UPDATE by von: Comments are closed. Thanks for playing, folks.
Why do the anti-war liberals get no love, despite their apparent vindication by events on the ground? Kevin Drum has an answer and Publius -- an anti-war liberal himself -- responds below. It should surprise no one that I think Drum has the better argument. The dominant arguments of the anti-war camp in 2002 were arguments against preemptive war, and did not emphasize the real flaws that resulted in the current mess. Indeed, if anything, these pre-war cries may have helped those in power justify a smaller force in Iraq -- to our enormous detriment.*
But that's a digression, and we'll not know the may-haves or could-bes for a long time to come (if ever). A contribution can still be made to the debate, however. It's important to recall that there were reasonable bases for many liberals and moderates to favor intervention in Iraq (I count myself among the moderates) . These reasons required neither total allegiance to President Bush nor a blind acceptance of General Frank's strategy: Indeed, many of us were calling for more troops from the very start. For context, consider the following statement, which I posted* on November 25, 2002 and which comes closest to explaining the bases for my decision to provide guarded support for the war. You'll note that the context was the ongoing Security Counsel debate regarding whether the invasion would have UN backing.
Resolved: The United Nations’ Security Counsel should endorse a U.S.-led attack on Iraq if Iraq does not fully comply with the U.N.-mandated inspections regime. The credibility of the Security Counsel is at stake; an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction will destabilize its neighbors; Iraq may share such weaponry with terrorists or other, rouge states; and Iraq’s past violations of international law merit a response, however belated. In addition, even a minimally-democratic Iraq, with its educated and secularized population, will likely restrain the Arab street and serve as a counterweight to an increasingly radicalized Saudi Arabia. Indeed, in no other (so-called) rogue nation — Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya — are the advantages of military action so clear, and the risks of inaction so dire.
There were two significant factual flaws in that analysis, of course. The first and biggest one was that Iraq possessed WMDs. Yet, I continue to think that this flaw was an excusable. Although it's undoubtedly true that Bush cherry-picked the best intelligence to aid his case, those who (today) act as if this lack-of-WMD thing was totally obvious from the start are doing their own selective remembering. The evidence for and against WMDs was at best muddled, in part intentionally by Hussein who wanted to avoid letting the world know of the "paper" aspect of his paper tigerdom.
If the first flaw is excusable, however, the second is not. The assumption that Iraq had a substantial "educated and secularized population" that would dominate the post-war environment was an assumption that was not supported by evidence. Although I was concerned about inflaming tribal and sectarian divisions post war -- one reason why I favored more troops from the get-go -- I did not appreciate the depth of those divisions. Nor did I appreciate that much of Iraq's education and secularization was skin deep (a partial side-effect, no doubt, of the damage done by the long sanctions regime). That was a significant misunderstanding, and one I continue to regret.
But, importantly, the context and course of the war debate did not devolve as straightforwardly and simply as Publius describes. Those who supported war -- those who won the argument at home and brought us this mess -- had rational reasons to do so. It may seem black and white now, but it wasn't then. And that is part of the reason why anti-war liberals are still getting no love: many of them*** saw the issue as black and white from the get go, when it wasn't -- and, truth be told, still isn't.
*At least the anti-war left learned the lesson of Nicias, who, in arguing against Athens' invasion of Sicily, stated that a truly outrageously-sized force was required to do the job. Thinking that the citizenry would never accept the sacrifices required, he was quite surprise when he got the forces he demanded and then was named general of the expidition.
**It was posted at a different website.
***Many does not mean all, and "many" does not include Publius.