The Realist’s Guide to Categorizing Wars

In the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, realist Zbigniew Brzezinski reviews realist Richard Haass’s book about the two Iraq wars — “War of Necessity, War of Choice” – and in the midst of praising it, effectively eviscerates the distinction that forms the title of the book:

Herein lies the problem: any decision to go to war, unless it is in response to an attack on one’s state, is the consequence of a judgment regarding the definition of “necessity” made in reaction to some ominous foreign event. Haass strongly supported the first war (because of the “necessity” resulting from Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait) and did not oppose the second one (because of the threat allegedly posed by the weapons of mass destruction, which Haass initially believed Saddam actually had).

Brzezinski is right about Haass’s unconvincing necessity/choice distinction, because neither Iraq war was a response to an attack on America; each was a choice (Margaret Thatcher initially thought Bush 41 might go wobbly and make the wrong one); each choice was perceived as compelling at the time (re-read the long list of reasons in the Congressional Authorization of the second Iraq war); and each was authorized by Congress after a full debate.  Many more Democrats voted for the 2003 “war of choice” than the 1991 “war of necessity.”

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The Realist’s Guide to Categorizing Wars

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