Iraq against the World: Saddam, America, and the Post-Cold War Order

Publication Year



Samuel Helfont, Ph.D. 2015.

  • The first book to use internal Ba'th Party files to examine Iraqi foreign policy and post-Cold War international history
  • Offers new insights into the evolution of the post-Cold War order and reveals why wars in Iraq became a central feature of global politics for the past thirty years
  • Highlights previously unknown actors and strategies that were at the heart of Iraqi foreign policy in Saddam Hussein's Iraq

The move away from post-Cold War unipolarity and the rise of revisionist states like Russia and China pose a rapidly escalating and confounding threat for the liberal international order. In Iraq against the World, Samuel Helfont offers a new narrative of Iraqi foreign policy after the 1991 Gulf War to argue that Saddam Hussein executed a political warfare campaign that facilitated this disturbance to global norms. Following the Gulf War, the UN imposed sanctions and inspections on the Iraqi state--conditions that Saddam Hussein was in no position to challenge militarily or through traditional diplomacy. Hussein did, however, wage an influence campaign designed to break the unity of the UN Security Council. The Iraqis helped to impede emerging norms of international cooperation and prodded potentially revisionist states to act on latent inclinations to undermine a liberal post-Cold War order. Drawing on internal files from the ruling Ba'th Party, Helfont highlights previously unknown Iraqi foreign policy strategies, including the prominent use of influence operations and manipulative statesmanship. He traces Ba'thist operations around the globe--from the streets of New York and Stockholm, to the mosques of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to the halls of power in Paris and Moscow. Iraqi Ba'thists carried out espionage, planted stories in the foreign press, established overt and covert relations with various political parties, and attempted to silence anyone who disrupted their preferred political narrative. They presented themselves simply as Iraqis concerned about the suffering of their friends and families in their home country, and, consequently, were able to assemble a loose political coalition that was unknowingly being employed to meet Iraq's strategic goals. This, in turn, divided Western states and weakened norms of cooperation and consensus toward rules-based solutions to international disputes, causing significant damage to liberal internationalism and the institutions that were supposed to underpin it. A powerful reconsideration of the history of Iraqi foreign policy in the 1990s and the early 2000s, Iraq against the World offers new insights into the evolution of the post-Cold War order.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Iraq and the World
  • Precursors
  • The Gulf Crisis and the New World Order
  • Triumph and despair after the Gulf War
  • Building networks in the West, 1991-2
  • Toward influencing policy in non-Western World, 1991-2
  • Courting Clinton
  • A turning point for the New World Order
  • Breaking isolation
  • Normalization, 9/11, and the road to war
  • Conclusion and afterword: Saddam's Iraq and twenty-first century disorder.

Reviews and Endorsements

"Using the Iraqi archives for the first time, Helfont provides deep insights into how Saddam Hussein's Ba'thist regime sought to undermine America's post-Cold War order. Far from being a marginal actor on the global stage, Iraq's efforts inevitably placed it in the crosshairs of the George W. Bush administration and help explain why the disastrous invasion of Iraq became a White House obsession. The book successfully shifts our focus from great power politics to illustrate how relatively small countries can play important roles in world affairs. The focus on Iraq also helps explain wider transformations in international politics, and further emphasizes the central role of the Middle East over the last three decades." -- Bernard Haykel, Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University

"Helfont has written the essential book about Iraqi influence operations abroad during the leadership tenure of Saddam Hussein. While most existing studies have focused on Iraq's domestic political scene, Helfont gives us a window into Iraqi activities abroad, including the conditions under which the regime succeeded or failed in achieving its foreign policy objectives." -- Lisa Blaydes, Professor of Political Science, Stanford University

"Saddam Hussein's regime placed a high priority on undermining support for international sanctions on Iraq after 1991. Drawing on the vast archive of internal Ba'thist documents captured after the 2003 invasion, Samuel Helfont shows in gripping detail how the Iraqi regime sought to exploit global outrage over the humanitarian crisis. His account digs deep to document how Iraq attempted to manipulate well-intentioned civil society activists, journalists, politicians, and UN officials in a global campaign of information warfare and political manipulation." -- Marc Lynch, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University

"Samuel Helfont, a brilliant Arabist with extensive experience on the ground, does indeed offer 'profound and unprecedented insights into Iraq's foreign policy.'ÂHis authoritative account reveals how the shrewd Âmaneuvers of Saddam Hussein's global Ba'thist network vexed the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations' efforts to forge a 'new world order' following the 1991 Gulf War. A chilling read." -- Walter A. McDougall, Professor of History and International Relations, University of Pennsylvania

"This book deserves a wide readership among scholars of US foreign policy, global politics, and the Middle East. It is a landmark book not only of Iraq scholarship but global is also a model of clear and concise historical writing." -- Joseph D. Stieb, H-Diplo

"Recommended. Undergraduates through faculty; general readers." -- Choice

"This book is a persuasive study for readers who are interested in understanding changes happening in the character of the UAE, specifically after the formal accession of Mohammed bin Zayed as head of the UAE in 2022." -- China International Strategy Review

Oxford University Press
New York