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Realist Perspective: The Case of the US Invasion of Iraq

Free «Realist Perspective: The Case of the US Invasion of Iraq» Essay Sample

Realists view the international system as a field that is dominated and controlled by constant struggle for survival and power among states. Inequality between countries and competition for supremacy makes the global system chaotic. To comprehend and use this perspective to explain and predict events in the international system, it is imperative to understand aspects such as self-help, anarchy, hegemony, security dilemma, and polarity. The behavior of international actors is shaped and influenced by these elements. The case of the US invasion of Iraq illustrates the realist theory of international relations, illuminating the aspects such as the state being the primary actor, anarchy, state monopoly of legitimate use of force, and non-state actors’ secondary role to the state.

Only the States

a. States Are the Principal and Most Important Actors; They Are the Key Unit of Analysis

The United States of America is a principal player in Iraq politics. The USA has used its military and diplomatic strength to push for its agenda in Iraq against the challenges from other countries such as Iran, Russia, and China, which have vested interests in the conflict-ridden state. The United States toppled Saddam Hussein and installed a friendly regime in the realm of asserting and enhancing the US power and influence in the Middle East (Muttitt &– Brower, 2011). Consequently, according to the realist perspective, states are the key players in international relations, which is evident in the Iraq conflict.


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Moreover, for one to understand the Iraq crisis or solve it, a clear comprehension of various state actors’ interests and actions ought to be studied and analyzed. The relations among countries define international relations, which makes them fundamental units of analysis in global politics. The US military action in Iraq is rooted in Washington’s interests and its relations with former and current Iraqi leadership. Saddam Hussein’s failure to cooperate with the United States and sustained threats to the security of the Middle East led to the US military invasion of Iraq.

According to Burchill, Linklater and Devetak (2013), states are the primary actors in international politics, because the other players’ behaviors are conditioned and limited by state power and decisions. The activities of the humanitarian organizations during the invasion of Iraq were controlled by the decisions made by the US military forces, which could allow or deny entry of the humanitarian aid into areas they controlled or attack. In this respect, countries are the key players in the international system.

b. Only the State Possesses the Monopoly of Legitimate Force to Resolve Conflicts

The United States played a leading role in sending forces and military aid to the Iraqi government in the war against the ISIS. The USA was doing this regardless of the position of the United Nations and regional players such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. In advancing its interests, the state does not expect other countries to help it, but rather resolves to self-help. Non-state actors may use force in an attempt to promote their interests as is the case with rebels and liberation movements, but they lack the legitimacy and monopoly over the use of military force. Therefore, their use of force is limited by the country’s authority and falls short of validity.

Realists emphasize the inevitability of military competition in the international system, which creates chaos. The attempt by Saddam Hussein to develop a nuclear weapon and advance chemical weapons triggered a prolonged crisis that later saw the USA take military action to dismantle Baghdad’s rogue government and a threat to regional and international security. The decision to use military force explains states’ monopoly on the legitimate use of violence to solve a crisis. Consequently, the military strength of a country is a priority in an anarchic system. Nations with superior military capabilities can easily coerce the weaker ones to give way to their interests or face military action (Burchill et al., 2013). The US invasion of Iraq is an example of how force can be used to sort out conflicts by a state.

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Anarchy creates room for powerful states to advance their national interests abroad. The chaotic situation caused by the war in Iraq allowed the United States to pursue its interests unchecked. In a state of lawlessness, self-help is the defining principle. Each country must take care of itself or live at the mercy of the powerful. The USA did use its military strength to protect and push for its welfare in Iraq against the vicious opposition from Saddam Hussein’s regime. States are accountable for their survival, thus ought to do all they can to survive (Muttitt &– Brower, 2011). The use of force is justified to attain this objective, which explains sustained military competition among countries.

c. Non-State Actors Are of Secondary Importance

Realists appreciate the role of non-state actors in the international system, but admit that such role is secondary to the states. The United Nations did not approve the war in Iraq during Saddam Hussein era, but this did not prevent the USA from implementing its war agenda in Iraq. The humanitarian condition in the country required the intervention of the UN and its specialist agencies such as World Food Program and UNICEF, which played subordinate roles. States power supersedes that of non-states actors, hence the latter are unable to challenge the former’s superiority and dominance in international politics.

