq falls squarely on the shoulders of Bush and the neocons, and on their misguided priorities and intentional deceptions. In doing so, Harvey vigorously challenges an intellectual position that has become so enduring that it had achieved the status of a truth. And if this book does not, at a minimum, sow doubts in the minds of believers, then nothing will."
    Adeed Dawisha, Perspectives on Politics

    "Harvey's work is both commendable and welcome, and should lead to much soul-searching among the academy, policymakers, and interested citizens, not to mention this country's two million or so Iraq War veterans who are often told that they fought because of a war-mongering president. By eliminating "Bush and the neocons" from the explanation of the Iraq War, Harvey re-centers attention on the factors that international relations theorists should have been focused on all along: US unipolarity and the effects of the 9/11 attacks: "The two dominant forces that pushed the country down the path to war had nothing to do with individuals or ideology - 9/11 and the reality of US power were largely responsible". … Airport bookshops may thrive on contingent accounts of history - how Irish monks saved Western civilization or how Chinese sailors ignited the European Renaissance. But like them, the theory that George W. Bush caused the Iraq War represents an astonishing failure to show that changing one variable would make all other variables irrelevant. Harvey reminds us to take history, and politics that makes it, more seriously."
    Bruce Gilley, Perspectives on Politics

    "Frank Harvey has written a provocative and interesting book that admirably questions the conventional wisdom that Al Gore would not have initiated the Iraq War. His arguments raise often unacknowledged and untested assumptions about the counterfactual alternative of a Gore foreign policy after 9/11."
    Elizabeth Saunders, Perspectives on Politics

    "Earlier this summer, Canada’s political scientists chose as their top prize winner a book that provocatively refutes the dominant theory around one of the worst public policy disasters of the 21st century, the Iraq War … Counter-factual theory is a widely used tool for analyzing public accounts of historical events, or testing social science theories of causation. Here it is deployed with a rigour seldom seen before. Harvey uses counter-factual argument to advance that the answer is no, Al Gore in the White House would not have been enough to avoid war."
    Andrew Steele, The Globe and Mail

    "Frank Harvey’s award-winning book challenges the postwar prevailing wisdom on the second 2003 war and its aftermath … His book, while certainly very scholarly, is a major contribution to the understanding of events that still haunt us."
    Guy Pothier, Frank Magazine

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2011
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107676589
    • length: 360 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 153 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.58kg
    • contains: 5 b/w illus. 3 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Comparative counterfactual analysis and the 2003 Iraq War
    2. Leadership, political context(s) and the Iraq War
    3. Democratic national security advisers
    4. Domestic and congressional politics
    5. American intelligence failures and miscalculations
    6. Societal pressures and public opinion
    7. International politics, global WMD consensus and UN power balancing
    8. Hussein's mistakes, miscalculations and misperceptions
    9. Summary and implications
    10. Conclusion.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Causal Analysis
  • Author

    Frank P. Harvey, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia
    Frank P. Harvey was recently appointed University Research Professor of International Relations at Dalhousie University. He held the 2007 J. William Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Canadian Studies (SUNY, Plattsburgh), is a Senior Research Fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and was former Director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie.


    • Winner of the 2013 CPSA Prize in International Relations

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