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President Al Gore and the 2003 Iraq War: A Counterfactual Test of Conventional “W”isdom

  • Frank P. Harvey (a1)

Abstract. The almost universally accepted explanation for the Iraq war is very clear and consistent, namely, 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. Notwithstanding the widespread appeal of this version of history, however, the Bush-neocon war thesis (which I have labelled neoconism) remains an unsubstantiated assertion, a “theory” without theoretical content or historical context, a position lacking perspective and a seriously underdeveloped argument absent a clearly articulated logical foundation. Neoconism is, in essence, a popular historical account that overlooks a substantial collection of historical facts and relevant causal mechanisms that, when combined, represent a serious challenge to the core premises of accepted wisdom. This article corrects these errors, in part, by providing a much stronger account of events and strategies that pushed the US-UK coalition closer to 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.

Résumé. L'explication quasi-universellement acceptée de la guerre d'Irak est très claire et sans équivoque : la décision des États-Unis de renverser le régime de Saddam Hussein le 19 mars 2003 était le résultat d'un programme idéologique, de priorités erronées, de déceptions intentionnelles, de grandes manœuvres stratégiques du président George W. Bush, d'éminents «néoconservateurs» et partisans de l'« unilatéralisme » présents dans l'équipe chargée de la sécurité nationale. Certes cette version de l'histoire constitue une idée largement répandue, mais la thèse de la guerre-néocon-de-Bush – que je désigne sous le terme neoconism – demeure une assertion dénuée de fondements, une ‘théorie’ sans contenu théorique ou contexte historique, un point de vue sans perspective, un argument qui ne fait pas de poids, et qui ne repose sur aucun raisonnement logique clairement articulé. Le neoconism est essentiellement un compte rendu historique populaire qui néglige une ensemble important de faits historiques et de mécanismes de causalité pertinents qui, mis ensemble, constituent un défi taille aux principaux prémisses de la sagesse acceptée. Le présent article se propose de corriger en partie les erreurs surévoquées, en en fournissant un compte rendu beaucoup plus solide des faits et stratégies qui ont amené la coalition États-Unis – Royaume-Uni à aller en guerre contre le régime irakien d'alors. L'analyse se fonde à la fois sur des preuves factuelles et contrefactuelles, avec l'appui des mécanismes de cause à effet inspirés de différents niveaux d'analyse, et confirme enfin le rôle joué par le concept de Path dependence (Dépendance au chemin emprunté) et de la dynamique comme explication beaucoup plus convaincante de la série de décisions ayant conduit à la guerre.

Corresponding author
Frank P. Harvey, Department of Political Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4H6;
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