Confronting Saddam Hussein

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On February 28, 2003, as President George W. Bush prepared to authorize military action, he turned to his advisers and asked if they had thought enough about “what they hoped to achieve in Iraq.” Plans were made and carried out, but in a short time, the Iraq policy went awry. Historian Melvyn P. Leffler explores the many reasons why in his enlightening, detailed Confronting Saddam Hussein: George W. Bush and the Invasion of Iraq.

After 9/11, the president felt some responsibility for the attacks (there had been warnings not heeded), along with guilt, anger, fear, a sense of political expediency and a need for revenge, the mixture of which led him to declare war on terrorism. After the decision to invade Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda was based, other potential dangers were considered. The president said repeatedly “that his most compelling fear was the prospect of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction from rogue regimes,” Leffler writes. Eventually the Bush administration turned its focus to Saddam Hussein, a ruthless tyrant in Iraq thought by some to have weapons of mass destruction. 

The Bush national security team was often regarded as unified and militant, Leffler explains. But in reality, the members were pragmatists with different approaches and interests who feuded with one another. Leffler shows that there was not a careful assessment of their proposed strategy for dealing with Hussein and Iraq. Hubris was a major factor, and no one person can be blamed. The president acted with the best of intentions, but his advisers who urged caution did so too hesitantly and ineffectively. Contrary to other accounts, Leffler claims that the president was not manipulated by others but was in charge at all times. He merely delegated too much authority and was indifferent to acrimony among his advisers, which adversely affected his policies.

As Leffler writes, President Bush “failed because his information was flawed, his assumptions inaccurate, his priorities imprecise, and his means incommensurate with his evolving ends.” Based on prodigious research, this superb account helps readers understand the many complexities of America’s attempts to keep our citizens safe in the face of very real dangers after 9/11.

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