Moreover, the resolution of the UN Security Council to send peacekeepers to Iraq came in when the USA had already deployed its troops in the country. In this respect, the peace-keepers had limited power over the US armed forces. Most importantly, the UN does not have its security forces but relies on the generosity of its member states to send their troops to peacekeeping missions. Therefore, its power and influence are secondary to that of countries. Unilateral action by a hegemon cannot be deterred by non-state actors, which explains the reason why the USA did not seek the UN approval to invade Iraq (Muttitt &– Brower, 2011). Thus, non-state actors’ power and influence on global politics is secondary to countries, leaving the latter more powerful and in control of the international system.

Unity of State

a. State Is a Unitary Actor, an Integrated Unit Which Speaks and Acts for Its Nation as a Whole

The decision by the United States to deploy its troops in Iraq was made by the government on behalf of the Americans, who showed solidarity with their administration. War is used to advance the state’s interests, for the public and private firms. The American companies secured energy, construction, and security contracts in Iraq after the USA-led invasion (Muttitt &– Brower, 2011). The action of the state is often in tandem with the interest of its nationals, which creates strong unity in their decision-making towards a given issue.

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The strength of a country is derived from its internal unity, making it easier to advance national interests abroad. Public opinion in support of Iraq invasion gave the US government the impetus to pursue its agenda in Iraq firmly. 79% of the Americans approved the invasion of Iraq, and they were made believe in the move taken by their government (Muttitt &– Brower, 2011). The intertwinement of the interests of the state administration and the public legitimizes the oversea engagement. A strong backing from media and parliament bolstered President Bush to invade Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein from power.

b. State Is an Integrated Actor

The decision by the policy-makers and other players in the USA security and foreign policy to adopt a unified approach to the Iraq crisis illustrates the integrated nature of the state as an actor in international politics. The mainstream USA media advanced a public opinion that supported the war on Iraq, projecting the importance of the military action as a way of protecting the United States’ interests at home and abroad (Muttitt &– Brower, 2011). A combination of various players and interests within a state informs its foreign relations. The US security, media, and private enterprises united in pushing for a common agenda in the Iraq War. Therefore, each state acts as an integrated player in the international politics, representing various entities’ interests as one.


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c. States Are Sufficiently Independent from Their National Societies and Pursue the Interests of the National as a Whole

The government’s foreign policy action is backed by the citizens delegating their sovereign power to the state. The USA pursues the national security, political, and economic interests by advancing and maintaining its power in the international system. The United States managed to marshal its allies in Europe and Asia in its war in Iraq. The sanctions against adversaries were affected by the Washington and its allies, helping the USA to secure its interests in the war-torn state.

Rationality of State

a. State Is a Rational Goal-Oriented Actor Which Makes Cost-Benefit Analysis of Every Alternative

The action of a state is always goal-oriented, consisted, and based on cost-benefit analysis of the situation. Foreign relations of a country and national interests that add value to its local and international welfare are intertwined. Subsequently, the action taken ought to be viewed in terms of the benefits a state will get pursuing it. 

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Realists opine that state’s actions are predetermined and assessed to ensure that the country will gain rather than lose. In a situation where a nation foresees losses if it engages in an armed conflict, diplomacy is employed to avoid a crisis. Therefore, gaining an advantage guided the United States’ activities in Iraq. The involvement of the allies in the conflict helped to minimize the losses by sharing the risks and bolstering the United States’ political strength and security in dealing with the situation at hand (Muttitt &– Brower, 2011).

Moreover, the US invasion of Iraq was to help in securing the United States’ oil fields and eliminate their vulnerability to attacks (Muttitt &– Brower, 2011). The regime of Saddam Hussein was a threat to the US interests in the Middle East, hence the need to neutralize it before the situation gets out of hand. Protecting access to Iraq oil fields has been a national concern to the United States government; thus the impetus to take any action to guarantee itself continuous supply of oil at reasonable prices. Preventive measures to the foreseen trouble were considered to be less costly than leaving Saddam Hussein to plunge the region into a hot crisis. Therefore, a state is rational in its approach to international issues, and will always try to balance the advantages and disadvantages before taking any action.

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The US invasion of Iraq exemplifies the realist perspective of international politics. It is clear that states are the primary actors and main units of analysis in international relations, maintaining the balance of power, possessing the monopoly on the use of force in addressing conflicts, avoiding security dilemma, and being the rational goal-oriented actors. The United States invasion of Iraq was motivated by its national interests, military strength, and the quest for power to control the access to the oil fields. Non-state actors such as the United Nations play a secondary role to the countries. The United States of America created and set the rules which other parties followed during the Iraq War.


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