Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Neoclassical Realism and Saddam

Foreign Affairs has an interesting article on Saddam's regime leading up to the 2003 Iraq War. Not suprisingly, Saddam instilled such a level of fear that many within his regime spent a lot of time appeasing Saddam by feeding him the information he wanted to hear rather than the information he needed to hear. Thus, the Iraqi regime made dumb moves like giving military equipment to the Fedayeen when the military itself needed it, pretending France and Russia would intercede on Iraq's behalf, or pretending Iraq's forces could stand up to the coalition's forces. Saddam's actions during the recent Iraq war make a good case for neoclassical realism which says that anarchy and the distribution of power are the main influences of state behavior, however, only to the degree to which they are interpreted by a state's leadership.

Woods, Lacey, and Murray write,
...as late as the end of March 2003, Saddam apparently still believed that the war was going the way he had expected. If Iraq was not actually winning it, neither was it losing -- or at least so it seemed to the dictator. Americans may have listened with amusement to the seemingly obvious fabrications of Muhammad Said al-Sahaf, Iraq's information minister (nicknamed "Baghdad Bob" by the media). But the evidence now clearly shows that Saddam and those around him believed virtually every word issued by their own propaganda machine.


If one did not factor in Saddam's perceptions, the actions taken by Iraq seem illogical. After being defeated in the Gulf War and suffering under years of sanctions Iraq was in no position to fight off the United States.

Saddam played games with the international community because he believed that Iraq could still be a power in the Middle East. Thus, in order to assuage the US he tried to convince them that Iraq did not have WMD's, however, in order to throw off his neighbors, like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel, Saddam did what he could to make his claims of having no WMD's opaque and unclear. Given Iraq's relative capabilities in relation to the US, it was clear that its main concern should have been preventing an attack and the rest of the region be damned.

Nevertheless, by never wanting to hear bad news and decapitating those who brought it, Saddam ensured that he lived in a world of illusions, and made decisions as if the real world matched his made up one. In the end, Iraq's actions can only be explained if we factor in Saddam's beliefs of the reality on the ground.

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