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James M. Goldgeier is a professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.  He received his B.A. in government from Harvard and his M.A. and Ph.D. in[…]

James Goldgeier explains that a 20-year-old obsession has blinded us to other geopolitical changes.

Topic: How America’s Iraq Obsession Left Her Vulnerable

James Goldgeier:  I do believe that Iraq has been an obsession of the United States now for almost 20 years. And one of the things we try to do in the book is show that Iraq is not a post-2003 problem; it's been there since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August of 1990. And you had George H. W. Bush reversing that invasion with a coalition under the authorization of the United Nations. Hugely successful Gulf War. He had 90 percent approval rating, which then evaporates as the campaign goes on because people, you know, aren't that appreciative once the whole thing is over. He did not decide to send American troops to Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussein, so Saddam remains in power. And the Clinton administration, for eight years, tries to figure out what to do with that regime. There is an international sanctions regime to prevent Saddam Hussein from building weapons of mass destruction. The United States is patrolling no-fly zones in the north and south to protect populations in Iraq from the regime in Baghdad. When we spoke to Madeleine Albright, who was the UN Ambassador in the first Clinton term, she said her whole time as UN Ambassador was spent dealing with resolution after resolution on Iraq because the resolutions that ended the Persian Gulf War were constantly coming up for renewal and she had to keep the coalition together. And so there was this huge amount of attention paid to Iraq through the period Bill Clinton told George W. Bush that he regretted not being able to do something about Saddam Hussein and of course George W. Bush is going to hand off the Iraq problem to his successor. It will be the third Iraq hand-off. While Iraq's an important country in an important region, it has distorted American foreign policy. There are lots of other big problems out there. During this past 20 years we've seen the rise of China, for example, in general the rise of Asia. And we're really under-equipped as a nation to think about these problems. Strategically we haven't thought through these problems. And these are the kinds of things. The rise of Asia, climate change, these are the things that are going to dominate our world in the coming decades and we've been distracted by our entanglement in Iraq.


Recorded on:07/0820/08