Donald Sensing makes an interesting distinction:

There’s a difference between a rationale for the war and its casus belli.

He argues that regime change and preemptping Saddam’s ability to acquire and employ WMD were the rationale and short-term objective of the war but not the underlying motivation. He outlines four major goals in great detail; I’ll simply list their lead sentences:

1. The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 convinced the president, his administration and the American people as a whole that the status quo of relations between America and most of the Islamic world could not continue, for the very simple reason that the status quo was deadly to thousands of Americans, killed on their own soil.

2.This being so, toppling Saddam was a key element in fighting al Qaeda. It placed American military forces on the ground in the center of the very key terrain of the entire Middle East.

3.The intermediate objective in both Afghanistan and Iraq is to establish reasonably democratic institutions and governments there and prove America’s enduring commitment to the well being of the ordinary people. Again, this objective is just and good in its own right.

4. The truly long-term objective in toppling Saddam and democratizing Iraq is what forms the fundamental rationale for doing so.

His explanations for each of these, with many links to supporting evidence, are worth reading.

His conclusion is one I share:

This strategy is fraught with risk and may not succeed. But playing a deadly game of whack-a-mole with Islamic terrorists is a strategy doomed to fail.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Iraq War, Middle East, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Very similar to Thomas Friedman’s points.

    Draining the swamp, i.e. fixing failed states of the Middle East, thus depriving the terrorists of their breeding ground,is the whole idea.