Why did we invade Iraq?
A number of bloggers have pondered that question over the last few weeks. The original impetus was the Downing Street memos. Rather than the usual speculation about the immediate tactical effect of the latest proof of the Bush administration's mendacity, the memo has brought on some very thoughtful eriting about the larger meaning of it all.
Many of us suspected that Bush planned to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam long before he was appointed to the presidency. He was merely looking for a good excuse.
The 9/11 attacks didn't provide as direct a reason as he needed, so his people came up with the WMD excuse. When members and former members of the administration claim they believed the intelligence that indicated Saddam had WMDs, they are being deceptive. But we shouldn't ask if they believed the intelligence. Most people have no trouble believing evidence that confirms what they already want to believe. We should ask if it was the WMD intelligence that convinced them of the need to invade or if they were already convinced of the need and the WMD intelligence was nothing more than a convenient causus beli.
When they began their marketing campaign to sell the war to the American (and to a far lesser extent, the World) public, the administration only mentioned disarming Saddam as a goal. At some point between the November 2002 election and the invasion, the publicly stated goal imperceptibly evolved into regime change, overthrowing Saddam. Again, many of us believed that was the goal all along.
This is what the Downing Street Memos prove. Till now, we have only had our suspicions, some unguarded comments by members of the administration, and some compromising actions. None of it added up to proof. The Memos are proof.
Democrats, liberals, independents, and sane Republicans (and they do still exist) need to pursue two lines of questioning at this point.
The first line of questioning is about the past. Why did we go into Iraq? We need to bring the duplicity of the Bush administration into the light of day. We don't do this because it will hurt the administration, because we want to gloat about being right, or for the sake of the historical record--those are just fringe benefits--we need to do it to show a world that no longer trusts us that we are capable of cleaning our own house. We can never gain back all that the administration has destroyed, but we can move things in the right direction.
The second line of questioning is about the present and future. Why are we still in Iraq? When the administration says we must stay the course, complete the mission, or whatever the metaphor of the day is, what do they mean? What is our goal? How will we measure our progress?
If our goal was to disarm Saddam, then we are finished and we should leave. If our goal was to remove Saddam from power, then we are finished and we should leave. If our goal was to paint their schools, as I have suggested, then we need to count the number of unpainted schools left in the country and produce a monthly progress report for congress saying how many schools have been painted and at what cost. If our goal was to make Israel safer, then we have failed. If our goal was to create a corporate playground for Bush donors to loot at their leisure, then we need to impeach everyone in sight.
The closest the administration comes to answering this question is to make statements about Iraq being transformed into something that it is not now, peaceful, prosperous, friendly, secular, democratic, or capable of providing its own security. Are we holding out for all of these things? How do we quantify each? How peaceful or democratic must it be before our job is done? What are the benchmarks of success? Will we sacrifice some of those goals to others? Will we settle for a peaceful but friendly dictatorship, as we so often have in the past? How about a democratically elected theocracy?
Right now the administration is shouting, "We will not set forth a timetable for withdrawal." Fine. Don't name dates, just tell us how we can tell when "the job is done" or even whether we are moving in the right direction. Give us enough information that we can each make our own checklists to follow our progress.