Saddam and Mearsheimer:
A Realist Analysis of the First Persian War
Shahd M FadlAlmoula
105-032 World Politics
September 19, 2012
Saddam and Morgenthau: A Realist Analysis of the First Persian War
Feeling insecure, vulnerable, and quite dramatic, Saddam Hussein appeared on live television on September 17, 1980 and ripped apart the 1975 Algiers Agreement, disclaiming the set Iraqi-Iranian borders. He then launched an attack on Iran on the 22nd, which unleashed chaos within the Middle East for eight miserable years. During the course of the war, terrible offenses such as the use of nuclear weapons took place. The war had grave economic and social consequences, some of which led up to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Historians state that the war was just another phase in the Persian-Arab conflict that had been ruffling for centuries. This may explain the social rivalry between the two nations. However, the anti-Ba’athist slogans preached by Khomeini are believed to be one of the main triggers of the outbreak. Furthermore, Saddam can be seen to have practiced offensive realism by invading Iran to heighten his party’s stance and secure his survival. The bandwagoning of other Arab states and the United States alongside Iraq might indicate that other Arab states (with some ancient grievances towards the Persians) might have sought out their own survival and security as they intervened in the war against Iran. This essay intends to analyze the war from a realist perspective, using Mearshiemer’s theories to understand why Saddam Hussein and Khomeini led a spiteful war for eight years, with no obvious victor. Essentially the rivalry between the Arabs and the Persians dates back to archaic times. After the First World War, Britain assigned each of Iraq and Iran, with borders that set states with murky borders that were easier for Iran to accept. Iraq on the other hand, believed that Britain had deliberately given less land to Iraq, not to mention that the land in question was oil-rich. Later, Iraq and Iran signed the 1975 Algiers Agreement, which meant that both parties legitimized and acknowledged the set borders. It also required Iran to close its borders to Kurdish Refugees. However, on many occasions Iran did not strictly adhere to the agreement, and not only was there an occasional influx of Kurdish refugees on Iranian soil, but Saddam believed that Iran was aiding the PKK with arms and motivation in order to establish an independent Kurdish state. The sum of these issues disrupted Iraq’s sovereignty. This created the first factor leading up to the war. Saddam’s retaliation with the declaration of war on Iran may be seen as an offensive means of establishing power and authority. According to Weber, “the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” is what defines sStatism. When the territories of the state are threatened (or in this case not clearly defined to start with), states are faced with a dominion threat. Initially the 1975 Algiers Agreement was meant to resolve the issue of boundaries and allow the states involved to establish sovereignty. But as terms of the agreement were violated, Saddam Hussein saw it best to resort to force. Thus, Saddam’s take on the matter arguably complies with Mearshiemer’s classical realist theory, which states that countries are concerned with the sovereignty and survival of the state above all else. Feeling that Iran was a threat to the sovereignty of Iraq, Saddam pulled the trigger on peace. Building on that, not only was Iran viewed to be jeopardizing Iraq’s sovereignty, but Khomeini was also threatening the security of the Ba’athist Party. Now Mearsheimer will tell us that individual players or the state-actors do not essentially matter in understanding the system, and thus to say that Saddam Hussein used the war as a means of protecting his party would essentially comply more with Morgenthau’s views on...
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