A number of discussion threads on previous posts on Cindy Sheehan and other subjects have come back to the purpose and justness of the Iraq war. And as has been the case for more than two years, the matter gets wrapped up in the red herring of the WMD issue.
Why red herring? Because, as several commentators have noted, WMD was only one among several reasons given for the invasion of Iraq, and focusing in this alone is to ignore grand strategy. That WMD was overemphasized is the result of pure legalism (probably deferring to British insistence, I am told around DC), since WMD was the live legal issue that might have got UN blessing. A clear mistake, in retrospect. But does anyone think that if we had found WMD, the carnage and difficulty in Iraq today would be any less controversial? Would Cindy Sheehan not have gone to Texas if we had found a huge sarin gas plant? (Remember: She has said she opposes our actions in Afghanistan, too.)
Iraq, it is said, didnt attack us on September 11 (though we were in a de facto state of war already, with Iraq shooting at our UN-sanctioned flights every day and having attempted to assassinate a former U.S. president, among other things). True, but neither did Germany attack us in 1941. Yet after Pearl Harbor, where did we land troops first? North Africa. Go figure.
Throughout 1942 there were numerous opportunistic Republicans criticizing FDRs "Europe first" strategy, saying, "Japan attacked us, not Germany; why are we getting involved in Europe again. It ended badly last time, etc." (See Fred Siegels fine account of this in his book Troubled Journey.) Sounds rather like the other party today. Democrats lost something like 60 House seats in the 1942 election; the great collective memory of American unity in the early innings of WWII is a myth.
The grand strategy after September 11 is fairly clear: we are going to attempt to restructure the Middle East. It is put in more idealistic terms (democracy, etc), but then transforming Japan and Germany into stable democracies was not the explicit endgame of WWII grand strategy either. In this case we are more forthright about the desirable endgame. Today we have reversed the rhetoric, which, conversely, makes the policy more difficult to judge a success along the way. Perhaps we should have started with Iran instead (this is Michael Ledeens argument) or with Saudi Arabia or Syria (Libya seems to have got the message), but it cannot be denied that this, and not WMDs, is the central purpose afoot.
It could be put even simpler. In a conversation with a moderate liberal journalist friend in Washington who hates the war and has become a huge Bush critic, I remarked that the whole thing was rather more straightforward: When something like September 11 happens, someone is going to lose their country. Iraq is at or near the top of any short list of candidates. To which he replied: If Bush had said that, Id could support it.