It is reasonable to criticize experts in international affairs for failing to predict any of the momentous events of the past few decades. The fall of communism in Eastern Europe as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the "Arab Spring" all caught analysts by surprise. There are also cases, however, when the opposite is true and political Cassandras unanimously caution about something, but decision-makers simply dismiss them. Iraq is just one such case.
In the autumn of 2002, when it became clear that the George W. Bush administration was pushing for military action against then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, there was an effective consensus among Russian Orientalists. Save for a few negligible exceptions, they all unanimously asserted that such action would lead to chaos and ultimately to the disappearance of Iraq as a unified state. At all international conferences and in personal meetings, Russian specialists cautioned their American colleagues not to do it. Some of the interlocutors agreed; others nodded knowingly, while remaining unconvinced; while others still, especially those who worked directly with the US administration, shrugged their shoulders. There is no need to scare us, they'd say, the democratic transformation of the Middle East is inevitable, it has only to be encouraged.