The Iraq War was the first major demonstration of the so-called Bush Doctrine, named for George W. Bush, the president primarily associated with it. Initially laid out in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the doctrine, which implicitly repudiated the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine [please say what this is. [We do have an entry on this, but it’s best that you add a brief phrase describing it. PK]], was most fully elaborated in a June 2002 commencement speech at West Point. In the speech, Bush indicated that the United States would engage in preemptive war should it or its allies be threatened by terrorists or rogue regimes with weapons of mass destruction; that it would do so unilaterally if need be; and that it would seek to promote liberty and democracy throughout the world. The Bush administration made each of these points in explaining its rationale for going to war with Iraq in March 2003.
But the conflict must also be seen against the backdrop of a problematic, arguably failed policy of containing Iraq after the Gulf War of 1991. American policymakers initially thought that Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist dictatorship would fall after its humiliating defeat. Indeed, rebellions did break out throughout Iraq, but Saddam’s murderous regime slaughtered tens of thousands Iraqis and quashed the revolution. The United States still confronted a hostile and fractious regime that sought at every turn to avoid complying with the armistice terms—especially those dealing with inspections aimed to ferret out Iraq’s programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Over the next decade Saddam played a cat and mouse game with UN weapons inspectors and the United States. American policy makers replied by launching retaliatory attacks against Iraq’s military and police structure. American pilots enforced “no fly” zones over northern and southern Iraq, while the United Nations continued a regime of sanctions initially imposed when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait in July 1990. None of this prevented Saddam from ordering his Republican Guard to deploy into southern Iraq in preparation for a second invasion of Kuwait in 1994. A quick American response deterred the Iraqis, but only at the last moment. By 2000, it was clear that sanctions were having a terrible impact on the Iraqi people yet little influence over Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, there was no willingness in the international community, or among Americans, to engage in a major military campaign to overthrow the dictator.