Explaining the Iraq War: Counterfactual Theory, Logic and Evidence

Author(s): Frank P. Harvey

Middle East Conflicts

The almost universally accepted explanation for the Iraq War is very clear and consistent - the US decision to attack Saddam Hussein's regime on March 19, 2003 was a product of the ideological agenda, misguided priorities, intentional deceptions and grand strategies of President George W. Bush and prominent 'neoconservatives' and 'unilateralists' on his national security team. Despite the widespread appeal of this version of history, Frank P. Harvey argues that it remains an unsubstantiated assertion and an underdeveloped argument without a logical foundation. His book aims to provide a historically grounded account of the events and strategies which pushed the US-UK coalition towards war. The analysis is based on both factual and counterfactual evidence, combines causal mechanisms derived from multiple levels of analysis and ultimately confirms the role of path dependence and momentum as a much stronger explanation for the sequence of decisions that led to war.


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'Counterfactuals are too often rhetorical weapons of mass destruction rather than conceptual tools for parsing the logic of causal claims. Harvey brings much needed rigor to a particularly bitterly divisive what-if debate, that over the 2003 Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq.' Philip E. Tetlock, Annenberg University Professor, University of Pennsylvania 'A sophisticated use of counterfactuals to go beyond ideologically motivated explanations for the Iraq War. Harvey's method and its application will impress even those who are not persuaded by his argument that a Gore administration would also have gone to war.' Richard Ned Lebow, James O. Freedman Presidential Professor, Dartmouth College 'In a provocative study of the 2003 Iraq War, Harvey challenges standard interpretations that trace the origins of the war to the beliefs and personality of George W. Bush and to the influence of his neoconservative advisors. Not all readers will be convinced by Harvey's innovative use of counterfactual analysis to argue that international and domestic pressures would have also led Al Gore to a decision for war. But all subsequent analyses of the Iraq War must take this argument seriously.' Jack S. Levy, Board of Governors' Professor, Rutgers University 'Harvey serves up an interesting cocktail. He combines a provocative thesis about the relatively minor role of George Bush in the explanation of the 2003 Gulf War with one of the most methodologically sophisticated counterfactual analyses I have seen.' Gary Goertz, Professor of Political Science, University of Arizona 'Frank P. Harvey has written a lucid, penetrating, and provocative account of the origins of the Iraq War. Regardless of where one stands on this controversial set of decisions, it is a must read.' Janice Gross Stein, Director, Munk School of Global Affairs

Frank P. Harvey was recently appointed University Research Professor of International Relations at Dalhousie University. He held the 2007 J. William Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Canadian Studies (SUNY, Plattsburgh), is a Senior Research Fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and was former Director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie.

1. Comparative counterfactual analysis and the 2003 Iraq War; 2. Leadership, political context(s) and the Iraq War; 3. Democratic national security advisers; 4. Domestic and congressional politics; 5. American intelligence failures and miscalculations; 6. Societal pressures and public opinion; 7. International politics, global WMD consensus and UN power balancing; 8. Hussein's mistakes, miscalculations and misperceptions; 9. Summary and implications; 10. Conclusion.

General Fields

  • : 9781107676589SECA
  • : Cambridge University Press
  • : Cambridge University Press
  • : October 2011
  • : 228mm X 152mm X 20mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : January 2012
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Frank P. Harvey
  • : Paperback
  • : 956.70443
  • : 360
  • : 5 b/w illus. 3 tables