War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars
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When should the United States go to war?

It is arguably the most important foreign policy question facing any president, and Richard Haass -- a member of the National Security Council staff for the first President Bush and the director of policy planning in the State Department for Bush II -- is in a unique position to address it. Haass is one of just a handful of individuals -- along with Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Bob Gates -- involved at a senior level of U.S. government decision making during both Iraq conflicts. He is the first to take us behind closed doors and the first to provide a personal account. The result is a book that is authoritative, revealing, and surprising. Haass explains not only what happened but why.

At first blush, the two Iraq wars appear similar. Both involved a President George Bush and the United States in conflicts with Saddam Hussein and Iraq. There, however, the resemblance ends. Haass contrasts the decisions that shaped the conduct of the two wars and makes a crucial distinction between the 1991 and 2003 conflicts. The first Iraq war, following Saddam Hussein's invasion of neighboring Kuwait, was a war of necessity. It was limited in ambition, well executed, and carried out with unprecedented international support.

By contrast, the second Iraq war was one of choice, the most significant discretionary war undertaken by the United States since Vietnam. Haass argues that it was unwarranted, as the United States had other viable policy options. Making matters worse was the fact that this ambitious undertaking was poorly implemented and fought with considerably more international opposition than backing.

These are the principal conclusions of this compelling, honest, and challenging book by one of this country's most respected voices on foreign policy. Haass's assessments are critical yet fair -- and carry tremendous weight. He offers a thoughtful examination of the means and ends of U.S. foreign policy: how it should be made, what it should seek to accomplish, and how it should be pursued.

War of Necessity, War of Choice -- part history, part memoir -- provides invaluable insight into some of the most important recent events in the world. It also provides a much-needed compass for how the United States can apply the lessons learned from the two Iraq wars so that it is better positioned to put into practice what worked and to avoid repeating what so clearly did not.

Customer Reviews:

  • America's Iraq Wars
    I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in looking at contrasting views of the two Iraq wars the US has fought. What I liked was that the author, Richard N. Haass, worked in both Bush administrations and give us a view into the workings of government from a true insiders point of view. It also helps that Mr. Haass is not a liberal trying to bash Republicans, but is giving his views as a conservative. My only criticism is that the reading at times seems a little too 20/20 hindsight. I suspect that this is difficult to avoid, considering that instead of being an impartial observer, Mr. Haass was living the events. If you're a student of history, this view from the eyes of a diplomat is a nice change of perspective compared to some of the books written from a military point of view, such as American Soldier by General Franks. Overall a good read with minor stylistic quibble....more info
  • Interesting but not ground breaking
    Much, in fact too much, has already been written about the latest war against Iraq (in this book, it is the "War of Choice"). Thus, there is little to be revealed in this book that has not been said or written about before. What is interesting, on the other hand, is the various contradictions that come through between what the author terms the "War of Necessity", that is the First Gulf War, and that of the invasion and "occupation/liberation" of Iraq which occurred most recently. The fact is the administration under the first Bush was hesitant to go to war and had to be convinced in numerous ways. And this after Saddam Hussein annexed a sovereign nation, something few thought he would actually do. This was followed up with a UN backing and half a million troops in the Gulf before any military activity even began. What happened most recently? Threats of Saddam Hussein having "WMDs", which proved to have been false, a badly planned and managed after-action campaign on behalf of our government and troops (whom, in retrospect, can hardly be blamed since they are trained for war, not peacekeeping). All of this is related in various details with some interesting commentary about various personalities the author dealt with throughout both Bush administrations. I was interested in his explanation for why during the first Bush presidency Cheney could say that the US was not interested in 'regime change' but during the recent war changed his mind. According to the author it was the atmosphere of the administration which dictated what Cheney could say and follow through with, both publicly and privately. Makes sense in retrospect, we all act differently depending on the situation and company we find ourselves among. Obviously this does not change the fact that he was wrong, horribly wrong, and much of what occurred in the aftermath of 9/11 (both in domestic policy and foreign) is the fault of the second Bush administration which did an immense amount of damage to this country's reputation as well as its economic and political state. Much of what the author conveys has a ring of truth, but I'm sure there is some self service here and there as well, so I'd take it with a grain of salt. Otherwise an interesting text and comparison between the first Iraq War, that of necessity, and the second, that of choice, which cost this country thousands of lives, hundreds of billions of dollars, time and attention we'll never get back, and whose affects we'll feel for years, if not decades, to come (and this does not include all the turmoil the Middle East has experienced as a result)....more info
  • An Inside of Planning for Two Wars
    Richard Haas, a long time foreign policy hand and Wasdhington insider gives his account of being at the center of the planning and execution process for America's two wars against Iraq. In this insightful book Haas compares and contrasts the plusses andminuses of both efforts, thought eh Gulf War is largely plusses and Iraqi Freedom largely minuses.

