On Overconfidence

By Mustafa Rasheed

The following essay briefly explores the root of conflict in modern post-colonial countries that are currently ravaged by violence and conflict. Additionally, it explores the imperialist/superior attitude of a superpower over a smaller country through the experience of the United States and Iraq. This is a continuation of a series of essays I wrote for Dr. Eric Montgomery’s Introduction to Peace and Conflict class at Wayne State University.

Aside for technical revisions, there has been no substantial revision from the paper. I wish to thank Dr. Eric Montgomery, Ph. D and Cultural Anthropologist at Wayne State University. The opinions and any errors herein are, of course, solely mine.


The Republic of Iraq is no stranger to constant tides of violence. Since its inception, Iraq has been marked by strenuous de-colonization, coup d’etats, a war with Iran, an invasion of Kuwait, an invasion from the United States, countless casualties and bombings, and a second Western invasion, all up until 2003. Since the United States’ withdrawal, instability and sectarian violence has sprawled out the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Today, a conglomerate of factions including the Kurds, The United States, the Iraqi government, ISIS, and more continue to fight in order to gain control of the country. Many have argued that massive imperialism, intervention, and instability caused by Western powers onto Iraq are to blame for the rampant violence sweeping the country. In addition, many argue that the decision to invade Iraq was wrong, and that the United States acted with little intelligence and false intentions. Although these are valid points about the American intervention in 2003, the pre-existing belief of victory in American leadership that resulted in the further destabilization of Iraq represents the overconfidence in a country’s militaristic strength in complicated conflicts.

As societies continue to emerge out of the age of colonization, many fall victim to the clash of ethnicities and cultures that were lumped together into countries by colonial cartographers. In addition, imperialist countries continued to pursue political agendas in such countries. With the influx of ethnicities, religions, and political ideologies all in one place, it is no wonder such countries are war-torn. Iraq is no exception, and it represents how complex societies have become like never before. Therefore, the paradigm to how governments approach war should be more understanding of the societies they go to war with. Unfortunately, governments continue to use military might against opponents in order to secure short-term peace. This pre-existing belief of victory creates a sense of arrogance in command. According to Barash and Webel, “People-including state leaders-often exhibit selective attention, so if they are already committed to a course of action, they tend to disregard what they do not want to hear, focusing only on information that confirms their preexisting beliefs”(Barash & Webel 212). The concept of pre-existing beliefs certainly played its role in the invasion of Iraq as, “It seems increasingly clear that prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq, White House officials not only cherry-picked intelligence information that supported their predetermined insistence on going to war, but they also intimidated CIA and State Department officials who disagreed with them” (Barash & Webel 212). As can be expected, predetermined beliefs in war leads to stubbornness and overconfidence. Barash and Webel explain, “Self-delusion is rampant in the events before a war and in its early stages” (Barash & Webel 220). It must be asked, where did these beliefs and overconfidence in the leadership come from? These delusions can certainly be attributed the reliance on the might of the US military, simplistically believing that shear strength can overpower any calamity or conflict. However, as Iraq now shows, the world needs to shift its means to understanding conflict and where it arises from. No longer is it military against military, but war against ideologies that reek of violence and populations who will die to achieve it.

Iraq represents the state of countries that have been plagued by imperialism and intervention. Many countries and societies fight for self-determination and it high time that other countries understand that an overestimation of a people and their beliefs can certainly lead to dramatic developments that will bring the world closer to global war. Therefore, when analyzing conflict, state leaders must hold themselves in check and rely strictly on proper research and intelligence and not on predetermined beliefs and overconfidence in military in order to prevent disasters such as Iraq in the future.

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