Ford Daily Diary link



Psychological Approaches and the 2003 Iraq War


-         not psychoanalysis

-         perception & misperception (Jervis)

-         cognitive errors



Why did the US misperceive the extent of the Iraqi Chemical, Biological, Nuclear (CBN) weapons?


-         Confirmation bias: assumption that Iraq was hiding a program[1]

o      Disconfirming evidence ignored or downplayed

o      Related to prior ‘failures’ – Soviet & Russian BW program

-         Reduced tolerance for uncertainty regarding major threats post-9/11

-         Ethnocentrism: how did Saddam think? Ambiguity over weapons program

-         Motivated bias:  fear of 2nd 9/11

-         Biased probability assessments

o      Improbable seen as more probable base on availability heuristic and evoked set

§       Reverse of the unfamiliar being seen as improbable


“September the 11th changed the strategic thinking, at least, as far as I was concerned, for how to protect our country… It used to be that we could think that you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from his type of terror. September the 11th should say to the American people that we're now a battlefield, that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist organization could be deployed here at home.”

-         US Pres. G. W. Bush, 6 Mar. 2003 (press conference)


“The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass murder. We acted because we saw the existing evidence in a new light, through the prism of our experience on September 11th. On that day, we saw thousands of innocent men, women and children killed by terrorists, and that experience changed our appreciation of our vulnerability and the risks the U.S. faces from terrorist states and terrorist networks armed with powerful weapons.”

-         US Def. Sec. Donald Rumsfeld, 9 July 2003 (Senate Armed Services hearing)



Why did Iraq not defend itself better?[2]


-         fear of coup or rebellion v. effective invasion

o      Shi’ite uprising w/ US airstrikes > Iranian invasion > US ground invasion

o      loyalty prized over effectiveness

-         defense plans based on false assumptions

o      generals assumed Iraq had CBW, not told it did not until Dec. 2002

o      US ground invasion unlikely due to casualty potential

o      Attack would come from west, not the south


-         Fedayeen were deployed to fight Shi’ite until Rep. Guard units could be re-deployed

o      stymied initial US advance





[1] See R. Jervis, “Reports, Politics, and Intelligence Failures: The Case of Iraq,” Journal of Strategic Studies 29:1 (Feb. 2006).

[2] Based on Gordon and Trainor, “Even as U.S. Invaded, Hussein Saw Iraqi Unrest as Top Threat,” New York Times. 12 Mar. 2006.