    I highly recommend this book....more info
  • A good contribution to the Iraq War canon. Not great or groundbreaking, but well worth reading.
    The title of this book, " War of Necessity, War of Choice" is a pretty good tip off that this book, written by Richard Haas, is an interesting viewpoint from one of the few people to be an intimate of both Bush 41 and the Gulf War, and Bush 43 and the Iraq invasion.

    Haass worked from the perspective of the White House during the first Bush Administration alongside Condi Rice during the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. He then worked in the State Department under Colin Powell during the Bush 43 Administration. His two positions almost reflect the differences described in the two administrations!

    I suspect a reader looking for justification of a Cheney led cabal inside the White House in 2001 looking to get the United States into war in Iraq will be sorely disappointed in this book. It is not a "told you so" story per se. This is a sober treatment of the subject, although it is clear no love is lost between the VP and this author to be sure.

    Rather, it seems that Haass has written a book that portrays the first Gulf War as a effort that was well-planned, and executed. The success of the Gulf War went beyond the military effort (which clearly was exceedingly successful), but also the political dimension and the multilateral effort involved. Some of that is reflective of the people and ideology of the people involved in both administrations according to Haass.

    Frankly, although Haass is a good writer, it seemed like this part of the book is the fifth person recounting a story that four others have already told and the facts are well known. It may be interesting to those who are not well versed in the lead up to the Gulf War. However, to a reader like myself who has read much of the standard canon of the Gulf War (The Commanders, A World Transformed, and memoirs by Schwarzkopf, Powell and others) much of this part of the book seemed like the fifth recounting of the same story. Interesting, but not groundbreaking.

    When it comes to the Iraq War, this book become much more interesting in the author's descriptions of the battles being waged between the POTUS, VPOTUS, State, Defense and the intelligence agencies.

    The most interesting facts are really about how "critical mass" grew after 9/11/01 in leading this nation to war. Rather then an account of personal tidbits about the major characters in the Bush 43 Administration, this book is more of primer into how bureaucracies function and reliance on assumptions, anecdotal evidence, and misguided belief can lead to bad policy decisions and messes like the Iraq War. There are certainly some recriminations here regarding decisions both personal and regarding the Bush Administration. Haass doesn't appear to be settling scores, but rather analyzing how this nation has fought two wars with Iraq in a way that would never have been anticipated in 1990.

    If a reader is looking for juicy gossip about major figures, this is not the book to read. While he offers portraits of people like both Bush 41 and 43, Powell, Cheney, Rice and others, this is not a book about personality. Nor is this a book full of vindication for the author (who admits to plenty of mistakes). It does offer some reasoning into battles being waged between the above figures during the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

    Instead, this book a well-written account about one of the most major foreign policy decisions made in the aftermath of 9/11 that was certainly not well thought or planned (given the current administration treatment of stimulus dollars this seems to be constant trait of all administrations in dealing with a crisis - decisions are made with a hope that success will inevitably be the result).

    In short, a sober, worthwhile book about an intensely important subject. I wish the author had written a book of more detail and honesty in personal account, but it was not to be. Yet, a worthwhile read....more info
  • An intriguing fly-on-the-wall view of history
    It's hard to imagine anyone who doesn't have an opinion on the two Gulf Wars, and it's even harder to imagine anyone who hasn't Monday-morning quarterbacked themselves into believing that they could have done it better if given half a chance.

    Well, this book gives you a chance to answer that existential question - what would you have done if you had been granted a seat at the table of history?

