Why did Bush decide to invade Iraq instead of Iran?

If Bush was going to react to the 9/11 attacks by going to war with some country other than Afghanistan, why did he pick Iraq instead of Iran? I mean, it should have been obvious we only had the troop strength to take on one of them. Both countries are of more or less equal strategic importance. Both have oil. We’ve had a national grudge against Iran since they took the U.S. Embassy staff hostage following Khomeini’s revolution in 1979 (of course, Iran has had a national grudge against the U.S. since the CIA-sponsored “Operation Ajax” coup against Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, but since the U.S. did that it doesn’t count). The case for “regime change” in Iran was just as compelling as in Iraq; Iran’s mullahcracy is at least as dangerous to regional peace and stability as Hussein’s Ba’athist dictatorship was – especially considering that Iran might be in a position to influence the political development of a lot of neighboring post-Soviet Muslim nations in Central Asia. And while neither country had any provable connection to al-Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks, Iran had (and has) a real record of promoting terrorism abroad, and might be working on real weapons of mass destruction. So why not Iran?

Assuming for the moment that we did not, in fact, have any real intelligence on Iraq being an imminent threat (plenty of threads for that, please don’t flame me here :stuck_out_tongue: ), I’m assuming Iraq presented the easier target. Embargo, and all that.

Interesting poloicy shift, since we backed Iraq against Iran. :smack:

Because there was an excuse to invade Iraq…there was none to invade Iran. Because Saddam was an easier sell to the American people who had already been prepped that he was a ‘bad guy’. UN sanctions already in place for Iraq. Because Iraq was easier, logistically, to invade then Iran. Because Iran has a much larger population and so would be much more difficult to subdue. Because Iran presumably has a much more fanatic population (well, it probably looked that way pre-war) than Iraq, who was more secular.

Take your pick.


IIRC (and I may not be) Iran had been leaning toward reforming its government. At least, ISTR that there were some opposition parties that were becoming more vocal.

Saddam had been misbehaving for ten years. He was basically thumbing his nose at the U.S. and the UN. Also, Iraq was fresher in Americans’ minds than Iran. The the Short Attention Span Theatre of America, freshness counts. Besides, ‘He trah’d t’kill mah pa!’ (Bush the Elder). Records seem to show that Bush the Younger had been spoiling for a fight, and circumstances provided him with an excuse.

Whatever the other reasons, the central truth is that Iraq was weak and essentially defenceless. It may now be hard to subdue, but it was easily overrun; they simply couldn’t put up much of a fight.

Iran would have required an invasion force at least twice and perhaps three times as large and would have put up a vicious and bloody resistance.

And where would you have staged such an army? How would you have supplied them? All in all I don’t think Iran was ever in the cards. Perhaps…perhaps mind you…IF Iraq had been a push over and the Iraqi’s really would have thrown roses at our feet and offered us their young daughters, we MIGHT have been able to stage an invasion of Iran sometime in the near future.

Not going to happen. Maybe some bombing or toss a few cruise missiles at em a la Clinton…but invasion just was never in the cards IMO. Even if we had a fig leaf excuse…which we didn’t.


  1. Regime change in Iraq was already a stated policy objective, dating from 1998.

  2. Saddam was in defiance of UN resolutions, providing a legal argument.

  3. The admin either believed or believed they could plausibly claim (take your pick) Iraq had WMD programs.

  4. Iraq was better positioned culturally and geographically to be the seedbed for the liberalisation of the Arab world that is the real goal of this war. Iran is Shiite, is not Arab, and does not border Syria or Saudi Arabia.

  5. While Iraq’s military was probably stronger than Iran’s, the difference was not significant.

  6. While the overall civilian population in Iraq was probably less well-disposed to the US than in Iran, the civilian opposition was more concentrated: e.g. we could pretty much count on little resistance from the Kurds and Shiites.

