Editor's note: this is a guest post by William Spaniel, a doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester. See this previous Duck post describing some of his work, and this post at his own blog providing more information about the research discussed here.
Spurred by a new International Organization article by Alexandre Debs and Nuno Monteiro (DM), the Duck of Minerva has recently hosted a debate on the cause of the Iraq War (see here, here, and here). To sum, DM argue that the United States’ imperfect knowledge of Iraq’s weapons programs led to a rational war. In contrast, speaking strictly from a unitary actor standpoint, this post argues that imperfect information cannot explain the conflict. Just prior to the start of the fighting, Saddam took credible steps to reopen negotiations with the United States. The Bush administration outright ignored these efforts. War began soon thereafter.
I divide this post into three parts, based on work from my dissertation. First, I review DM’s main theoretical contribution. Second, I briefly run down the logic of nuclear negotiations. And third, I argue that weapons inspections increase the cost burden on a potential proliferator, which in turn makes nonproliferation commitments credible. I then trace this logic in the lead up to the Iraq War.
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Alexandre Debs and Nuno P. Monteiro, both of Yale University. In it, they discuss the causes of the Iraq War, a subject of some recent discussion at The Duck of Minerva. This (surprise) third installment responds to David Lake's post, which itself was an engagement with Debs' and Monteiro's article--and its summary post at The Duck of Minerva.
We thank David Lake for writing a thoughtful response, Daniel Nexon for offering a platform to discuss this important issue, and readers of The Duck of Minerva and The Monkey Cage for engaging our argument.
As Lake mentions in his response, we share many views. Here, we’ll just focus on our differences, which also seem to underlie several reactions by readers in the comments to our initial post. We would also like to offer some points of clarification. We’ll center on three topics, from the most empirical to the most theoretical: how much of the Iraq War our theory explains; our contribution to the ‘rationalist’ framework; and the status of ‘rationality’ in IR theory more generally. Let us address these in turn.
The causes of the Iraq War
The first point on which we’d like to elaborate is to clarify what our theory does and does not do about Iraq. Is it a complete account of the run-up to the Iraq War? Of course not. In claiming that the Iraq war can be explained within the rationalist framework (i.e., without requiring that actors act in non-rational ways), we do not claim to capture all the features of the case. No theory -- no useful theory -- can provide a complete explanation of a phenomenon as complex as a war. Theories are useful when they highlight important aspects of a certain phenomenon, shedding light on dynamics that were previously in the dark and allowing for comparisons between different cases.
Like all social scientists, we constantly have to decide the proper balance between close description of a case and applicability to other (“out-of-sample”) cases. There is no magical solution to this, and reasonable people can reasonably disagree. We strove to find what was, in our view, the minimally sufficient description of the case that had the potential to generate generalizable claims about the causes of war.
Our theoretical view is that, first, as states become less certain of detecting other states’ militarization attempts, war becomes more likely; and, second, for any given level of uncertainty about this, as the cost of a preventive war lowers relative to the shift in the balance of power it is meant to avoid, war becomes more likely.
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by David Lake, who is the Jerri-Ann and Gary E. Jacobs Professor of Social Sciences and Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. It responds to an article published in International Organization by Alex Debs and Nuno Monteiro. Their post on the subject appeared yesterday. The article will be ungated for approximately two weeks.
"Known Unknowns," by Alex Debs and Nuno Monteiro (DM), newly released electronically by International Organization in advance of its publication this fall, is an important addition to the bargaining theory of war and adds new insights to the causes of the Iraq War of 2003. Since DM challenge several points in my International Security article (PDF) on bargaining theory and the Iraq War, let me respond briefly.
The key innovation in the model is that investments in military capabilities by the Target (T, Iraq in the case) produce changes in the probability of military victory only with some lag, thus openning a window for the Deterer (D, the U.S.) to launch a preventive war. The lower the costs of war, the more uncertain D is about T’s program, and the more effective the war is likely to be in eliminating the threat to D, the greater the chance of preventive war and the greater the likelihood that the war will be mistaken. This is a nice addition to the basic bargaining model with important implications that go beyond the Iraq case on which the theory is based.
