A political scientist unearths the decision-making process that led to the first Gulf War and its undesirable aftermath, arguing that the current war in Iraq should be understood through the prism of the first.
Alfonsi began this project while a doctoral student at Harvard in the ’90s, with the goal of exploring why Bush the First’s administration had been so successful in leading the 1991 war to get Saddam Hussein to remove his troops from Kuwait, and why the same leaders had been so ineffective in the aftermath. Before the second Bush administration, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Alfonsi writes that he had the good fortune of obtaining interviews with many of the key players, including then–Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and George H.W. Bush himself. The author details American involvement with Saddam, the U.S. first using him as a bulwark against Iranian expansionism, and then positioning him as “Hitler revisited” after the dictator, racked with debt, invaded neighboring Kuwait. While the former president was masterful at building a pre-war international coalition, Alfonsi shows that his administration’s preparation for the post-war—when it deliberately left Saddam in power—was sorely lacking. This became even clearer when, in the years after the war, Saddam chose times such as the Balkan crisis to act up and defy the U.N. Bush’s triumph turned to embarrassment, and he was voted out of office in 1992. The lesson learned by those around the president—as well as neoconservatives outside the administration—was that unless Saddam was dealt with, he would always be an irritant. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, the author argues, was a reaction of George W. Bush’s advisors to their humiliation by Saddam 11 years earlier.
A history that illuminates the personalities and driving motivations behind the current crisis in Iraq. Much of the story that emerges is familiar, though told in greater depth.