George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein: Why the United States Went to War in Iraq in March 2003

Professor Melvyn P. Leffler is the Edward Stettinius Chair of American History at the University of Virginia and Miegunyah Distinguished Visiting Fellow 2016 at The University of Melbourne.

2016 Miegunyah Lecture


Professor Melvyn P. Leffler


The war in Iraq launched in 2003 was a decisive moment in post-Cold War international history. This lecture will challenge and interrogate prevailing interpretations of why the United States went to war in March 2003. Critics argue that hubris, power, and greed (oil) inspired the neoconservatives in the Bush administration to push for war. These critics are not wrong, but their explanation is incomplete.

A more textured account of the decision to go to war is essential to illuminate the complexities of decision-making and to understand why policy turned out so tragically. Based on interviews with leading members of the Bush administration, captured Iraqi records, documents and records from the Chilcot parliamentary inquiry in the United Kingdom, declassified U.S. documents, and memoirs and public interviews, this lecture offers a new synthesis, arguing that in addition to hubris and power, fear, threat perception, guilt over 9/11, a sense of responsibility, and worries about domestic political recriminations exerted decisive influence on policymakers.

Short biography

Professor Melvyn P. Leffler has authored, coauthored, or coedited nine books including For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War (2007); most recently he coedited Shaper Nations: Strategies for a Changing World. He is a past president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and has been a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the United States Institute of Peace, the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and the Norwegian Nobel Institute. He has also been the Henry Kissinger Chair at the Library of Congress and has held the Harmsworth Professorship at Oxford and a distinguished visiting professorship at Cambridge University.