  7. Moreover, the Kurds have experience with democratic self rule; that was/is valuable in reconstruction.

Another major difference between Iraq and Iran is that Iran’s government is a bit shaky and old, the population is young, pro-American, and actually have a chance of eventually getting rid of their leaders. War was never an option there, and certainly wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.

Iraq, on the other hand, was in the iron grip of Saddam, with no chance of a coup or revolt, and there was a set line of succession to his children who, if anything were worse than he was.

Another difference is that the U.S. was having to maintain 50,000 soldiers in Saudi Arabia to contain Saddam with the northern and southern no-fly zones, and this was an unstable situation. Don’t forget that Bin Laden named U.S. presence on Saudi soil as one of his reasons for his Fatwa.

Another reason is that the only reason it turned out that Saddam didn’t have WMD is because of the sanctions and inspections. But this was also unstable, as it was disproportionately hurting the population, and there was pressure growing for the sanctions to drop - mostly because companies were itching to do business with Iraq. We’ve discovered that Saddam was bribing officials in influential positions with money stolen from the oil-for-food program. Had their been no war, today there would be a hue and cry demanding that the sanctions be dropped, and fully 1/3 of the soldiers that are there now would still be in the middle east, only based out of Saudi Arabia. But still vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Another reason was the very real chance that Saddam would offer the power of his state to jihadists - we thought by giving them WMD, but it could also be funding on a large scale, conventional weapons, intelligence, safe harbor, etc. My personal belief is that Saddam had plans to use islamic terror as a smart weapon against the U.S., and he believed that by standing up to the U.S. he could elevate his stature in the middle east and become the symbol of middle-eastern uprising against the U.S. Think about that. If he wins that conflict by forcing America to back down, attack them hard enough that they withdraw, or even just stare them down, suddenly he’s a hero to millions. Which is exactly what he dreamed of - being the head of a new caliphate. Saddam was allied with the enemy, and was about to become a larger problem. In my opinion.

Saddam was inflaming Atab hatred for America which was creating more jihadists. From his support for Palestinian suicide bombers to his shooting at American planes and his new found love of Islam, he was clearly taking advantage of Islamic extremism because it suited his goals. Saddam was a lightning rod in the region.

Another difference is that the U.S. had no realistic way of invading Iran other than through Iraq. The only border the U.S. had even remote control of was in Afghanistan, and that would have been very, very difficult.

But again, the plan is not, and never has been to attack Iran. The strategy of choice in Iran is to support the pro-American people, provide aid to Iranian dissident movements, and simultaneously work to convince the government that nuclear weapons are not in their best interest. This does not preclude the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, but it won’t be for the purpose of invading the country, but to remove a direct threat.

  1. We had been in a state of open hostilities with Iraq since '91, continuing to enforce the no-fly zones and essay punitive and preemptive airstrikes.

In my opinion, not, and by a long shot. The Iranian regime isn’t even remotely as barbarous as Saddam’s Irak used to be. If for some reason, I had to choose between becoming an Iranian or an Iraki citizen, I wouldn’t have hesitated 1/10th of a second before picking Iran. They just weren’t playing in the same ballpark as lack of freedom goes.

Saddam was an idiot dictator. He should have followed ex-president Marcos of the Philippines style where he dined-n-wined with Reagan that when he was ousted from a coup he got a nice military helicopter to fly him out into Hawaii in exile with his $$$. The guy got off the airport and nobody even arrested him or questioned him or let alone check his belongings. He landed like a King. Now wasn’t it great being friends with the U.S.A.

The guy ransacked the country to its knees and he was never punished. If Saddam was friends with the Americans to begin with he’d still be the leader of Iraq and there wouldn’t be any invasion. What a dumbass. :smiley:

He was. He just didn’t saty that way.

