Since before the Iraq war started, I have had a disagreement with a friend over whether it was justified, what the president’s motives were in starting it, and whether the Bush Administration behaved inappropriately in selling the war to the American public.
My friend contends that Saddam’s lies about having WMD were plenty of justification for the war; while I contend it was not justified, based on the available intelligence and the possibility of getting full access for the U.N. weapons inspectors. I do agree that we would likely have had to deal with Saddam militarily, but at a future date and with a full understanding, by the American people, of why we were doing it, as well as a full set of plans for doing so. My friend’s opinion is that if there was even the slightest chance of Saddam having WMD, it was worth it to invade Iraq and make sure he couldn’t use the weapons. That is, the nature of the threat was such that we couldn’t afford to wait for more concrete evidence, which Saddam was unlikely to provide anyway.
As for Bush’s motives, extensive reading convinces me that until 9/11/2001, Bush was gradually being convinced of the neoconservative agenda of U.S. hegemony, beginning with the Middle East, but the terrorist attacks pushed him over the edge. Starting with Cheney, Bush and his administration became extremely paranoid, so that they were willing to attack any nation that looked like a possible threat. They decided to make an example of Saddam, who we already had some bad history with, so as to scare any other potential state sponsors of terrorism. That this would be a convenient first step in transforming the Middle East into a democratic region was a bonus, if not a valid long-term justification. My friend does not buy the neocon angle, believing Bush acted merely in defense of the country. He does however admit that Bush probably became paranoid after 9/11, and that he did what any politician would do, using the terrorist attacks to sell the war.
Where my friend and I have the strongest disagreement is over the validity of the tactics used to go to war. I have little doubt that the Bush Administration lied to Congress, the American public, and the world, to gather support for the invasion of Iraq. There is ample evidence that our leaders knew that what they were advertising as certain facts were actually shaky suppositions based on questionable information. My friend rejects such evidence as “Monday morning quarterbacking” led by disaffected public servants, and believes that there was almost no credible evidence one way or the other about WMD (largely because the CIA was untrustworthy after missing the existence of WMD prior to the Gulf War). That there was even a slight chance that Saddam had weapons, implied by his statements to that effect after kicking out the weapons inspectors, was reason enough to cherry pick the intelligence, flawed as it might be, to make the case for war. My friend insists that Bush did not lie, but rather made a judgment call as to the validity of the intelligence he had. My attitude is that Bush should have made the case honestly, and taken the consequences if it did not fly with the people; but my friend argues that this would have carried too much of a risk, that debate and diplomacy typically result in doing nothing, which could have been catastrophic.
Whatever the justification, the motives, and the tactics in marketing of the war, the result has been a disaster; though here, too, my friend and I disagree. He believes that if the U.S. had not toppled Saddam, Iraq would have been plunged into civil war as soon as something else happened to the dictator. The difference is that our forces are there to keep organized armies from forming, and to keep foreign forces (such as terrorists) from taking over the country. The Iraqis, in his opinion, are actually better off. My attitude, by contrast, is that if resistance to Saddam was home-grown, then the Iraqi people themselves would have been be able to make a decent transition to a new state; and encouraging such resistance through dissemination of information and humanitarian supplies, as well as selectively strangling military inputs to the economy, was our only legitimate option. Now all we have is a destabilized country with hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead offering a terrorist training ground that didn’t exist before, and a radicalized region on the verge of triggering a world war. Somehow, I don’t think that they, or we, are better off.