Melvyn P. LefflerFeb 28, 2023
Confronting Saddam Hussein
George W. Bush and the Invasion of Iraq
Oxford University Press 2023
America's decision to go to war in Iraq
in 2003 is arguably the most important foreign policy choice of the entire
post-Cold War era. Nearly two decades after the event, it remains central to
understanding current international politics and US foreign relations.
In Confronting Saddam Hussein: George W. Bush and the Invasion of Iraq (Oxford UP, 2023), the eminent historian of US foreign policy Melvyn P. Leffler analyzes why the US chose war and who was most responsible for the decision. Employing a unique set of personal interviews with dozens of top officials and declassified American and British documents, Leffler vividly portrays the emotions and anxieties that shaped the thinking of the president after the shocking events of 9/11. He shows how fear, hubris, and power influenced Bush's approach to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. At the core of Leffler's account is his compelling portrait of Saddam Hussein. Rather than stressing Bush's preoccupation with promoting freedom or democracy, Leffler emphasizes Hussein's brutality, opportunism, and unpredictability and illuminates how the Iraqi dictator's record of aggression and intransigence haunted the president and influenced his calculations. Bush was not eager for war, and the decision to invade Iraq was not a fait accompli. Yet the president was convinced that only by practicing coercive diplomacy and threatening force could he alter Hussein's defiance, a view shared by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other leaders around the world, including Hans Blix, the chief UN inspector. Throughout, Leffler highlights the harrowing anxieties surrounding the decision-making process after the devastating attack on 9/11 and explains the roles of contingency, agency, rationality, and emotion. As the book unfolds, Bush's centrality becomes more and more evident, as does the bureaucratic dysfunctionality that contributed to the disastrous occupation of Iraq.
A compelling reassessment of George W. Bush's intervention in Iraq, Confronting Saddam Hussein provides a provocative reinterpretation of the most important international event of the 21st century.
Grant Golub is an Ernest May Fellow in History and Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and a PhD candidate in the Department of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His research focuses on the politics of American grand strategy during World War II.