The President went to war in Iraq (according to the notes of David Manning, Tony Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser at the time) because we could not allow Saddam to go on playing with us.

We can try to parse that turn of phrase as much as want, but Manning’s five-page memo makes one thing clear:

The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable. Mr. Bush predicted that it was “unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups.” Mr. Blair agreed with that assessment.

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.

Contrary to all Bush’s assertions at the time, he was bent on war at any cost. He was willing, if necessary, to create a false casus belli. And he never took any of the intelligence he received about the likelihood of internecine strife seriously.

“After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my dad.”- George W. Bush, September 26, 2002

There were serious minded strategic thinkers that thought there was merit in removing Saddam Hussein from power. The twelve year sanctions regime had failed to weaken Saddam’s grip on power, had contributed to the resentment that fed bin-Ladenism, damaged the regional economies, and there was no international stomach for an indefinitate continuation of a failing program. Post-war revelations about the United Nations Oil-for-Food program and Security Council double dealing only strengthened the argument that sanctions were crumbling. Keeping Saddam in his box was going to be increasingly difficult.

But the President acted recklessly. No later than April 2002, according to British documents, Bush had decided on regime change. Only then, the decision being made, did he set the various government agencies in motion to acheive his purpose. He should have reversed this process, asking our intelligence agencies and the State, Energy and Treasury Departments to do feasibility studies and cost-risk analyses, before making a final decision. And he should have listened to what they had to say.

His decision to opt for war first, and then to ‘fix the facts around the policy’ put him not only in conflict with the realists in his own government, but divided the country and led to a total lack of consensus that war was necessary.

There are many veterans of our armed forces, intelligence services, and diplomatic corp that are running for public office this year. Almost all of them are running as Democrats. That is part of the price the Republicans are paying for Bush’s hubris.

But, his bungling is even rattling the center-right Washington Establishment. Take a look at poor Jim Hoagland this morning:

In radical Islamic propaganda, the United States has graduated from being a mere Great Satan out to undermine Iran’s ayatollahs to being depicted as a global monster responsible for virtually every crime and failing since the dawn of modern history. Meet the new Jews: the Americans.

Hoagland is looking around the world, and finding it distinctly uncomfortable for corporate friendly advocates of a rigorous American foreign policy. Tony Blair went down to Australia and went public with the same concerns.

Calling the anti-American feeling seen in parts of world politics “madness,” Blair said: “The danger with America today is not that they are too much involved. The danger is they decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage. We need them involved.”

As Iraq spirals down the drain, it is beginning to become clear that the lost war in Mesopotamia is going to have some unintended ramifications. It isn’t just our failure to succeed in our mission there. It’s the torture, the violation of the Geneva Conventions, the violations of the UN charter, the detention camps, the rendition programs and eastern European gulags. America has lost the moral high ground to lead on human rights. America has lost its self-confidence and its belief in itself. That is the biggest casualty, with the biggest long term consequences for international order.

As we watch the Iraq War fizzle out to its ignominious end, we are also watching something more profound. The end of an era where America was seen as a land of opportunity, freedom, and a can-do ethos.

And yet, for the left, we do not see the defeat in Iraq as a defeat for America. We didn’t want this war, we didn’t advocate for it, our advice was ignored and mocked, our warnings discarded, our voices of moderation deemed voices of weakness and appeasement. We weren’t asked to sacrifice for this war. The war was used to weaken and divide us. Our sadness isn’t that the war was lost, but that the damage has been so great.

I have one last piece of advice for Bush and Blair. Rather than trying to rally American and British support for a continuation of your folly, please start trying to redefine victory. Stop telling us that a withdrawal will be a great boon to the terrorists, thereby legitimizing their claims to victory when we do withdraw. Rather, tout your limited successes. Saddam Hussein is in custody and on trial. His psychotic sons are no more. Iraq has drawn up a constitution and has held elections. We have scoured the country and assured that they have no weapons of mass destruction to pass on to terrorists. It isn’t much to hang your hat on, but if you begin declaring that our goals have been largely met, you can begin justifying a withdrawal.

Whether Iraq can coalesce into a functioning state or not is no longer in our hands. We have neither the time, nor the inclination, nor the money to stick it out. And we don’t have the moral authority (anymore) to expect anyone to follow our lead. However preposterous, we should declare victory and leave.

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