Take-home Essay Question : Explain the Iraq war as a failure to bargain. Why could the United States and Iraq not reach a deal both sides preferred to fighting? Drawing on theories covered in this course, explain why focusing solely on interests is an insufficient explanation for America’s decision to go to war against Iraq in 2003.

The Iraq War as a Failure to Bargain


Bargaining can be described as a zero-sum game: when two players interact with each other, the outcome of a bargaining will make one of these two players better off at the expense of the other. In the following essay, I will demonstrate why the Iraq war in 2003 was a failure to bargain. Using the approach of the World Politics book by Frieden, Lake, and Schultz (2010), I will analyze interests, interactions, and institutions with regard to this bargaining failure between the United States and Iraq.


The first part of the analysis refers to interests (preferences over outcomes). Since war only occurs when both sides see the costs of alternatives as negative, we have to look at the interests of both the United States and Iraq in consideration of national security and domestic aspects.

With respect to national security interests, the United States was not willing to accept the state of uncertainty after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It saw WMD in Iraq as a threat to its own security and its interests in the region. By the 2003 preventive strike (even though it was framed as “preemptive”), the United States toppled the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to prevent him from developing and using WMD which, from the American point of view, would have made Iraq stronger in future bargaining interactions. At the domestic level in the United States, one can discuss which role hawkish interests in the bureaucracy (intelligence agencies, military, departments, etc.), interest groups, and the industrial complex have played. Narrow (special) interests had at least the resources (time, money, and expertise) as well as the networks to gain access to the decision making process in the Bush administration. Thus, they made the United States more belligerent and its bargaining range smaller.



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University of California, San Diego – Department of Political Science
iraq usa middle east bush security council un europe russia china veto interest institution interaction cooperation conflict preemption prevention wmd iteration information reliable transparency prospect hussein prisoner dilemma



Title: The Iraq War as a Failure to Bargain