What are the similarities and differences between realism and liberalism regarding the US invasion of Iraq in 2003?

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According to realist theory, the US invaded Iraq in 2003 in order to stop Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This was to be a preemptive strike as Iraq was considered to be one of the leading sponsors of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. By attacking Iraq and forcing regime change, the U.S. was hoping to prevent an attack on itself or one of its allies. There was also the question of securing oil rights in the region. By establishing a government more friendly to its interests, the U.S. would hopefully gain more oil rights for its multinational corporations.

According to liberal theory, the US invaded Iraq in 2003 in order to establish a democracy there. This argument is invalid, as many of the US's other allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, are not democracies, and the US has not mentioned regime change to them. Liberals would also argue against the unilateral stance that the US took in the invasion, and they would have urged the U.N. and other international bodies to enact sanctions in order to hopefully force out Hussein and establish a more democratic regime.

The US adopted more of a realist approach in its invasion of Iraq. The buildup to the war focused more on intelligence reports of WMD, which later proved to be nonexistent. It was only later that creating a democratic government for the country was considered the primary goal of the invasion.

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There is really very little in the way of similarities between realism and liberalism in how they would analyze the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  The differences are much more important. 

Realists would say that the US (along with a few allies) invaded Iraq in 2003 because it was in the US’s national interest to do so.  In other words, invading Iraq would make the United States more powerful.  The US invaded so as to destroy the regime of an enemy, take away WMDs that could be used against American interests, and maintain stability in a part of the world that is important to the global economy.  The US had to invade because there are no international bodies that could force Iraq to give up its WMDs or to prove that it had already done so.  Therefore, if the US wanted to avoid losing power, it had to take matters into its own hands.

Liberals might agree that the US would not have had to invade Iraq if there were international bodies that could force Iraq to comply with rules about WMDs.  However, they would also point out that, under international pressure, Iraq had already gotten rid of its WMDs even if the US did not know that it had.  Furthermore, they would say that the invasion of Iraq was unnecessary because the UN sanctions had reduced the threat that Iraq posed to the US.

Liberals would also say that the invasion of Iraq happened because Iraq was not democratic.  One of the major tenets of liberalism is that democracies do not go to war with other democracies and are generally more peaceful than non-democratic governments.  Democracies do not easily go to war because the people have a say in their government and will resist wars of conquest.  They do not fight other democracies because they share values and are naturally friendly with one another.  Liberals would emphasize that a major purpose of the invasion was not to control Iraq but to help it become democratic so that it would become a more peaceful country.

Thus, liberals and realists have very little in common with regard to this war.  Realists would say that it was all about increasing (or at the very least maintaining) American power.  Liberals would say that it was about spreading democracy so as to make the world more peaceful.

The link below has an academic journal article about various theories of conflicts and the Iraq War.  It should be very helpful to you in understanding these issues.

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