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Application of Realism to Understand George W. Bush’s Invasion of Iraq in 2003

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Realism has been developed over centuries and it is not a clear-cut theory; it has been divided into structural realism and classical realism. Thucydides and Thomas Hobbes have been the main initiators in developing this theory, with their highly acclaimed work in the History of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides 1974), and Hobbes’ Leviathan (1981). In their work, they devise theories to explain human nature, and how it inevitably leads us to war. Both discuss their opposing views on the principle of the Balance of Power, and how it can be used to explain conflict between nations. In explaining the reasons for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, it is predominantly Thucydides’ theories that prove to be most useful, including his idea that humans will always act in their own interests to establish power, and in this case also to gain resources. Whilst both theorists have a divide in their ideas, they both possess a mutual understanding that war is inevitable.

Thucydides, a classical realist, claimed that the most powerful state should endeavour to rule over other weak nations in his book, the History of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides, 1974). In a post-Cold War world and following the demise of the Soviet Union, the USA stood unrivalled as the world’s only superpower. Bush was sickened by Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship regime, and sought to overthrow him to promote peace and democracy across the Middle East. However, in a post 9/11 climate, it is likely that Bush wanted to re-establish America’s power and spread their global influence, and to do so he believed that this could be achieved by overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Thucydides theorised that countries would always try to spread their global influence, and Bush saw Iraq as a starting point for domination of the entire Middle East. Iraq, North Korea, Iran and Syria were all countries included on the ‘Axis of Evil’, therefore Bush invaded Iraq in hope that there would be a domino effect if America succeeded in overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship regime. Bush essentially hoped that these countries would feel outnumbered and adopt a democratic system under the influence of America.

Similarly to Hobbes, Thucydides held a deeply pessimistic view of humans, and claimed that they only act in their own interests in order to establish power. Humans act in ‘fear, the desire for glory, and the pursuit of self-interest’ (Thucydides 1974, pp.73). Therefore, according to the realist theory it would explain the claims that Bush invaded Iraq in order to seize their large oil reserves to benefit their own economy with increased global demand for a finite resource. Despite the Iraqi war causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, Thucydides and other classical realists would argue that this would not matter to Bush as he was only acting in his own interests.

The Balance of Power theory in Thucydides’ perspective can be explained as a circumstance in which the leading nation with the most power endeavours to reduce the power of their competitor. Bush was looking to attain maximum levels of power, a universal aim amongst countries, and also sought to preserve its own independence as well as the independence of all the other nations (Mingst, K,A. and Snyder, J.L. 2017, pp. 128). Bush relinquished in the new unipolar world following the demise of the Soviet Union, and he took the opportunity to pursue US agendas and spread the doctrine of democracy unopposed.

Both Hobbes and Thucydides famously claim that war is inevitable due to the dynamics of human nature and that humans live in constant fear of being overthrown. If humans felt threatened that another country would dominate them, then they must act in the name of war. In relation to Bush’s invasion of Iraq, it is likely that he feared Iraq due to two reasons: their potential possession of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and their un-democratic regime. If Iraq possessed WMDs, then America would be threatened in the event that the balance of power slipped. This links to the theory of the Security Dilemma, which reiterates the balance of power principle. The security dilemma occurs when a stronger nation weakens the enemy state in order to reassert their power. By invading Iraq, Bush was looking to increase America’s power by weakening Iraq and confiscating their WMDs which they allegedly possessed. As a nation can never know the true intentions of the other, for Bush it was imperative that he seized the WMDs to secure America’s power and lessen the military ability of Iraq. Thomas Hobbes, a classical realist, claimed that the nation possessing the most power must use their abilities to ‘obtain some future apparent good’ (Hobbes, T. 1981, pp. 89). Due to this idea, a classic realist may justify Bush’s invasion of Iraq as saving civilians from Hussein’s brutal regime by overthrowing him and establishing a fair democracy. Whilst Hobbes held a slightly less pessimistic view of humans than Thucydides did, he still believed that war was inevitable where anarchy rules, and an international government (Leviathan) is not present. Some may argue that the United Nations is a global organisation that carries some of the main features that a government does, yet their attempts to regulate and examine Iraq’s weapons failed when they were expelled from Iraq. This showed the anarchy present in Iraq, and proved that war is inevitable there until a Leviathan is established.

Hobbes believed that war was not an inevitable result of human nature, it was simply inevitable when there was no Leviathan established. In Leviathan, Hobbes famously said that ‘’every man ought to endeavour peace, and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps and advantages of war’’ (Hobbes, T. 1981, pp. 89). Therefore, according to a realist, Bush must have believed that the only way to overthrow Hussein and establish democratic peace in the Middle East was through war and there were no other diplomatic communications that could have solved the problem.

In conclusion, the theories of Hobbes and Thucydides provide a concise explanation for human nature, and how it would have influenced Bush in his decision to invade Iraq. It is evident that Bush was pursuing the own interests of his country to gain control of Iraq and exploit their oil reserves, as well as reasserting the Balance of Power so that the USA remained to be the world’s undisputed superpower. According to Hobbes, Bush did have relatively good intentions when he sought to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and liberate the civilians of Iraq to the freedom of democracy.

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Application Of Realism To Understand George W. Bush’s Invasion Of Iraq In 2003. (2020, October 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 28, 2021, from
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