Orin Kerr, over at The Volokh Conspiracy, has challenged bloggers to justify the war in Iraq. I'll give it a shot, but, since time and other factors prevent a full defense, I'll have to give down and dirty answers. I just hope no one thinks this is the best the pro-war side has to offer.
Kerr asks three specific questions, which I'll answer in order.
1. " First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?"
I was in favor, and nothing that's happened since has changed that. The point then was how serious a threat Iraq under Saddam Hussein was. Luckily for the anti-war side, now that he's vanquished, they can sit in their armchairs and pretend he wasn't dangerous. I think the facts argue otherwise. Without going into great detail, he was an unstable, ruthless, bellicose tyrant (with sons who were no better) who openly favored anti-Western terrorism, was our sworn enemy, helped those who violently opposed us, had the capacity to build WMDs very quickly (perhaps even had them--a point not that important in the long run if he could make them whenever he wanted), and was openly seeking nuclear and other weapons abroad. Furthermore, we had been holding him down in a shaky "truce" since the 1991 war while he had been ignoring all demands, from the UN and otherwise, to clean up his act. The situation was unstable--it's doubtful the box we had him in, even if we could keep it up, would have been of any use. He seemed to be paying off powerful friends to protect himself, and was planning for the day he could break free. We even gave him one last chance to work with us, which he refused. So, we had a situation where we had a very bad actor with unknown power who was seeking to become more powerful. If there was even a 10% chance in the next decade he could get a nuclear weapon (and I think the odds were greater--happily, we'll never know) we had to make a move. (Not that there weren't other dangerous places that threatened us, but Iraq, due to its leader, was the most unstable, and probably the smartest to deal with in a military fashion.)
Of course, if you still thought it was close, the humanitarian factor should have settled it. You had a monster who killed his people (and neighbors) at amazingly high rates and had turned a country into a torture chamber. (Here's where some will ceremonially note the U.S. helped Saddam. First, our help was minor compared to the French or Chinese--we merely tipped in his direction against what many thought a greater enemy, Iran. But even if we were completely wrong, all the more reason to right it today.) The U.S. can't do everything, but that doesn't mean it can't do anything. (No one can give to every deserving charity, but that's not an argument for never doing good deeds.)
There's another reason that to me is more important that the rest, but is also the most abstract and hardest to argue. It's the truly long view. Many worry we're making enemies by attacking, but in fact, we'd been making enemies for years by being weak. (When enemies arise, you teach them there are consequences--new ones may come, but a little less each time, compared to the overwhelming number who'll join up if they know they're safe.) To put it very simply, the reasons most Muslims and Arabs hated us were not justifiable. And I don't just mean they shouldn't have killed innocent citizens. I mean their arguments were wrong, and while they may have existed for complex reasons, they were centrally there because these people had been taught racist lies all their lives. Until they change their thinking on certain key issues, trying to make peace with the more violent ones, or even having detente, is a pipe dream, and a dangerous strategy. We had been regularly attacked by Arab terrorists (not just Al Qaeda) for years and doing little in response had only emboldened them. They would kill us all if they could. (That's the true threat--9/11 only woke us up to it--that millions of Americans will ultimately die if we don't fight back.) People often talk about root causes. Well, as long as tyrants rule in the Middle East, and teach their subjects to hate the US, that is a root cause of the trouble. No one is claiming America is perfect, but we are not effectively at fault for their problems, nor is their response rational. There has to be a change in the area, one toward democracy. As tough as it is, it at least has to be attempted. It will be difficult along the way, everyone understands that--especially at the beginning--but the fruit it could bear would be helpful for all humanity. A democracy in the heart of the Middle East would be instructive to its neighbors. It would also give us better bargaining powers and make it less likely anti-American forces could gain greater purchase.
Anti-war people sometimes think they're being sophisticated when, in fact, they can't see beyond their nose. The war in Iraq has the chance to bear great, long-range fruit. To act like it's failed when nothing of the sort has happened yet is shortsighted. And to act like it'll create disaster down the road is not only unduly negative, but is missing the main point of why we're involved.