    Richard Haass gives you a unique insider's perspective to the decision making process that led to these wars, and puts you in the driver's seat by posing key questions, such as would you have resigned if you'd found your viewpoints disregarded by the decision makers? And, how forcefully would you have pushed your advice if you ran the risk of completely being sidelined?

    That in a nutshell, is why this book works.

    This isn't a book analyzing history - it's about vicariously observing history as it evolved.

    There are a few central tenets in this book that captured my attention:
    (1) The central theme of this book is based around what constitutes a war of necessity vs. a war of choice; and how these should be planned and waged.

    Wars of Necessity include WW II, the Korean War, and Gulf War 1. These are characterized by self-defense; involve the most important national interests; have a marked lack of alternatives to the use of force; and result in a considerable price to be paid if the status quo is allowed to stand. (Here he includes "Preemptive Wars", that are required against an adversary from whom an attack is *imminent*.)

    On the other hand, Wars of Choice include Vietnam, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Gulf War 2. They involve stakes that are less clearly vital; and have viable alternative policies such as diplomacy. These include "Preventive Wars" that are undertaken to interrupt a gathering threat. An example being the Israeli attack on Iraq's nuclear facility in Osirak.

    (2) Regardless of your political leanings, I cannot imagine this book as being read as anything other than a strict indictment of 43's presidency from an insider. For example, he describes the second war as "a blunder"; points out that "W" inherited a robust economy, a budgetary surplus, and a rested military, and left behind a country in hurt; and describes an administration riven by cronyism and pathological unilateralism, that silenced the voices of reason - such as Shinseki and Secretary Powell.

    (3) Mr. Haass paints an interesting picture of President Bush as an exceedingly smart individual, who favored bold dramatic actions, and who viewed changing course as a sign of weakness.

    (4) He categorically disputes any link between Saddam's Iraq and terrorism, and disparages the intelligence on WMD - which he also blames for the stain on Secretary Powell's extraordinary career record.

    (5) Interestingly, he paints a very sorry image of Secretary Powell, where the loyal veteran is continually caught "playing defense, reacting to the agenda of others"; and where there is a perception in the White House "that Powell was not a team player".

    (6) I was particularly struck by his assessment that despite the incalculable costs incurred, in blood and treasure, the greatest cost of Gulf War 2 may actually end up being the opportunity cost - where we squandered a rare opportunity to shape the world by miring ourselves in the morass of our own making in Iraq.

    There are some excellent lessons to be found in these pages as well:

    1) "A good idea that is not, or cannot, be successfully implemented is either not a good idea or an idea that ought not to be pursued."

    2) "Planning is never better than the assumptions fed into it. "

    3) "One is more likely to influence policy if one argues for changes that would move the ball a few yards down the field, than if one suggests a total change in the game plan. So, once a decision has been made, continuing to argue against it, simply reduces any further influence you might have on the topic."

    4) "In life, it tends to be better to err by commission than omission. Most of my regrets stem from what I have failed to say or do, not from what I've actually done."

    5) "In normal times, but even more so amid crises, it is never enough to do the right thing. It is also necessary to go out and explain what you are doing and why, and in so doing, build [..] support for the policy."

    6) "Sometimes it is better to try and come up short than not to try at all. This takes away the argument that "if only" you had done something, things would have been better."

    If you don't have the time, an excellent synopsis can be gleaned from the Appendix - which sets the stage for much of what is in the book. Written in Sep 2002, it demonstrates that voices were being raised and going unheeded in the excitement of girding for battle.

    Happy Reading!

    Damodar (swengsol-dot-com)
    ...more info
  • War of Necessity, War of Choice - a Compare and Contrast of two Epics in Our Time
    Richard N. Haass, gives his view from the inside of two Bush administrations regarding the two wars that have come to define our current era in world affairs. He does a complete compare and contrast of Dessert Storm and the steps that got us to that war and compares that to what was behind the decision making regarding Operation Iragi Freedom. Of course it is easy to tell by the cover he views the second as a 'War of Choice,' and he tells us why from his point of view, rather convincingly.

    I would recommend this book mainly because it is not a 'tell-all' diatribe with the emphasis on running down anyone. Richard Haass does not have a bone to pick, he is stating facts from his perview. We get some of the reasons why Colin Powell removed himself from the Bush administration the way and the time that he did. He quotes Richard Clarke, but unlike Clarke, he is not vitriolic in his blaming of anyone, he leaves that type of conclusion to you.

