The invasion on Iraq by the United States in 2003 has become the biggest, lengthiest, and most expensive use of armed force since the Vietnam War. It is the first major post-Cold War U.S. military action taken unilaterally, without an international coalition, and the first U.S. experience as an occupying power in a Middle Eastern country. Although the invasion decision was distinctive (U.S. military connection in an Arab or Muslim country), the argument here is that the Iraqi invasion deals with motives related to natural security, power, and resources. Both realism and neo-conservatism claim to capture the motives behind the war, but only through a comprehensive comparison of the two can a synthesis be achieved.
On March 20th, 2003, the United States military invaded Iraq with the ground campaign lasting almost three months. According to then-President of the United States, George W. Bush, and then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, stated reasons for the invasion included the disarmament of “Iraq, especially with respect to weapons of mass destruction; the ending of Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism; and the liberation of the Iraqi people” (White House Archives). On May 1, the end of major combat operations was declared, ending the invasion period and beginning the military occupation period. However, was this war really needed to put an end to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq—a regime that, at that time, had been considered a threat to the United States, as the neo-conservatives claim? Moreover, did Iraq really possess weapons of mass destruction, or was control of Iraq's oil the reason for the United States to invade it, as realists may posit?
Often termed the “pessimistic view” of international politics, realism, as articulated by Hans Morgantheau and summarized by Stephen Walt, was the prevailing theory for organizing international politics through the end of the Cold War—mostly because it provided a simple yet effective explanation as to why states went to war, joined together in alliances, prosecuted imperialism, in addition to other phenomena (Walt 31). Realism argues that states are inherently self-interested, have “an innate desire to dominate others,” and that states are not likely to resolve their differences peacefully (Walt 31). “Rational” statesmen, as conceived by Morgantheau, continuously embarked on a struggle to accumulate more and more power. Power was “an end in itself” as only wars came out of the power struggle (Waltz 40).
Realism helps to explain qualities of foreign policy that remain consistent over time. From a realist standpoint, verdicts by governments to go to war are the product of all states' involuntary participation in “eternal quests for power and security due to an international political environment in which each state fears the actual or potential hostility of other states” (Lieberfeld 2). Leaders logically estimate war's costs and profits in terms of their state's power and security....