In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a fair number of Americans thought the idea was crazy. Now everyone, except a few die-hards, thinks it was. So what was going through the minds of the talented and experienced men and women who planned and initiated the war? What were their assumptions? Overreach aims to recover those presuppositions.
Michael MacDonald examines the standard hypotheses for the decision to attack, showing them to be either wrong or of secondary importance: the personality of President George W. Bush, including his relationship with his father; Republican electoral considerations; the oil lobby; the Israeli lobby. He also undermines the argument that the war failed because of the Bush administration’s incompetence.
The more fundamental reasons for the Iraq War and its failure, MacDonald argues, are located in basic axioms of American foreign policy, which equate America’s ideals with its interests (distorting both in the process) and project those ideals as universally applicable. Believing that democratic principles would bring order to Iraq naturally and spontaneously, regardless of the region’s history and culture or what Iraqis themselves wanted, neoconservative thinkers, with support from many on the left, advocated breaking the back of state power under Saddam Hussein. They maintained that by bringing about radical regime change, the United States was promoting liberalism, capitalism, and democracy in Iraq. But what it did instead was unleash chaos.
Excellent… MacDonald is profoundly and chillingly right in his diagnosis of the mentality that ultimately set this disastrous chain of events in motion.
In Overreach, MacDonald methodically dissects the top ten reasons most often used to explain why the war was a failure, and in the process shows each to be self-serving, inadequate, misleading—or all of the above. He does the same for explanations of why we went to war in the first place.
MacDonald demonstrates vigorously and with intellectual clarity why the tenets of American exceptionalism do not usually translate to other areas of the world, with Iraq being just one example. A useful analysis of failed American military initiatives that could inform future debates about interventions in traditionally despotic nations that are also split among historically hostile religious factions.
With gloomily apt timing, as U.S. bombs drop once again on a now deeply fractured Iraq, international relations specialist MacDonald analyzes the usual explanations for why the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq in 2003 and finds them lacking. MacDonald argues that, beyond oil, the Israeli lobby, or Bush family history, the Iraq War and its horrific outcomes owe their existence to a more general trait in U.S. foreign policy, namely, a tendency to equate the country’s values with its interests.
Overreach is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how and why the project of ‘regime change’ in Iraq not only failed, but was incoherent from the outset. With his characteristic political acumen, meticulous research practices, and marvelously lucid prose, MacDonald reveals the tragic political (not cultural!) blindness suffered by American architects of that project. This is a gripping, sad, and immensely important story.
It is easy to forget how many supported the Iraq War in 2002 and 2003. For anyone who wants to remember what happened—and what went wrong—this is an absorbing read. We misunderstood Iraq and the war, MacDonald shows, because we misunderstood ourselves—profoundly and tragically.
- 336 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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