From the outset, I want to clarify that we agree far more than we disagree, including about the central tension between Iraq and the U.S., the effects of 9/11 on the timing of the Iraq War, and the difference between Iraq and North Korea. Debs and Monteiro engage in the product differentiation usual in academic scholarship -- highlighting differences rather than commonalities -- but the latter are large and overwhelm the points of disagreement, in my view.
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Alexandre Debs and Nuno P. Monteiro, both of Yale University. In it, they discuss the causes of the Iraq War, a subject of some recent discussion at The Duck of Minerva. This post discusses their forthcoming International Organization article, which is now available as an "online first" piece and will be free to download for the next two weeks. Tomorrow we will run a response by David Lake [now available here].
In a forthcoming article in International Organization, “Known Unknowns: Power Shifts, Uncertainty, and War,” we introduce a new theory connecting power shifts to war. Out theory provides novel answers to these questions on Iraq. Contrary to widely shared views according to which the war was caused by misperceptions and other irrational behaviors on the part of Saddam Hussein and the Bush Administration, we argue that the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq can be accounted for strictly within a rationalist framework.
Below we make four specific points on the causes of the Iraq War and then contrast our view with David Lake’s International Security article “Two Cheers for Bargaining Theory: Assessing Rationalist Explanations of the Iraq War” (PDF), where he argues that the Iraq War should prompt a behavioral revolution in the study of the causes of war. We conclude with brief implications for theory and policy.
Our first point is that the United States’ main motivation for invading Iraq on March 20, 2003, was to prevent suspected Iraqi nuclearization, which Washington thought would bring about a large and rapid shift in the balance of power in favor of Iraq. During the run-up to the invasion, the U.S. government’s casus belli rested on suspicion that Saddam was developing WMD -- including nuclear weapons -- thus presenting an imminent threat. Iraq’s nuclear acquisition would represent a large and rapid power shift that would make Saddam immune to any externally-driven regime-change efforts, ending his vulnerability to U.S. military action. The cost of war against a non-nuclear Iraq, in contrast, was expected to be relatively low, as U.S. forces would, given the precedent of the 1991 Gulf War, no doubt prevail. Specifically, the cost of a preventive counter-proliferation war against Iraq was expected to be orders of magnitude smaller than the expected cost of deterring, not to mention deposing a nuclear-armed Saddam. This difference accounts for U.S. insistence in guaranteeing Iraqi non-nuclear status, if necessary by force.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Elizabeth Saunders who is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University.
In this year of Iraq-related anniversaries, this summer marks the 10-year anniversary of the emergence of the insurgency, when many Americans realized the Iraq War would not be over any time soon. Would things have been different had Al Gore been president? The latest issue of Perspectives on Politics has a symposium that considers this question in light of Frank P. Harvey’s book Explaining the Iraq War: Counterfactual Theory, Logic and Evidence. Harvey makes the provocative argument that Gore would have initiated the war had he won the 2000 election, highlighting structural factors that would have been no different under Gore than Bush. The symposium includes responses from myself, Adeed Dawisha, John Ehrenberg, Bruce Gilley, and Stephen Walt [Editor's Note: Cambridge has agreed to make the contributions freely available through 29 July 2013; you can access the html version via each contributor's name or through the abstract page]. I encourage readers to look at the entire symposium, which presents both supportive and skeptical takes on Harvey’s argument.
My own contribution highlights one aspect of the Gore counterfactual that Harvey neglects – what kind of war would Gore have considered fighting in Iraq, and how would that strategy, in turn, affect the likelihood of his administration going to war in the first place?
I am happy to invite my friend Tom Nichols to guest-post about the continuing Iraq War debate. Tom responded so substantially to my original post series on the war (one, two, three), that I invited him to provide a longer write-up. Tom is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and an adjunct professor in the Harvard Extension School. His blog can be found here, his twitter here. His opinions of course are his own, so whenever he says I’m wrong, you probably shouldn’t listen… REK
I’ve been reading Bob’s thoughts – cogent as always – on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War. I reject Bob’s exploration of the “culpability” of the IR field for providing any kind of intellectual infrastructure for the war, mostly because I don’t think anyone in Washington, then or now, listens to us, and for good reason. Joe Nye long ago lamented that lack of influence elsewhere, and others agree (by “others” I mean “me”). So I won’t rehearse it here.
