Steven Den Beste presents the detailed argument of why we went to war with Iraq, what we hoped to accomplish, and why the deceptions by the Bush administration leading up to the war weren’t a big deal. He and I have something in common — we know the real reasons why we invaded Iraq, and they didn’t have much to do with so-called “weapons of mass destruction.” I think Den Beste gives the Bush administration too much credit in assuming that they share his master plan, but he’s certainly right in saying that the real reason for the invasion was to shove the whole Middle East in a different direction.
Unfortunately, his view of the war, or more importantly, the politics surrounding the war, are a bit too academic. Bush faced a tough task in getting the war that he wanted, and that was convincing us that it was necessary. Tony Blair faced the same task with the British people, he failed, and he went to war anyway. The thing of it is, Bush could have chosen to reveal the real reasoning to the world (instead of the wink and a nudge approach that was taken), but he didn’t. He could have told us about how the situation as it stood with Iraq was utterly unsustainable (which it was), or about how improving the situation for the people of Iraq would create a chain of events that would improve the lives of many people in the Middle East (which it might), but he didn’t. Instead he told us scary stories about bogus ties between Al Qaeda and the Hussein regime and about the weapons that Iraq was supposed to have been amassing. Not retaining the technology to someday make, not letting rot somewhere hidden, but amassing for use by terrorists or for immediate deployment against Iraq’s enemies. The UN didn’t buy it, the American people did.
The Bush administration didn’t like the odds of being forthright with us, and so they went another route. Now it’s time to follow that route to the logical conclusion. You can’t start a war based on a premise and then come around after it’s over and say, “Who cares if that was bogus? Based on the real reason for the war, things are going great!” Well, actually, you can. The question is whether or not people are willing to go along with it.
President Bush decided that it was perfectly OK to start a war based on violations of UN sanctions without getting the approval of the UN ourselves. He decided that invading Iraq was more important than keeping our alliances in good repair. The reason people accepted that is that they were told that Iraq presented an immediate threat to the United States, and that Iraq’s weapons and their ability to hand them out were the basis of that threat. Regardless of how well the reconstruction goes (I hope it goes incredibly well, although signs are mixed at best right now), and regardless of how much it costs (it’s been very expensive, and will grow more expensive as we have to enlarge our military to cover our new commitments), and regardless of the long term impact on our military capabilities, there must be a political accounting for the things we were told before we went down this path, and for what it has cost us.
Those are the aspects that Den Beste ignores in his analysis. He’s right in that in terms of the real reasons for the war, all the controversy about lies in the State of the Union, and the Bush administration’s mistreatment of the CIA are completely irrelevant. But there are millions of people out there who supported this war based on the reasons that they were told, and not the reasons that were discussed publicly but outside the public eye, and who are only now coming around to the fact that they believed a line of BS and that the war has to be evaluated based on a different set of metrics.