The Military Error cover
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Publication date:
August 12, 2008
New York Review Books
Politics & Current Affairs

Why did George W. Bush invade Iraq? We still don’t exactly know. We do know, as Thomas Powers recounts in the essays collected here, how the administration cited faulty intelligence to argue that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed a mounting threat. Since the invasion, as Powers makes clear, that intelligence has in every instance been exposed as unreliable, misinterpreted, “cherry-picked,” exaggerated, or just fake, but it served its purpose: to frighten and intimidate Congress into voting for a war that President Bush had already decided to wage.

The real question remains: What were the central motives and the overarching policy aims behind Bush’s refusal to settle for anything short of an American occupation of Iraq? Powers argues the Bush administration started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and threatens one against Iran, because it has fundamentally shifted America’s approach to international conflicts, relying on military action to achieve its goals rather than diplomacy, negotiation, and political pressure.

No one is better qualified than Thomas Powers to evaluate the way the Bush administration used the CIA to make its case for invading Iraq. But beyond the now-familiar stories of nonexistent WMDs, The Military Error proposes a broader critical analysis of the administration’s geopolitical agenda and its illusory confidence in the use of military force to defeat opponents and create friendly democratic governments. Such illusions, as we have learned at great cost, die hard. But we can only plan our future role in Iraq and Afghanistan—and think clearly about our options for dealing with Iran—by holding our leaders responsible for the errors that have already mired us in two wars with no end in sight.