Ohio State University & Cato Institute (US)
As the invasion of Iraq loomed in 2003, protesters held up placards that read, ‘A village in Texas is missing its idiot.’ In his impressive new book, historian Melvyn Leffler takes strong exception to that characterization, concluding that, while ‘the invasion of Iraq turned into a tragedy’ it did not come about ‘as some accounts have it, because of an inattentive chief executive, easily manipulated by neoconservative advisers’. In fact, he argues, President George W Bush ‘always was in charge’ and, haunted by 9/11, he went to war to rid Iraq ‘of its deadly weapons, its links to terrorists, and its ruthless, unpredictable tyrant’. But Leffler also concludes, rather dismally, that Bush and his advisors (some envisioning that the war would begin to reconfigure the Middle East) were essentially helpless: ‘Like many Americans’, they ‘could not help but conflate the evil that Hussein personified with a magnitude of threat that he did not embody’. However, others at the time could help conflating evil with threat, concluding that an invasion of Iraq would draw Islamists from about the world into the fray and that Iraq was fully containable and deterrable, would not palm off deadly weapons to entities it could not control, and had an army inadequate to ‘dominate’ anything. Whether a Texas village has since become whole may be debatable, but Bush’s policies have resulted in the deaths of 100 times more people than the initiating terrorist attack and more than the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A longer version of this review is available at: https://politicalscience.osu.edu/faculty/jmueller/lefflerReviewMEJrevFIN.