Grouthink in the War of Terror Marketing Book Case Study

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Foreign Policy Analysis (2010) 6, 277–296

Groupthink, Iraq, and the War on Terror: Explaining US Policy Shift toward Iraq Dina Badie University of Connecticut
Existing scholarship on the Iraq War decision-making process generally treats the event as a logical extension of pre-existing ideas and policies. This paper considers the Bush administration’s decision to absorb Iraq into the broader War on Terror as a deviation from long-held views of Saddam Hussein. I argue that the decision to incorporate Iraq into the wider post 9 ⁄ 11 mission was pathologically driven by groupthink, which caused a shift in the administration’s view of Saddam from a troubling dictator to an existential threat to US security. Therefore, groupthink can simultaneously explain the defects in the decision-making process and the shift from cautious restraint to accelerated urgency with respect to US relations with Iraq.

A wealth of literature has emerged claiming that the US invasion of Iraq was a logical extension of ideas and policies that predated 9 ⁄ 11. Cognitive and psychological explanations attribute the decision to personality profiles or individual and group level pathologies (Houghton 2008). Shannon and Keller (2007) examine Bush’s leadership style as a potential explanation for the US’ violation of international norms. For Kaufmann (2004), structural faults undermined the ‘‘marketplace of ideas,’’ allowing the administration to inflate the Iraqi threat. The international relations discipline also took up the question of the Iraq War, viewing it from the perspective of imperialism and hegemonic stability. For Cox (2004), the Bush Doctrine and the policies that followed cemented the neoconservative drive toward American domination in the post-Cold War world. Layne (2006) describes the post-9 ⁄ 11 grand strategy as one that finds it roots in American hegemony since the 1940s. While the academy generally explained the decision to invade Iraq in somewhat path dependent terms, an abundance of atheoretical literature emerged from journalists, commentators, and, later, key members of the decision-making team that shed light on the intricacies of the decision-making process. For example, Gellman (2009) argues that the administration, in particular Bush and Cheney, began viewing Saddam Hussein as a new kind of threat in the days that followed September 11, 2001. Instead of considering Hussein a troubling dictator––as they had in the past––the Iraqi leader came to represent a new type of threat in the 9 ⁄ 11 milieu. Yet, scholars, journalists, and pundits alike remain fixated on explaining the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, rather than the decision to incorporate Iraq into the War on Terror. This paper takes the latter approach. I argue that the decision to conflate Iraq with the threat of terrorism represented a significant departure from long-held images of that state and strategies for dealing with Saddam Hussein as advocated by members of the Bush administration doi: 10.1111/j.1743-8594.2010.00113.x Ó 2010 International Studies Association


Groupthink, Iraq, and the War on Terror

prior to 9 ⁄ 11. Specifically, the decision to incorporate Iraq into the War on Terror was pathologically driven by groupthink in the post-9 ⁄ 11 environment, resulting in a flawed decision-making process and a shift in the administration’s image of Iraq’s dictator. Drawing on Gellman’s conclusions, in tandem with other theoretical and atheoretical material, I position the decision in the context of pre- and post-9 ⁄ 11 ideas and strategies regarding Saddam Hussein. Ultimately, groupthink, spurred by 9 ⁄ 11, directed a shift in the administration’s view: Saddam Hussein was no longer a just troubling dictator, he came to represent an existential threat to US security. For Bush, Cheney, and the hawkish members of the administration, the internalization process came early. Immediately post-9 ⁄ 11, they accepted Bush’s premise of broad retaliation...
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