    Now the head of the CFR, he mentions that there is a time for war. And he clearly outlines what defines that time in our day and age today. Many of the issues we face in the USA today as a country are due to our handling of the second Iraq war. He alludes to the Project for a New American Century report that mentions going to war with Iraq at some time in the future, yet, does not follow through on who was deeply involved in this.

    Seemingly, the decision to go to War with Iraq was a Fait Accompli, predetermined, possibly and Haass does a great job of showing the prima facie evidence without harsh criticism, just plain facts.

    If you want to get an insider view with a clear but less bitter perspective, you can get the facts with War of Necessity, War of Choice....more info
  • Profound insight into recent American history
    "War of Necessity, War of Choice" by Richard N. Haass is a memoir that provides valuable lessons about the decision making processes surrounding the two Iraq wars. Although one might expect a somewhat dry style of writing from a person who has honed the fine arts of diplomacy and policy making, Mr. Haass' perspective is consistently interesting and occassionally surprising. The book serves as a valuable tool for students, historians and general interest readers who wish to gain profound insight into recent American history.

    As one of only a few people working at a high level within the administration during both Iraq wars, Mr. Haass is well-positioned to compare and contrast the two conflicts. Mr. Haass shares the methodologies he used to assess the myriad foreign policy challenges that confronted the two Bush administrations, including how he played an active role in developing strategy and engaging in dialogue with international statespeople. Drawing from these experiences, Mr. Haass concludes that the first Iraq war was a necessity whereas the second was a poor choice that has resulted in a number of adverse long-term consequences for the U.S. in terms of its prestige and power.

    Mr. Haass provides insight into the personalities of a number of key people, helping us understand more about how they reached decisions; among them, two people are held in the highest esteem. Mr. Haass respects president George H. W. Bush, Sr. for his maturity and conviction during the Gulf War, which he regards as a good decision that was essential to stabilizing the international community in the wake of the Cold War. Colin Powell is praised for his fortitude in trying to steer a moderate course of action prior to the second Iraq war, although he argues a bit unconvincingly that the Secretary of State made the best possible choice (including his ill-fated presentation on the floor of the United Nations) given the flawed nature of the intelligence available to him at the time.

    Mr. Haass has decidely mixed opinions about some of the others who occupied the inner circle of power. The author lauds George W. Bush for his intelligence and knack for sizing up people's intentions while remaining very critical of the president's decision to initiate the second Iraq war. Mr. Haass writes that his friendship with Condoleeza Rice became strained as she grew ever more ideologically rigid and closed ranks with the president. On the other hand, it must be said that Mr. Haas paints a rather grim and sinister portrait of Dick Cheney, whose cynical demeanor could be glimpsed during rare moments in the first Bush administration and was later allowed free reign when he assumed the office of the vice president. Mr. Haass also seems particularly resentful that Mr. Cheney's office assumed outsized powers, recklessly bending the decision making process to his vantage in favor of war and to the detriment of others who were recommending alternative solutions to the Iraqi problem.

    Mr. Haass considers himself to be a political centrist, and that is probably a fair assessment. If the pros and cons were more carefully weighed in the cool, professional manner that he proposes, no doubt the U.S. could significantly improve its policy decisions -- but it is worth noting that centrists can sometimes be wrong, too. To his credit, prior to hostilities began in the second Iraq war Mr. Haass carefully delineated what would be needed to achieve success in the mission including the reconstruction of a strong, democratic Iraqi state; unfortunately, this memorandum was largely ignored by top-level decision makers (the full text of this remarkably prescient memo is included in the appendix). When it became clear to Mr. Haass that the administration was bent on justifying war by any means, it would have been most appropriate for him to resign (if not Mr. Powell as well) given that such an objection would have constituted the last best chance to draw public attention to the cause of stopping the war before it had begun.

    Nevertheless, Mr. Haass' book is destined to become an go-to source for readers interested in American policy making during the two Iraq wars. I highly recommend this intriguing book to everyone.

