Just read The New Republic’s editorial on whether it was right to support the war or not. I have some quibbles, but it seems pretty reasonable. I’m glad that they make this concession: “Iraqis, who we hoped (and still hope) will become a model for their region, have proved more susceptible to its pathologies than we expected. Fanatical Islam, America–hatred, and a penchant for conspiracy theories–all forces we hoped a free Iraq would undermine–have instead undermined our efforts to build liberal institutions.” A lot of Wilsonian supporters of the war have been very slow to admit that the nature of Iraq–a tribal society, ravaged by tyranny–is part of the problem with our occuptation there. They have preferred to pretend if their advice had been followed on various policies, more troops, more spending, Iraq would practically be a liberal democracy by now. Bully to TNR for being more honest than that. Also, I was struck by the last paragraph, which is very similar to the last paragraph of NR’s editorial two months ago that was denounced as “wobbly” on the TNR website: “The outcome of that debate is in Arab hands, not American ones. Even in Iraq, although we must still assist as best we can, our control is slipping away. Ultimately, it is this new, bewildering, liberating debate, rather than U.S. force of arms, upon which our hopes for Iraq, and the whole Arab world, now rest. Americans no longer have the power to redeem this war. But Iraqis still can.” Very reasonable stuff, but different in tone from (but not strictly contradictory with) Peter Beinart’s column a few weeks ago scoring conservatives for being ready to blame Iraqis if the occupation doesn’t work.
Anyway, I think it’s a totally reasonable exercise to re-examine the grounds for going to war, in light of events. But two fundamental points: 1) the decision to go to war always has to be made on the basis of imperfect knowledge at the time–you obviously can never make the decision in retrospect; 2) if you support a decision to go to war, you buy into things inevitably going wrong, and if you can’t handle that, or don’t think the venture will be worth it if they do, you shouldn’t support the war in the first place. That’s why the tone of some of the neo-cons lately, and the about-faces of some of those who banged the drums for this war very loudly strike me as pretty disgraceful.