Bob and I sort of agree that the outcome of the war doesn’t say much about the prescience of at least some of the war’s opponents: there were people whose default position was almost any exercise of U.S. power is likely to be bad, and they don’t get points for being right by accident.
The mark of the ten year anniversary of the beginning of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 has been, as such anniversaries tend to be, a chance for scholars, pundits and politicians to take stock of the past and evaluate the present. Reactions have ranged from a stubborn support of the war to quasi-celebrations on the side of opponents of the war. For all sides, the causes of the war have been a major point of contention. We concern ourselves with this part of the debate.
Very little rigorous analysis of the causes of the war has taken place. Explanations about the Iraq War have tended to be dominated by narratives that focus on neo-conservative policy goals, the Israel-lobby, oil, personal animosity, and the fear associated with Weapons of Mass Destruction. Usually these mono-causal explanations are amended by ad-hoc additions in order to accommodate the impossibility of any one cause explaining a war. This results in causal stories that are incoherent or lacking a uniting element that would make sense as an orientating device and macro explanation. Using Chapter 6 of Valeriano’s recent book – Becoming Rivals – as the basis, we argue that interstate rivalry is the common thread that links the many different events and behaviors that contributed to the onset of the second Iraq war.
My first post on the Iraq War asked if academic IR had any responsibility to slow the march to war.
The second tried to formulate what the neoconservative theory of the war was, because many of us, in retrospect of a conflict gone so badly, desperately want to un-remember that there really was a logic to the war, that it was at least somewhat intellectually defensible, and that a lot of us believed it. We may want to retroactively exculpate ourselves by suggesting it was just W the cowboy acting ridiculous, or a neocon hijacking of the policy process, or Halliburton oil imperialism, and all the other reasons so popular on the left. And some of that is true of course.
But it ducks the crucial point that the war was popular until it flew wildly off-the-rails, which in turn revealed the staggering incompetence of the Bush administration to act on the neocon logic the country had embraced by March 2003. In short, I argued that the Iraq invasion was not about WMD, preemption, or democracy, although that rationale was played up in the wake of the failure to find WMD. The real neocon goal was to scare the daylights out of the Arabs and their elites by punching one of their worst regimes in the face, thereby showing what was coming to rest of the region unless it cleaned up its act, i.e., crack down on salafism and liberalize so as to defuse the cultural extremism that lead to 9/11. (Read Ajami saying in January 2003 that the war is ‘to modernize the Arabs;’ that’s about as a good a pre-war summary of this logic as you’ll get.)
So what went wrong?
The debate is indeed on, and the Duck is paddling rapidly on this one with excellent posts from Robert, Jon, and Dan. I take/took a slightly different tack. I opposed the war at the time and like everyone else watched how President Bush--whose job ratings were so low on 9-10 that he was rapidly on his way to being a one-term president--relied on Karl Rove to use 9-11 to his supreme political advantage. A la Jon's post, it took the American people six more years to wake up to the (inter)national disaster that had been wrought.
But remember Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule? Taking that as a departing premise at the time, I wrote a piece that analyzed what could realistically have been achieved long after the Bremer decisions that the Neocons are now blaming for their ill-conceived adventurism. This piece was about Iraq, but in the present context its frame could be applied to Libya and Syria. For example, if Assad were to use chemical weapons and force the West's military hand in the process, pretty soon the assembled coalition would be in the position it was in prior to the surge in Iraq: it would be an occupying force. Let's hope this doesn't happen, but if it does...
Yesterday morning I forgot to link the National Security Archive's "Iraq War Ten Years After" page. It highlights some of the greatest hits of the period. I founded the Duck after the start of the Iraq War, but, as was the case for many US political and international-affairs blogs, the team blogged a fair amount on the subject.
