An Unanswered Question

An Unanswered Question

I have a problem and I need President Bush to help solve it. I still don’t understand — really understand — why we went to war in Iraq.

Even after the President’s series of speeches on Iraq, even after the apparently successful parliamentary elections in that beleaguered country, I am still left with this nagging feeling that I don’t know the whole story of why we went into Iraq in the first place. And I can’t feel any sense of confidence about the whole exercise until the President clears that up.

Originally, of course, the President told us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that threatened the security of the United States. Frankly, I never understood that. Even if he did have such weapons — as most western intelligence agencies apparently believed he did — he had no means to deliver them 5,000 miles to U.S. shores. WMD’s might have threatened Saddam’s own people, possibly his neighbors and conceivably Israel, but not the United States. And with U.S. planes patrolling his skies and U.N. arms inspectors nosing about, even his neighbors had little to worry about. He was, as the saying goes, “in a box.”

Recently, President Bush conceded that the pre-war intelligence on which he based his rationale for the war was wrong. But he said he would have attacked Iraq anyway, because 9/11 changed his view of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. But how did it change his view, given that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11? The President didn’t say.

Mr. Bush still describes Iraq as the central front in the war on terrorism. That certainly wasn’t the case before we attacked Iraq. Afghanistan was the central front, Al Qaida was the enemy and Osama Bin Laden was its commander.

The President also tells us that a free, independent and Democratic Iraq will serve as a beacon for reform throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Perhaps. But it is by no means clear that a genuine democracy will in fact emerge in Iraq. History shows few examples where Democratic government has been imposed at the point of a gun.

So I am left with that nagging feeling that there were other reasons that motivated Mr. Bush and his advisers in the first place. Reasons they believed, but could not, or did not, articulate. Remember the determination with which they approached the invasion? All through the previous summer and fall, the Pentagon was shipping tens of thousands of U.S. forces per month to staging areas around Iraq. The President repeatedly said the decision to go to war had not been made, but practically it had. Were those troops really going to turn around and come home? They were there and they needed a war to fight.

So what really motivated that fateful decision? Was it a son wanting to finish a job his father had started with the first Gulf War in 1991? Was it a geopolitical move to project American power into an oil-rich region? Was it a desire by the world’s sole superpower to flex its muscles? Was it part of a grand design to impose a kind of Pax Americana? Was it to make the region safer for Israel? Or was it part of a broad, neo-conservative strategy to confront militant islamists head-on?

I don’t know. But if one or all of these factors moved the President originally to commit this nation to such a bloody and expensive enterprise, I wish he would tell us. We deserve to know.

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