The justifications fall into four broad categories:
* Saddam Hussein was a threat to stability in the Middle East.
On reexamination, one thumb up for the Bush administration. There is no question that Saddam was a genocidal maniac who murdered, raped and tortured his own people.
But with a severely diminished and poorly equipped military, including his elite Republican Guard, and credible evidence that United Nations inspections were keeping his weapons programs in check, Saddam was unable to back up his verbal bellicosity toward his neighbors, let alone the U.S.
* Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and had restarted his nuclear weapons program.
On reexamination, two thumbs down for the Bush administration. The now substantial record, including declassified intelligence reports and briefings, is utterly and absolutely damning.
The administration cherry picked the scant evidence that indicated Saddam might have WMDs and had restarted his nukes program while putting aside a vast body of evidence to the contrary.
* The invasion was a response to the 9/11 terror attacks because Saddam Hussein supported terrorism and had a working relationship with Al Qaeda.
On reexamination, two thumbs down for the Bush administration. While Saddam supported terrorism in the abstract and applauded the 9/11 attacks, he would not and did not allow independent terror cells to operate in Iraq and made no tangible contribution politically or otherwise to the people behind 9/11.
Herculean efforts by administration allies, including the conservative media, to try to make hay out of purported meetings between Saddam or his representatives and Al Qaeda operatives have not withstood scrutiny.
* The establishment of democracy in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq would engender its spread throughout the Middle East.
On reexamination, one thumb up for the Bush administration. This thumb is offered somewhat reluctantly because the democracy argument was showed up at the big dance only when the aforementioned justifications foundered.
After the invasion, Iraq reverted to its violent pre-Saddam sectarian divisions, making the chances of an American-style democracy succeeding slim to begin with and even more so since it is being shoved down Iraqi throats by an unpopular occupation army. It is more likely that a hybrid Iraq-style democracy not entirely pleasing to U.S. interests will prevail, but even that would be an improvement over Saddam's reign.
It is much too soon to tell whether other Middle Eastern countries have caught the democracy bug, but the omens are not bad. This assessment does not overlook the formidable odds against transitioning from totalitarian rule through the ballot box without substantial bloodshed, let alone the emergence of radical Islamic “democracies” repugnant to the West, but we can hope. I know that I do.
* * * *
So what do two thumbs up and six thumbs down amount to? Something more than a warm bucket of spit, but a whole lot less than a belated endorsement.
Truth be known, my reexamination was handicapped from the jump.
Drawing on the accumulated wisdom of my semi-dotage, my involvement as a journalist in covering a few wars (almost always from afar), and extensive reading on war in general, I had concluded a few months into this war that the karma behind it was incredibly bad.
Why? Because in the lead-up to the war, Bush, Cheyney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, among others, willfully misrepresented the justifications for it, thereby dooming even the worthier goals of their bloody enterprise to failure.
Beware ye skeptics. This karmic connection is not hippy-dippy stuff. History has repeatedly borne out that bad things, often times horribly bad things, occur when a nation is taken to war by leaders bent on fulfilling politically-driven philosophies that mesh only incidentally with larger realities. That is exactly what has happened in Iraq.
To quote the great American philosopher-songwriter Robert Hunter:
If you plant ice you’re gonna harvest wind.