Free to Do Good?: Humanitarian Justifications and Perceptions of Norm Abuse in Iraq, 2003-2008
Posted: 22 Aug 2014
Date Written: 2014
The 2003 U.S. war in Iraq is notable for its duration and foreign policy consequences, as well as the multiple and changing justifications the Bush administration used to explain U.S. involvement. In particular, Bush’s use of humanitarian justifications in the Iraq case has drawn the attention and criticism of scholars who argue that this is a case of norm abuse with negative consequences for the future of humanitarian intervention norms. However, the pattern of humanitarian justifications does not match accounts of abuse, raising the questions: What drove the use of humanitarian justifications in Iraq? What drives perceptions of norm abuse? Using regression models and an original dataset based on content analysis of presidential speeches and media reports, the paper tests hypotheses that humanitarian justifications replaced the WMD rationale and that justifications are responsive to changes in public opinion. The paper argues that perceptions of norm abuse are more closely driven by media accounts of the conflict than by the pattern of presidential justifications. These findings have important implications for understanding public perceptions of conflict, the development of humanitarian norms, and future responses to mass atrocities.
Keywords: Humanitarian, Iraq, Media, Public Opinion
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