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?
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?
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?
As the sole liberal who remains in favor of the Iraq War (or so it seems), here's my take:
1) Honestly, it depends on the criteria you use, and I think the original reasons given by the Bush administration have been discredited. However, my reasons for supporting the war were always humanitarian based. I think that the US has an obligation to bring about positive change in the world, by removing oppressive dictators and promoting democratization. Unfortunately, this blurs the issue, because I think that if President Bush had used this justification then we'd have gotten considerably more international support (or at the very least, less animosity) than we are seeing today, and that in turn would have translated to a more support and less animosity on the ground as well. For the war on terror to be won, Muslims must see the world is as concerned with improving their lives as it is with ending them. The fact that Saddam was a brutal dictator, that he was a threat to regional stability, and that he was one of the worst human rights violators of our time remain true today, and gives the US all the reasons it needed to intervene.
2) Clearly, the war has been bungled. That's beyond a doubt. The Bush administration has decided to put its head in the sand, and worse yet, its placing political concerns over the necessary actions that we need to win in Iraq. The next administration, be it Bush or Kerry (though given past performance, I don't have much faith in either to do it), has to hold two seemingly opposing things in balance. The first is a renewed, aggressive effort to crush the terrorists in their strongholds, like Najaf and Fallujah. The second is regaining the trust of an Iraqi people who seem to view the US occupation more and more negatively every day. How can we do this? By aggressively courting the elements in Iraqi society that a) aren't affiliated with the extremists and b) still have credibility with the Iraqi people. That means that the interim government (and the US) has to work really hard to make Ayatollah Sistani an asset, not a liability. Firing one of his top allies in the government and provoking a boycott is a bad place to start. A good place to start would be making a renewed effort to show how we're acting for the Iraqis, rather than in our own selfinterest. If the Iraqis don't see tangible benefits from American projects, they'll naturally get suspicious of our motives. But if we show them how the insurgency makes them worse off and that we can provide a better path, we can win back the vast majority of the population that wants to live in a democratic state.
3) The ultimate criteria for success can only be Iraq as a functioning democracy. This can't be stressed enough. If Iraq is stabilized, but under an authoritarian government, then the Islamic world will see that at best, working with the US will mean trading one dictator for another. At worst, they'll see it as trading an Islamic dictator for an American patsy, which will increase the already swelling tide of anti-American extremism present in the region. Though obviously stability is important, the key point is that it must be made clear to the Iraqis that the possibly heavyhanded tactics necessary to bring about stability (for example, taking out the hornets nest of terrorists in Fallujah) are being done in order to make democracy possible, not just to strengthen the hand of the central authorities. All the polls still show that Iraqis are optimistic about the prospect of democracy, and that positive mentality needs to be harnessed by the allies and interim government. If Iraq collapses into civil war, as the National Intelligence Estimate thinks could be likely, then it will become the biggest breeding ground for terrorists in the world, and probably will ruin any chance of stabilizing the region for decades. Unlike Afghanistan, which is geographically isolated from most of its neighbors, a civil war in Iraq would almost certainly draw in Turkey, Iran, and Syria, and possibly Jordan as well. And for anyone who isn't scared at that prospect, imagine Lebanon, but multiplied by 10 and entirely blamed on the US. In the short term, success can be measured based on how enthusiastic Iraqis are taking to coalition actions to bring about democratic reform, and how willing the interim government is to implement it. If our pro-democratic actions are not seen that way, but seen (correctly or not) as building blocks to dictatorship, then we're doing something wrong. Longterm success is measured by a reasonably stable, pluralistic democracy that manages to balance the rivalry between the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.