In “Deterrence Lessons From Iraq” (July/August 2012), Amatzia Baram presents a case study of Saddam Hussein’s behavior leading up to the Iraq war to support his view that one cannot assume that leaders are rational when predicting how they will act. Ironically, Saddam made that very same miscalculation when he predicted that U.S. President George W. Bush would not begin a war with Iraq. As various studies have shown, Bush and his top advisers were susceptible to the very same types of delusions and megalomania that Baram attributes to Saddam.
Blinded by a belief in their omnipotence, Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and other top U.S. advisers ignored arguments against the war and failed to plan adequately for what would happen after Saddam’s regime fell. As a result, they initiated an unnecessary war that cost tens of thousands of lives, damaged the global reputation of the United States, boosted al Qaeda’s recruitment efforts, strengthened Iran’s influence, and vastly increased the U.S. budget deficit.One hopes that the United States heeds Baram’s lessons and realizes that they do not apply only to rulers of other countries.
Stephen Nathanson Professor of Philosophy, Northeastern University