Matt Yglesias has a shrewd post on the on-going meta-debate about the what ifs and coulda shouldas of Iraq. Matt is advancing the increasingly convincing argument that even under the most competent and well-supplied management the entire Iraq endeavor may have been doomed to failure.
I said some of my piece on this question last month. But let me suggest another fold of the debate that seems seldom discussed nowadays.
All of our reasoning on this subject today is governed by the fact that it has proven an immensely challenging, perhaps impossible task. That weighs against the fact that the key casus belli — the presence of weapons of mass destruction — turned out to be false.
So we have an immensely difficult, even impossible, challenge that we embarked on — let’s be frank — for no good reason. And you don’t have to be a genius to add up the pros and cons of that one.
But what if there had been weapons of mass destruction? Some in place and an active program under way?
Yes, I know this is a counter-factual which you may think has no particular point or reason now. But bear with me.
The notional reason for what happened in 2002 and early 2003 was not to overthrow the Iraqi government but to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction program. To many it seemed that the latter almost necessarily required the former. And under the erroneous information then considered conventional wisdom, that reasoning had a certain logic.
But here’s the key. If our goal had actually been the elimination of a dangerous weapons of mass destruction program — the one challenge that might conceivably have merited the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into — we might well not be in this situation at all.
Support for war really could be contingent on this question. And forcing intrusive inspections could have — indeed, it was in the course of demonstrating that the WMD threat was bogus and that war was unnecessary. That was the reason the White House was so eager to launch the war when it did. Their rationale was in the midst of being cut out from under them.
The difficulty of the situation we’re in can’t be evaluated without an accounting of whether we had a good reason to get ourselves into this mess. And I guess I’m saying that there was a way we could have had our cake and eaten it too.
Now, some of you will say that my argument here is an effort to rationalize or justify my one-time, contigent support for war. And to some degree that is certainly right. In a case like this everyone’s motives and biases deserve scrutiny. Still I think this part of the equation gets too little attention today. There is another part of this puzzle beside easy reconstruction vs. disastrous reconstruction and WMDs vs. no WMDs.
Of course, this leaves aside the folly of intentions that I think was the liberal hawks’ greatest error.