2. "Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?"
First, in any case, you've got to keep your head about you. Even if things don't go as well as hoped, no need to abandon ship. But, to be honest, things have gone better than I'd expected so far.
I don't mean to sound like a Pollyanna, but I remember the grave predictions. That we would lose 5,000 or 10,000 soldiers taking Baghdad alone, that sort of stuff. Since Iraq mostly gave up without a fight, we've done done a lot better than I thought we would. As painful and tragic as a few casualties a day are, I'd rather have that than fifty or a hundred every day for the first few months. And I also expected there might be complete anarchy in the aftermath, rather than pockets of trouble.
Let me try to put an honest but positive spin on what's going on. First, we still run the country, and are training Iraqis to take over. Things are still moving apace toward democracy. Who are our main enemies?: the Sunnis who used to run things and are unhappy they don't anymore (and once democracy comes, they'll have to make a choice if they want a piece of it or would rather keep dying) and terrorist outsiders who wish to disrupt U.S. plans. Both these types of enemies are using the tactics of losers. Orin Kerr notes there are "70 hostile attacks a day." Compare this to an actual war (which, due to Rumsfeld and others, we were mostly able to avoid), where you can have thousands upon thousands of clashes on a regular basis. Our enemies are desperate, so they use terror tactics. Their only hope is to destroy our morale and have us pull out--they know they can win no other way. We're incomparably stronger--what holds us back is we're playing by a different set of rules (as we should--and I don't just mean war rules, I also mean diplomacy rules). When they trumpet their kidnappings, they wear masks. How can people who wear masks hope to take over? As soon as the masks come off, they'll be shot. If they want to run a country, rather than nip at its heels, they have to take off the masks, but they can't.
There has been mismanagement along the way, there always is. Nothing works in a war like you hope (which I've always thought was the strongest anti-war argument in general). But you've got to keep the big picture in mind, and make sure you're always moving in the right direction, which in this case is toward democracy. In Bush's speech at the RNC, he noted how naysayers thought we were botching things after WWII, but that's because they were comparing what was achieved to some level of perfection. This has happened countless times in history--the perfect being the enemy of the good.
But let's assume things are as bad as the most negative people claim. If things are going horribly, the solution is to redouble our efforts and figure out better tactics. Even those who oppose the war should see what a complete disaster bugging out would be--or even implying we might bug out before the job is done. Leaving would probably create the worst case scenario, where true slaughter begins. And it would encourage terrorists worldwide against us--just keep fighting, America can't take it. (And note even if the country falls into civil war, I would still say that's less threatening to us that one powerful tyrant free to lead it as he chooses.)
As to the Iraqi people's attitudes, they might have thought the powerful Americans would come in and take care of all their problems, which we haven't (and never could). They were used to Saddam doing everything for (and to) them. Still, as thing get better, they'll come around. Most still believe Iraq is moving in the right direction, have hope for the future, and want a democratic Iraq with basic freedoms such as freedom of religion.
In short, I still say, taking things as a whole, the overall picture is more positive than negative. But even if you think things are bad, we can and must fight to change them, and giving up is the worst possible strategy.
"3. Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?"
This is the easiest question. I never quite understand how some can say we have no exit strategy when it's very clear. We went to Iraq (with allies) to depose a tyrant and help set up a democracy. Much of the work will have to be done by Iraqis, but the early stages are when they need the most help.
I don't know if we'll keep soldiers stationed in Iraq--that's to be worked out, just as it was in Germany. But as for our main mission, we can point to success when the country has regular elections where they freely choose their leaders and also enjoy basic freedoms. (There still might be some terrorism and violence, but Western democracies sometimes deal with these problems as well.) The Iraqi people already want this and the country is moving in this direction. They'll probably get it too, as long as we remain stalwart.