Slow Burn: The Road to the Iraq War

Season 5: Episode 8

Shock and Awe

Who’s most responsible for the failures of postwar Iraq?


Episode Notes

The Bush administration didn’t just fail to plan for postwar Iraq. Before and during the invasion, they made choices that compounded the mistake of going to war. Those decisions had lasting consequences for the world and for the Iraqi people. Who’s most responsible for that tragedy?

Season 5 of Slow Burn is produced by Noreen Malone, Jayson De Leon, and Sophie Summergrad. Mixing by Merritt Jacob.

The last two episodes of this season are available only to Slate Plus subscribers. You can sign up by going to It’s only $15 for your first three months.

Sources for This Episode


Bonin, Richard. Arrows of the Night: Ahmad Chalabi’s Long Journey to Triumph in Iraq, Doubleday, 2011.

Draper, Robert. To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq, Penguin Press, 2020.

Isikoff, Michael and David Corn. Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Crown, 2006.

Packer, George. The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

Rich, Frank. The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth in Bush’s America,
Penguin Press, 2006.  

Woodward, Bob. Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq, Simon & Schuster, 2004.


Andrews, Edmund L. “Envoy’s Letter Counters Bush on Dismantling of Iraq Army,” New York Times, Sept. 4, 2007.

Arraf, Jane. “Iraq, Struggling to Pay Debts and Salaries, Plunges Into Economic Crisis,” New York Times, Jan. 4, 2021.

Bensahel, Nora, Olga Oliker, Keith Crane, Richard R. Brennan, Jr., Heather S. Gregg, Thomas Sullivan, and Andrew Rathmell. “After Saddam Prewar Planning and the Occupation of Iraq,” RAND, 2008.

Borger, Julian. “Bush gives Saddam and his sons 48 hours to leave Iraq,” Guardian, March 17, 2003.

Bremer III, Paul L. “How I Didn’t Dismantle Iraq’s Army,” New York Times, Sept. 6, 2007.

Bump, Philip. “15 Years After the Iraq War Began, the Death Toll Is Still Murky,” Washington Post, March 20, 2018.

Cockburn, Andrew. “Iraq’s Oppressed Majority,” Smithsonian, December 2003.

Fearon, James. “Iraq’s Civil War,” Foreign Affairs, March-April 2007.

Filkins, Dexter. “Regrets Only?” New York Times Magazine, Oct. 7, 2007.

Gibbons, Fiachra. “Experts Mourn the Lion of Nimrud, Looted as Troops Stood By,” Guardian, April 30, 2003.

Gordon, Michael R. “Fateful Choice on Iraq Army Bypassed Debate,” New York Times, March 17, 2008.

Hagopian, Amy, Abraham D. Flaxman, Tim K. Takaro, Sahar A. Esa Al Shatari, Julie Rajaratnam, Stan Becker, Alison Levin-Rector, Lindsay Galway, Berq J. Hadi Al-Yasseri, William M. Weiss, Christopher J. Murray, and Gilbert Burnham. “Mortality in Iraq Associated with the 2003 War and Occupation: Findings from a National Cluster Sample Survey by the University Iraq Collaborative Mortality Study,” PLOS Medicine, Oct. 15, 2013.

Jehl, Douglas and Elizabeth Becker. “Experts’ Pleas to Pentagon Didn’t Save Museum,” New York Times, April 16, 2003.

Kaplan, Fred. “Who Made the Worst Decision of the Iraq War?,” Slate, March 27, 2018.

L. Paul Bremer III Oral History, UVA Miller Center, Aug. 28-29, 2012.

Mitchell, Greg. “Five Years Ago: How the Media Gushed Over “Mission Accomplished”,” HuffPost, May 1, 2008.

Rich, Frank. “And Now: ‘Operation Iraqi Looting,’ ” New York Times, April 27, 2003.

Rubin, Alissa J. “Ahmad Chalabi and the Legacy of De-Baathification in Iraq,” New York Times, Nov. 3, 2015.

Sanger, David E. with John F. Burns. “Bush Orders Start of War on Iraq; Missiles Said to Be Aimed at Hussein,” New York Times, March 19, 2003.

Slevin, Peter. “Wrong Turn at a Postwar Crossroads?,” Washington Post, Nov. 20, 2003.

Sly, Liz. “The Hidden Hand Behind the Islamic State Militants? Saddam Hussein’s.,” Washington Post, April 4, 2015.

Solomon, John. “Bush, Harvard Business School And the Makings of a President,” New York Times, June 18, 2000.

Sumaida’ie, Samir. “The Hijacking of Democracy: The Role of Political Parties in Iraq,” Wilson Center, April 8, 2021.

Thompson, Mark. “How Disbanding the Iraqi Army Fueled ISIS,” Time, May 28, 2015.

Tyler, Patrick E. “Iraqi Factions Agree on Members of Governing Council,” New York Times, July 13, 2003.

Tyler, Patrick E. and Edmund L. Andrews. “U.S. Overhauls Administration To Govern Iraq,” New York Times, May 12, 2003.

Wolfe, Alexandra. “Kanan Makiya: How Iraq Went Wrong,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 12, 2016.

Worth, Robert F. “Inside the Iraqi Kleptocracy,” New York Times, July 29, 2020.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

From the Iraqi Perspective

What the American invasion was like for those who had lived under Saddam Hussein’s regime.


About the Show

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq without provocation. Most Americans supported the war—as did most politicians and intellectuals, both liberal and conservative. Today, it’s universally considered a disaster.

Hosted by award-winning reporter Noreen Malone, the fifth season of Slow Burn explores the people and ideas that propelled the country into the Iraq war, and the institutions that failed to stop it. How did the Iraq catastrophe happen? And what was it like to watch America make one of its most consequential mistakes?

All episodes


  • Noreen Malone is the host of Slow Burn Season 5. Formerly, she was the editorial director of New York magazine and a host of Slate’s The Waves. Her magazine reporting has earned a George Polk Award.