Review Essay

A Tale of Two Wars

The Right War in Iraq, and the Wrong One

In This Review

War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars
War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars
By Richard N. Haass
Simon & Schuster, 2009, 336 pp. $27.00 Purchase

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War of Necessity, War of Choice -- part recent history, part wide-ranging personal memoir, part case study in decision-making -- deserves to be read carefully. This is so not only because Richard Haass has impressive credentials -- he was a top foreign policy official and is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations -- or because he provides a perceptive insider's account of deliberations at the top of the U.S. government that, within a dozen years, resulted in U.S. engagement in two significant wars with Iraq. The book's additional significance is to be found in the wider lesson that a future U.S. secretary of state or U.S. national security adviser should draw for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Haass took part in the decision to wage the 1991 war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq in his capacity as the senior National Security Council staffer for the Middle East. In that role, he helped the national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, define Saddam's sudden seizure of Kuwait as an unacceptable act of aggression that threatened the stability of the Middle East and the survival of the pro-U.S. regime in Saudi Arabia. Haass makes it clear that President George H. W. Bush himself held this view from day one. Both Bush and Scowcroft are the heroes of the memoir.

Critical to the U.S. response, as Haass recounts, was the fact that Washington undertook a systematic diplomatic campaign to mobilize international support in order to prevail on Saddam to withdraw -- and, eventually, to compel him by force to do so. In the end, when force was used, the U.S.-led military campaign involved significant European and (geopolitically more important) Arab and Muslim military contingents. Even Syria took part.

The military campaign itself -- the "war of necessity" -- was focused on the clearly limited strategic objective of destroying Saddam's military capability and evicting Iraq from Kuwait.

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