This article argues that American policy towards Iraq went through four major shifts between the invasion in 2003 and the announcement of the surge in 2007. The best way to understand the Bush administration's evolving policy towards Iraq is by examining the ideological parameters within which it was made. The article assesses various approaches to understanding the relationship between ideology, policy making and foreign policy, concluding that ideology shapes the paradigm and analytical categories within which foreign policy is made. A major change in foreign policy originates either from the decision-maker consciously recognizing and attempting to rework the ideational parameters within which policy is made or in reaction to ‘discrepant information’ or ‘anomalies’ that destabilize the paradigm and its analytical categories. The article goes on to examine the extent to which both neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism shaped George W. Bush's foreign policy. It identifies a series of major analytical categories that originate from within these two doctrines and shaped policy towards Iraq. The article argues that the four major shifts in Bush's policy towards Iraq were forced upon the administration by the rising tide of politically motivated violence. Ultimately this violence forced Bush to abandon the major analytical categories that, up to 2007, had given his policy coherence. In order to extricate his administration from the quagmire that Iraq had become by 2006, Bush totally transformed his approach, dropping the previously dominant neo-liberal paradigm and adopting a counter-insurgency doctrine
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