Davids rejoinder might be summarized as a counsel of caution, along with a meditation on what course prudence demands.
I seldom worry that American government is being incautious anymore (except when it comes to domestic social policy, where there is seldom any caution. . .) To the contrary, I worry about an excess of caution, of the kind that leads to the kind of half-measures we saw in Vietnam. This is especially the case, I think, in our national security structure. As Churchill once remarked of such a process, "Everyone claims his margin at every stage, and the sum of the margins is usually no." In the current context, I am guessing the role of caution is being very well represented by Colin Powell (whom I suspect is not as bad as many conservatives think).
A more interesting problem is the question that both David and I have raised: If we smash up Iraq, then what? Are we prepared to run the place as we did Japan after 1945? And on what basis do we expect to succeed? We have, I think, debated and thought through the idea of pre-emptive war, but we have not had a serious debate about the prospect of American empire which this entails, an empire, however temporary, that derives from Americas principles as well as its interests, as Peter suggests. I think we need to have this discussion soon. (It might, by the way, have salutary benefits on the calculations of the Iraqi military and other leaders to hear talk of the U.S. deciding that it IS willing to run the place for the next five years. They might decide to start reforming the country on its own.)
I am in heated agreement with David that an American occupation of Iraq may be a very bad idea, though I am less persuaded that there is mass anti-American sentiment in Iraq and other Middle East nations. I think there is a chance that there may be a large number of Iraqis who would welcome liberation by Americans from Saddams tyranny, just as there were in Afghanistan, and from such people ther core of a decent polity might be forged. I have had one conversation with a member of the exiled opposition Iraqi National Congress who argues this case, though obviously he has an ax to grind. (We might we be able to win the trust of the Kurds, if we can persuade them that they wont be abandoned again.) It is hard to tell from here. (Michael Ledeen argues forcefully that ordinary Iranians have become very pro-American and would welcome our help in ousting the mullahs.) Ultimately Bushs decision will likely be guided by another Churchill maxim: "Assume that the favorable and adverse chances equate, and then eliminate them from the calculation."
Finally, I am not sure I agree with David that the war on AQ and the war against Iraq are separate enterprises. To do so means rejecting the case made by Laurie Mylroie, former CIA chief James Woolsey, and others that Iraq is deeply involved with AQ, had a role in the 1993 WTC bombing, etc. Perhaps Mylroie and Woolsey are wrong (the supposed meeting in Prague between Atta and an Iraqi intelligence operative is in hot dispute, as is the claim that Iraq has a Boeing airplane for terrorists to train in--I think that if such a plane exists, it would be kept in a hangar away from snooping US satellites and not out in plain sight where it can be shown on Fox News. . .). To repeat what I said before, it is strange to me that the U.S. wouldnt cite such evidence if they have it, unless it is too circumstantial.
It may be a more prudent course to go about patiently rolling up terrorists bit by bit. I have my doubts. It seemed to me that one of the virtues of the hellfile missile attack on the car in Yemen was that it sent the signal that the U.S. was able and willing to kill terrorists in other nations besides Afghanistan.