20 Years On, a Question Lingers About Iraq: Why Did the U.S. Invade?

20 Years On, a Question Lingers About Iraq: Why Did the U.S. Invade?

There is growing focus on the second school of thought for why American policymakers moved to war.

“Scholars of the Iraq War should shift their attention from the thoroughly examined 18 months between 9/11 and the March 2003 invasion to the pivotal decade of the 1990s, when Iraq became a major political and foreign policy issue in the United States,” Joseph Stieb, a U.S. Naval War College historian, wrote for the website War on the Rocks.

It is in the 1990s, Dr. Stieb argued, where historians would find “the intellectual, political and cultural scaffolding of the beliefs that motivated the 2003 Iraq War.”

After the Cold War’s end, a small circle of policymakers and academics calling themselves neoconservatives argued that the United States, rather than drawing down, should wield its now mostly unchallenged power to enforce an era of “global benevolent hegemony.”

The United States’ military dominance, rooted in American ideals, would smash the last vestiges of despotism from the world, allowing democracy and peace to flourish. Any resistance, they warned, however small or remote, was a threat to the entire American-led order.

After years as intellectual insurgents within the Republican Party, the neoconservatives were suddenly elevated to an influential policy board in 1998. Newt Gingrich, who was then speaker of the House, had turned to them after the party’s 1996 election losses, believing that new ideas would attract voters.

Members included Mr. Wolfowitz as well as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, who would become Mr. Bush’s vice president, defense secretary and secretary of state.

Neoconservatives also formed Project for the New American Century, a think tank, to act as the voice for the movement, which now spoke for the Republican Party. As one of its first acts, the group issued an open letter to the Clinton administration warning, “We may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War.”

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