Jonah Goldberg, usually of National Review Online, says in the Los Angeles Times that Iraq was a "worthy mistake" which seems like a contradiction in terms to me if ever there was one. I don't buy that argument, but lots of conservatives, right now, want to say something like this. Mr. Goldberg does have one right on the money point:
We are in Iraq for good reasons and for reasons that were well-intentioned but wrong. But we are there. Those who say that it's not the central front in the war on terror are in a worse state of denial than they think Bush is in. Of course it's the central front in the war on terror. That it has become so is a valid criticism of Bush, but it's also strong reason for seeing our Iraqi intervention through. If we pull out precipitously, jihadism will open a franchise in Iraq and gain steam around the world, and the U.S. will be weakened.
My disagreement with Mr. Goldberg concerns why we went to war: Mr. Goldberg contends that our reasons were "well-intentioned but wrong." The problem with Mr. Goldberg's argument is that he is extremely vague on just what the war was for. Mr. Goldberg says that "the failure to find weapons of mass destruction was a side-issue." But just previous to that, he tells us that the Democrats in Congress who supported the war were ". . .right to vote for the war given what was known -- or what was believed to have been known -- in 2003." What is Mr. Goldberg talking about other than the WMD's we failed to find, that he just termed a "side issue ?"
My own understanding of why we went to war has nothing to do with WMD's -- or with democracy promotion, which, Mr. Goldberg tells us, Bush's critics claim was an "afterthought" to "rebrand a war gone sour." I might agree with that, but in a different sense -- for me, the war was not about democracy, either. I have explained my reasons for war with Iraq more fully in another place, and I have little to add to that discussion. I would maintain that the administration made a serious mistake buying too deeply into its own propaganda on democracy promotion. Creation of republican institutions in a tribalized society was probably impossible to begin with. Making democracy building an objective simply set the bar for success much too high.
The fixation on democracy has undercut the main strategic justification for the war -- which was to frighten local regimes into cooperating with the US in hunting down Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda sympathizers, and make an example of Saddam Hussein: an open, defiant opponent of US influence. The difficulty is that it was not diplomatically or politically judicious for the government to articulate such objectives in public: which occasioned a search by defenders of the US effort for secondary causes and objectives such as WMD and democracy building.