    ...more info
  • Nothing new, but interesting comparison
    By now, hundreds of books on the Iraq War have been published, many of them by insiders such as George Tenet, Paul Bremer, and Doug Feith. Haass' book doesn't reveal any shocking details and much of it has already been covered elsewhere. Furthermore, unlike other memoirs, Haass tells relatively few charming personal anecdotes. However, this book's real value is to discuss both Iraq Wars side by side. Since Haass served in both the Bush I and II administrations, he is well placed to tell this particular story.

    Haass begins with a brief but useful comparison of the Iraq wars. He frames the first war, Operation Desert Storm, as a war of necessity that was fought with significant international support. The second war he argues was merely a war of choice, and a poorly implemented one at that. Again, many of these points have been argued elsewhere, but Haass brings them together in one book, which makes the contrast even more dramatic.

    Haass himself played a more important role during Operation Desert Storm (on the Middle East staff for the NCS) than he did during the more recent war. As such, his narration of the first war is both more interesting and insightful. He conveys very well the stress of his job in the prelude to war and how fatigue certainly affected decision-making. He also provides some interesting anecdotes about the senior President Bush. For example, he portrays Bush I as a decent man obsessed with decorum - even having his chief of staff send Haass back to his office when he arrived to a meeting without a business jacket.

    By contrast, during the second Iraq War, Haass was (and writes as) an outsider frustrated with the neo-conservatives in the administration. Ironically, Haass sounds very much like the Democrats who criticized the war. His book probably doesn't reveal any new ground or provide the amount of detail as, for example, Tenet's memoirs. However, Haass (on page 250) provides a very personal account of why he decided to leave the administration. This discussion is a must-read for anybody wondering why others, including Powell, did not resign in protest. With his personal experience in government, Haass provides a credible explanation for why and when government officials should resign.

    Haass writes smoothly and has an important message. However, I hesitate to give the book five stars simply because I thought it was not enough. There were precious few anecdotes, despite Haass' many years in government. When Haass did recount an anecdote, it was often interesting and even occasionally funny (such as Israeli Prime Minister Shamir's lousy tennis game). He also provides some interesting insights into Dick Cheney - for example, he was one of the few cabinet members during Bush I who opposed going to Congress to obtain authorization for Operation Desert Storm. Much of the book, however, is third-person narration of events and history (some 30 pages of background on the Reagan and Clinton administrations in which Haass played little role). I think at this point, Haass would have been better off assuming that readers know the basic facts about U.S. policy toward Iraq and skip over this - especially for a memoir rather than an historical treatise. ...more info
  • Very well written.
    Normally I enjoy reading biographies from soldiers that have lived the danger of war/conflict. This is the first book I have chosen to read that takes place behind the scenes and I was very pleasantly surprised. Part of the reason I chose this book is that I am a veteran of the Desert Storm and often wondered why certain decisions were made. Richard Haass describes not only his and other's influence on the subjects, but also the events that led up to the wars dating back to the 60's. I found this book very well written and easy to read. The reason I only gave it 4 stars is that there are some spots I would consider filler material to justify a book. Although the filler material is fascinating and educational, it has little to do with the subject at hand. ...more info
  • Nothing New
    This is a well-written and personal account of a relatively mid level figure in the bureaucracy who held policy positions in both the Bush 1 and Bush 2 administration. To some extent it is a rehash and elaboration of the conventional wisdom that goes Bush 1=good, Bush 2=bad, first Iraq War=good, second Iraq war=bad.

    The beginnings of the book make claims that it will explore the philosophical divide between wars of "necessity" and wars of "choice.". While the book starts on this lofty level, it quickly becomes more of a memoir of how the "good" policy process (wherein the author was listened to) led to a "good" war and a "bad" policy process (wherein the author was not listened to) led to a "bad" war.

    This book will be of interest to those who want to read every last scrap of information about the Iraq wars. It will also be of some interest to future scholars of the American Presidency and the Political process. However, there are several other books that have already more fully and more deeply exposed the faulty policy process of the Bush 2 years, and other and better books that have described what went wrong with the diplomatic process.

    It's not a bad book; it does provide some context for the Iraq war events. It does give a pretty accurate account of the frustrations of working inside the state department (I have some first had experience of that but not at that time). I just didn't find the book compelling, and it didn't provide much, if anything, in the way of original insights. ...more info