Iran, for all its faults, is a mostly functioning nation with a semi-democratic system of government. It hasn’t directly threatened the United States in decades. So the only reason for invading Iran would have basically been “why not?”. International opposition to an Iranian invasion would have been about a hundred times worse than it was to the Iraqi invasion. You probably would have actually seen many countries openly supporting Iran. The United States would have been subject to diplomatic and economic sanctions and perhaps even military oppostion.

They were then, they aren’t now. In the just-finished presidential election (unlike in earlier ones), the ruling Guardian Council of mullahs wouldn’t let even moderate reformers on the ballot. And out of a field of hard-liners, the winner was the hardest of them all, who might have been involved in taking the U.S. embassy staff hostage in 1979. http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/meast/06/30/iran.president/index.html

The U.S. has the world’s most powerful navy. It could have gone into the Persian Gulf, established any number of beachheads, and troops could have been landed. More troops could have invaded from Iran’s long border with Afghanistan, forcing Iran to divide its forces. Supply from the same directions. No harder than invading Iraq from its very short border with Kuwait. No harder getting troops into the country, that is; defeating the defending forces is another matter.

I wonder if being declared part of an axis of evil and having a bit of an invasion next door might have had something to do with that.

Cite? I don’t remember Clinton ever saying that. Did he commit the U.S. to it as policy, or just mention it as an option?

What are the chances this war could lead to the liberalization of Syria or Saudi Arabia? I’ve heard of no signs of it from either country, yet. The Syrian regime is holding things down tight because it fears the prospect (bacause of Lebanon’s example, not Iraq’s – http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050502&s=hirst), and the only serious opposition in SA is the ultra-Wahhabists, who make the Iranian mullahs look like Enlightenment Deists.

Cite? I would have expected Iran’s military to be stronger, since they have a larger population and had not been under international economic sanctions for the past decade.

That doesn’t seem to be working either, does it?

The U.S. Navy is not capable of landing hundreds of thousands of troops across the ocean in an invasion. I think you seriously underestimate how hard it is to do this.

As for the hardliners being elected in Iraq, this may in fact be a sign that the government is losing its grip a bit. When the Soviet Union first started having major difficulties, it put into power old appatchiks who were anything but reformers: Ex-KGB head Yuri Andropov and Constantin Chernenko. It was only after they died and the U.S. continued standing up to the Soviet Union that they finally decided to try their luck with a reformer.

With Iran, it’s really hard to tell. I worry perhaps even more about what that government will do if it feels its grip on power slipping than if they were stable and firmly in control. Iran is a very dangerous problem.

Man, this has been referred to dozens of times on this board. We simply don’t seem to be able to communicate with each other. For the record:

H.R.4655 - Iraq Liberation Act of 1998

It became public law No: 105-338 after Bill Clinton signed it. After that date, official U.S. policy was to work towards the removal of Saddam Hussein’s government.

Also interesting is the rationale:

Note that the use of and suspected possession of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq were key elements of this policy. And again, it was written in 1998, supported in a bipartisan fashion and signed into law by a Democrat president.

You have a better plan? Some problems are just not that easy to solve. This is what frustrates me when people keep saying, “Why didn’t the U.S. invade Saudi Arabia? Or Pakistan? Or North Korea? Or Iran?” Of course, they almost never offer an actual workable plan for doing so. Sometimes, a plan just doesn’t exist and a problem is intractable. Nonetheless you take your best shot and work on the best strategy that is feasible, even if it’s not your idea of the perfect plan.

Is the U.S. pursuing a good strategy against Iran? In broad strokes, yes. Engagement with the people is the best course of action, in my opinion. Is the Bush Administration doing a good job of this? I don’t know. I suspect not. I don’t know why there isn’t more outreach to the Iranian people. If it were me, I’d be very overt about it. If Iran shuts down Iranian blogs, announce a U.S. government program to provide free anonymous web hosting to any Iranian. Funnel much money to the dissident groups. Lean on the government more. Hell, air drop hundreds of thousands of satellite radios and set up an American satellite station. Whatever it takes.