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Coming face to face with bloody reality: liberal common sense and the ideological failure of the Bush doctrine in Iraq

By Toby Dodge


A conventional technocratic wisdom has begun to form that blames the failure of the US led invasion of Iraq on the small number of American troops deployed and the ideological divisions at the centre of the Bush administration itself. This paper argues that both these accounts are at best simply descriptive. A much more sustained explanation has to be based on a close examination of the ideological assumptions that shaped the drafting of policies and planning for the aftermath of the war. The point of departure for such an analysis is that all agency, whether individual or collective, is socially mediated. The paper deploys Antonio Gramsci's notion of ‘Common Sense’ to examine the Bush administration's policy towards Iraq. It argues that the Common Sense at work in the White House, Defence Department and Green Zone was primarily responsible for America's failure. It examines the relationship between the ‘higher philosophies’ of both Neoconservatism and Neo-Liberalism and Common Sense. It concludes that although Neoconservatism was influential in justifying the invasion itself, it was Neo-Liberalism that shaped the policy agenda for the aftermath of war. It takes as its example the pre-war planning for Iraq, then the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the de-Ba’athification of the Iraqi state. The planning and these two decisions, responsible for driving Iraq into civil war, can only be fully explained by studying the ideology that shaped them. From this perspective, the United States intervention in Iraq was not the product of an outlandish ideology but was instead the high water mark of post-Cold War Liberal interventionism. As such, it highlights the ideological and empirical shortcomings associated with ‘Kinetic Liberalism’

Topics: JZ International relations
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Year: 2009
DOI identifier: 10.1057/ip.2008.41
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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