Smart People, Dumb War: America's Intervention in Iraq

A lecture by Jason Brownlee (University of Texas at Austin)

This talk traces how US policy toward President Saddam Hussein of Iraq during 1984-2003 became the prototypical example of high-cost, low-benefit military interventions in the Middle East. It combines close study of declassified and leaked official documents on US-Iraqi ties, memoirs and biographies of top decision-makers, and an analysis of media discourse. These materials establish the elements of a Gramscian “common sense” that elevated hawkish claims and denigrated non-intervention alternatives. This common sense differs dramatically from the worldview of most Americans, who prioritize economic security at home and approve of interventions when they will be brief, low-risk, and backed up by a UN imprimatur. Nonetheless, it is the elites’ common sense, and not the attitudes of Americans at large, that dominated public discourse and policymaking in 1990-1991 and 2002-2003.

Jason Brownlee is a professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, where he researches and teaches about US foreign policy and Middle East politics. Brownlee has written over a dozen scholarly articles and several books, including Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance (Cambridge University Press, 2012). His current project explains recent US wars and diplomacy in the Middle East as a product of domestic politics among American political and economic elites.

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Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018