Frank Harvey, Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., won two awards from the Canadian Political Science Association for research on the Iraq War. "He took home best international relations book for Explaining the Iraq War: Counterfactual Theory, Logic and Evidence and best article for “President Al Gore and the 2003 Iraq War: A Counterfactual Test of Conventional ‘W’isdom,” published in The Canadian Journal of Political Science," reported DAL NEWS.
Harvey takes the view that the United States would have invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein no matter who was president. Blame for the war cannot go exclusively to George W. Bush any more than blame for the Vietnam War could go to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party -- it was various domestic and international pressures and flaws in the United States' ways of thinking about the region that was to blame. As he told DAL NEWS:
He uses counterfactual analysis to propose how Gore would have had to give way to the same pressures if he had been elected president, and provides evidence that Gore (and his senior advisers) endorsed the Iraq strategy adopted by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair.
“Counterfactual analysis, when done well, serves as a powerful tool for challenging conventional wisdom,” says Dr. Harvey.
He uses facts and carefully researched and organized analysis to counter the widespread belief that the Iraq war was a direct product of a ‘neoconservative’ agenda that would not have been relevant had Gore been elected.
“In other words, if X is necessary for Y, then the absence of X would be sufficient to avoid Y — that is the essence of counterfactual analysis,” explains Dr. Harvey.
Not all readers have readily accepted Dr. Harvey’s arguments, and his theories stand in stark contrast to the more popular belief that Bush and a few ideologically motivated advisers were to blame for the war in Iraq.
“The version of history outlined in my book spreads the blame and responsibility very widely,” he says. “I certainly did not write the book to make any friends in Washington.”
He focuses on the Iraq war as a prime example of how U.S. foreign policy is problematized by the way American bureaucracy handles intelligence and other information pertaining to national security threats. Dr. Harvey’s readers take away the conclusion that the methods of assessing and circulating this sort of information need to be reformed.
“Policy preferences have very little to do with who these leaders are, and usually have more to do with the domestic interests and international pressures leaders attempt to balance on behalf of the states they govern,” he says.
Dr. Harvey believes that actions during the Obama administration strongly support his claims, as he explains in the book’s conclusion.
“Obama’s choices when in power reinforced my interpretation of U.S. foreign policy trends, namely, that leadership and ideology make little difference when it comes to Washington’s foreign policy priorities.”
In teaching a course in Global Violence, Dr. Harvey asks students to complete counterfactual exercises. He wants them to learn to challenge existing historical documentation of major conflicts by logically predicting the future effects of a hypothetical change in these histories.
“I think these two goals (explaining the past and improving the future) are connected,” says Dr. Harvey, “because learning the right lessons through counterfactual analysis can be essential to developing effective policies to prevent similar mistakes from recurring in the future.”
Of Harvey's alternative history book imagining "what if" Gore was president and confronted with a decision to invade Iraq, Richard Ned Lebow, James O. Freedman Presidential Professor, Dartmouth College, wrote it is "a sophisticated use of counterfactuals to go beyond ideologically motivated explanations for the Iraq War. Harvey's method and its application will impress even those who are not persuaded by his argument that a Gore administration would also have gone to war."