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The National Security Archive has just posted "The Iraq War: Part I: The US Prepares for Conflict, 2001," an analysis and set of declassified documents (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB326/print.htm). As usual, scholars are indebted to the Archive for this fascinating and important material. But the point of this post is to raise some methodological questions about the conclusion: "as available documents and a review of the literature shows, the Bush administration was well along the path to war before the 9/11 attacks." Two problems or questions arise. First, although the phrase "well along the path to war" is a common one, what exactly does it mean? Second, how do the documents selected support the claim? The strongest meaning of being "well on the way to war" would be that like a train on pre-set tracks, the administration was pulling the country into war and that reaching this destination, if not inevitable, at least would occur unless something drastic and unusual intervened to prevent it. Something close to this is implied by the sentence that soon follows the one I quoted and that ends the analysis: "September 11 was not the motivation for the U.S. invasion of Iraq - it was a distraction from it." But note that this claim is a bit different since it refers to motivation. Although this is a central question in trying to explain the Iraq War, saying that leaders are motivated to bringing something about is not exactly the same thing as explaining it because there can be high and sometimes insurmountable hurdles between desires and outcomes. I may be motivated to make a million dollars, but this isn't likely to happen. That Bush wanted to get rid of Saddam is undoubtedly true, but this does not tell us what measures he would be willing to take. In fact, the documents reveal that most of the attention was given to regime change through supporting the Iraq National Congress (INC), and most of the plans were for some version of a "Bay of Goats," to use the term of the opponents. But the military and most of the intelligence community believed that these plans were foolish, and if we simply project forward the pre-9/11 views and balance of power within the administration, I do not think that even this kind of military adventure, let alone one large enough to succeed, was likely. It certainly was less than determined. A better case can be made for a weaker version of "being well on the way to war." The the Archive file confirms previous accounts in showing a great deal of high-level interest in overthrowing Saddam. Thus from the start the administration saw Saddam as a significant threat and was exploring how to overthrow him. The bureaucracy, especially the military, knew this and was being pushed to develop a range of plans. 9/11 then found fertile soil in terms of leaders who were ready to blame Saddam and move against him, and also found a bureaucracy that was part of the way along the path to war. The second version does not imply a strong counterfactual because it does not claim that the invasion would have occurred without 9/11, although it does say that without the mindset and preparations revealed by the documents and previous accounts, 9/11 might not have produced the war. The first version implies the much stronger counterfactual that the war would have occurred, or at least been highly likely, even without terrorist attacks. Just as McGeorge Bundy said "Plieku's are streetcars" when asked about the role of the Viet Cong attack on the American base in producing U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, so it can be argued that while 9/11 triggered the invasion, any number of events that were likely to have occurred would have brought us to the same destination. But even if the desire were present, I think it is hard to see what could have occurred to produce more than a Bay of Goats (if that), in part because the U.S. needed significant support from the region, endorsement by at least some allies, and domestic acquiescence. We are necessarily in the realm of speculation here, but since we are I would argue that what was on the horizon on September 10 was growing opposition to Secretary Rumsfeld from within the Defense Department rooted in his inept management style and the military's opposition to his plan of "transformation" which would rely less on manpower and traditional ways of fighting and more on high technology (the Revolution in Military Affairs). Were Rumsfeld to fall, a great deal would depend on who replaced him. And while it is possible that Bush would have elevated his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who was the government's strongest proponent for overthrowing Saddam, my sense is that this was not likely and that this personnel shift would not have made invasion more likely. In any case, I am skeptical that the normal continuation of policy and events would have produced an invasion in the absence of a major shock. The second question concerns the selection of documents. By this I do not mean whether the Archive has omitted ones that point in the opposite direction, as would be the case if we had records of Bush saying that overthrowing Saddam would likely lead to chaos or that it would be foolish and inappropriate for the U.S. to use force. No one thinks such documents exist and I am confident that the Archive would have featured them if they did. Indeed, I have no doubt that they selected the documents of most obvious relevance to the case. My concern is different and goes to the question of what is relevant. All the documents here concern Iraq, as makes sense because that is the subject of the inquiry. But what is crucial to the question of whether we were on the path to war, in either of the senses discussed above, is how central Iraq was to the administration. Paul O'Neill, the Secretary of the Treasury at the start of the administration, stressed how surprised he was that Iraq seemed to be the most important foreign policy issue for Bush. Certainly the stack of documents the Archive compiled provides impressive support for this claim, but the crucial point is that we cannot judge this in isolation. While it does seem clear that Iraq was seen as more of a threat than terrorism, partly because Bush and his colleagues believed that terrorists could not pose a significant threat without the sponsorship of a significant country, we want to know where Iraq ranked on the list of perceived threats. Although in a collection like this we may not need to see all the documents on other threats, we really do need to know how often Iraq was discussed compared to meetings on Russia and China, as well as what the status of plans for war with those countries was. It would also be informative to know whether there were discussions of Iran, North Korea, and Libya that paralleled what we see in this collection. Did it look like we were on the path to war with these countries? To put it a bit - but only a bit - too strongly, we cannot understand U.S. policy toward Iraq by focusing only on U.S. policy toward Iraq. Robert Jervis Columbia University  Quoted in Townsend Hoopes, _The Limits of Intervention_ (New York: McKay, 1969), p. 30.  Ron Suskind, _The Price of Loyalty_ (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004).