Given Jon's recent post, I thought I'd dredge up an old one that I wrote on the framing of the Iraq War. Given how recent apologias have emphasized certain aspects of pro-war rhetoric, such as the call to democratize Iraq, I think it remains relevant.
My first thoughts on the war’s ten year anniversary are here. There I asked if there was any defensible theory behind the war, anything that might explain why we launched it, because weapons of mass destruction were not really the reason. Paul Wolfowitz notoriously admitted they were just a pretext to rally the country behind the invasion. And it’s hard to argue it was about pre-emption either; Iraq was hardly a looming military threat in 2003. So here’s my guess about the real neoconservative logic. I should say up front, I do not endorse this rationale. I’m just trying to lay it out what I bet neocons were saying to each other in 2002:
The Iraq invasion was to serve two neocon purposes: 1) It was to be a demonstration strike against the Arab states. Islamist anti-western pathologies from the Middle East lead to 9/11, so the Iraq invasion was a warning to Arabs, and Muslims generally, to never to attack the US like that again. As Cheney put it in the film W, ‘don’t ever f--- with us again.’ 2) It was to be a hammer strike to break the frozen, dysfunctional Arab political status quo which generated those pathologies; this would force the region toward democracy it would never attain on its own. This thinking was summarized in the widely used expression at the time, ‘drain the swamp.’
I’ve been thinking a lot about the war this month. I’ll be teaching it in the next few weeks at school because of the decade anniversary (March 20). My quick sense is that any defensible theory behind the war was simply buried by an execution so awful, disorganized, mismanaged, and incompetent that it invalidated the whole premise.
The whole episode became just shameful, and regularly teaching and conferencing with non-Americans these last few years has made this so painfully clear. My students particularly are just bewildered to the point of incredulity. Again and again, the basic thought behind the questions is, ‘what the hell happened to you people? 9/11 made you lose your minds there?’ *sigh* (NB: when Asians ask me about guns in the US, the ‘what the hell is wrong with you people?’ bafflement is the same.)
Hence, the post title purposefully implies that the invasion was a bad idea. But to be fair, that should be the first question: what, if any, arguments at this point can be mustered to defend the war? IR should try to answer this seriously, because I’m all but positive that the journalistic debate will be not be driven by the state of Iraq or US foreign policy today, but by the high personal reputational costs faced by so many pundits supportive of the war. It would not surprise me at all if folks like the Kagans, Krauthammer, or Thomas Friedman miraculously found that the war was worth it after all. McNamara-style mea culpas only happen at the end of a career (so I give Sullivan and Fukuyama credit for theirs on Iraq). But IR should be more honest than that.
In my first post after signing on with "Team Duck" I thought, before jumping into a series of weighty topics--rise of the east, end of the west, cratering of the middle east--it might be worth reflecting a little on my sojourn as a policymaker after beginning my career as a Political Scientist. As an IR scholar I started out specializing in the politics of international economics before gradually shifting over to the security studies side of this Poli Sci subfield.
After an initial brush with death by acronymia when I joined the State Department, I was surprised at how well my training as a social scientist had prepared me for the policy world. I had wrongly assumed the precise opposite. Certainly my new colleagues at the time had assumed so as well. I recall a meeting a few weeks in at the outset of the current Administration. Various team members were reporting our progress to our boss, and the deputy team lead pulled me aside after with simple words of surpise: "Wow, you can actually do stuff."
My first realization was that simply by virtue of how an academic always needs to more or less constantly stay up on advances in the literature, I had a knowledge base that almost all my colleagues lacked. For example, a discussion of terrorism included the postulation that poverty causes terrorism; yet I knew that academic studies had proven this wrong. To take another example, when the topic of democratization came up no one else in the room knew that democracies do not fight wars with one another.
I'm no genius--not then and not now. I simply had a different background. It was illuminating to discover that most policymakers had obtained at most a Masters degree prior to launching their policy careers, but while Masters students learn a variety of things they generally do not obtain a thorough grasp of a body of scholarly work and the advances therein. I found out that the lack of this is more costly in government than most policymakers realize.
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