In response to a snarky aside in this CT post, some commenters are rightly asking, why were you so wrong about Iraq, and what do you think now? This is a bit off the top of my head, and it's a subject which deserves some thought, but here is a first stab at it. (I'd just like to note, too, that while I may have been deluded I was not sneering about the loony, pacifist left all the time.)
UPDATE: this post was actually posted by Belle Waring; I had to log in as John to fix something on the site and then forgot...I'll see if we can fix this but I'll wreck incoming links.
1. This is the most personally embarassing reason, but it has to be said: in the aftermath of 9/11 I lost my head a bit and wanted to take some decisive action. I realize that attacking party B after being attacked by party A shouldn't be satisfying to the vengeful-minded, because it doesn't make any sense. But, having just been in the odd position of agreeing with the Bush administration on a war (vs. Afghanistan), I somehow found the next war more appealing than I should have. Somewhere in here there must alse be a kernel of "let's smash something to show how powerful we are." This is really poor reasoning and reflects badly on me personally. Nothing much I can say about it in my defense.
2. I had long thought our current Iraq strategy was very bad. The sanctions were harming innocent Iraqis rather than Saddam, but there was no substantive reason to lift the sanctions from the point of view of Saddam's compliance. I supported the first Gulf War, unlike all my college friends, and I was dismayed by its denoument. I thought we had failed to finish what we started and had condemned many people to death after encouraging them to rise up against Saddam.
3. Saddam Hussein really was a particularly brutal dictator. Iraqis weren't suffering as badly as North Koreans, or southern Sudanese people, but it was pretty bad. I thought that any new government would have to be a better government. But we don't just go around deposing every dictator in the world, do we? Well...
4. We were in a unique position with regard to Saddam under international law. He had agreed to do certain things in his surrender, and he wasn't doing them. I felt this gave the whole conflict a different status than a sudden drive to unseat, say, Robert Mugabe would have.
5. I couldn't believe that Saddam had actually destroyed his stocks of banned weapons and his records of having done so. I still find it very strange that he did this. I thought, if he were only willing to destroy these weapons programs openly, he surely could have gotten the majority of the Security Council on his side for a lifting of sanctions. Clinton might have gone for it. Why not take the chance? I can only suppose that the sanctions regime was somewhat to his liking, giving him total control of the country's revenues, and he thought it was better to be under sanctions but be thought (by his neighbors) to have WMD than to be free from sanctions but known to be unarmed. Or everyone was lying to him. Or he was crazy.
6. I thought my government was both more competent and more honest than it actually was. This is going to sound stupid, but I genuinely thought that if all those guys, and Colin Powell and everyone, really thought Iraq posed a possible nuclear threat, then they knew something I didn't. Now, I was on the fence about the nuclear aspect (and let's be honest, that's the real threat. Saddam wasn't going to give mustard gas to al-Qaeda for them to lug around, and Japan's experience with the sarin bombers makes clear that chemical weapons just aren't all that effective. Bioterrorism, OK, scarier, but nukes are the real threat.) I was on the fence because there was a good bit of evidence that Iraq had shut down its nuclear program. On the other hand, they were much further along with it than anyone had thought in 1992. And hey, remember those aluminum tubes? OK, I am a sucker. But honestly, I thought that the government had access to all manner of secret stuff I didn't know about, and that they genuinely thought the threat was real. I didn't think my President would bald-faced lie to me about something so vital to our nation's security. I didn't take into account the extent to which Bush's administration just had a hard-on for Iraq from the day they came into office, and were willing to grasp at any straw, play up the sketchiest information, rely on the most patent forgeries, to get people on board.
7. I grossly underestimated the extent to which gearing up to invade Iraq would vitiate our efforts in Afghanistan. This is almost the one I feel stupidest about, because it's really very obvious. If we had spent 200 billion and concentrated our armed forces on Afghanistan rather than diverting both elite units and foot-soldiers to Iraq, we might have Osama now. Certainly, the Pakistan/Afghanistan border regions would not be the hotbed of Taliban supporters and foreign jihadis that they clearly are right now. And where is the real nuclear proliferation threat, anyway? Pakistan, as it turns out. And we are doing what about that? Nothing.
8. I thought the administration would do a better job. I didn't know we would guard only the oil Ministry and let looting and chaos engulf Baghdad after we took control. I didn't know that ideological conformity would count for everything in the CPA, and actual expertise for nothing. I didn't know the men in charge would ignore the advice of our own State Department about what conditions might be like following the war. I didn't know that Rumsfeld was willing to gamble the sucess of this venture in order to score points in an intra-Defense Department battle over troop strength. I can't weasel out of this by pretending it's all the Bushies fault for making such a mess of the post-war period, but man, did they fuck up bad, in every area. I should have let partisan opposition to Republicans guide my thinking more than I did. My mom, for example, said that even if I was right and the invasion was a good idea, that these bastards would screw it up. I guess I was lost in some post 9/11, spanning the political divide bullshit haze.
9. Finally, I was committed, to some degree, to the "Oxblog Fallacy." I thought that because I could think of some good, humanitarian, democracy-promoting reasons to go to war, that I ought to support the actual, real-life war on offer from the Bush administration.
What should I have been thinking, and what have I learned? Containment actually works. (Hey, maybe we should try that on Communism!) In general, if you have two options before you, and one involves fighting a war of choice, you should almost certainly pick the other one, even if it is not very appealing taken on its own. Also, even though it's true that any government would be better than Saddam's, it's also true that no government -- that is, anarchy and civil war -- is worse than even the worst goverment. I clearly underestimated the chances of this happening. Finally, just because it sounds hippy to say "war is not the answer" doesn't mean it's not true. War is a serious, awful, bloody business, and now many people are dead who would have been alive if the wrong policy I favored hadn't prevailed. There is really no one to apologize to for that, but God am I sorry.