Case #2131.0

New Peril, Old Adversary: George W. Bush, 9/11, & Iraq (B) The Road to War, September 2002 to March 2003

Publication Date: June 30, 2018
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The U.S. choice to go to war with Iraq, beginning in March 2003, was enormously consequential. This two-part case, developed for an HKS course called “Power Shifts: Understanding Global Change Through History,” goes back in time to trace the evolution of American policy toward Iraq prior to 9/11, and the shift in thinking that led to war with Iraq during the administration of George W. Bush. The two parts of the case cover different parts of the chronology. While each could be used on its own, they are intended for use together. The (A) case, subtitled “The United States & Iraq, 1980 to 2002,” briefly summarizes U.S. policy toward Iraq after World War II, in the context of the Iran-Iraq War, and during the Persian Gulf War. It describes the frustrations inherent in the “aggressive containment” approach in the decade following. The case describes Bush Administration thinking about Iraq before 9/11, and the shift in thinking after that attack, including tensions within the Administration. The case ends in September 2002, with a tense battle between Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell over what President Bush should say about Iraq in his upcoming September 12 address to the United Nations. The (B) case, subtitled “The Road to War, September 2002 to March 2003,” begins with the President’s address to the UN, and continues with the Administration’s efforts to persuade the U.S. Congress and the United Nations that Iraq was manufacturing WMD, the simultaneous pursuit of a diplomacy track while preparing for war, and negotiations with a critical U.S. ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The case ends with President George W. Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam Hussein—that he and his sons leave Iraq within 48 hours, or face war with the United States.  

Learning Objective:
The case allows students to analyze the many factors that fed into the conviction by the Bush Administration that war with Iraq was in the best interests of the country. Students can assess how U.S. strategic priorities changed over time, how to think about threats from non-state actors, and how to weigh threats in the face of limited intelligence information. It challenges students to reckon with the potential advantages and disadvantages of war with Iraq versus a continued diplomatic effort.


Other Details

Case Author:
Pamela Varley
Faculty Lead:
Arne Westad
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States