The liberation of Iraq was part of a broader effort to seriously confront the greatest threat to world security: rogue states capable of obtaining long range weapons of mass destruction. This meant showing the world that America would not be a passive target. In the broader sense, it meant trying to transform the middle east into something other than an incubator of hate.
This broader mission was hauled along by nostalgic visions of the Marshall Plan, or America’s decision to rebuild Europe and Japan following World War II. The Marshall Plan was quite new. It went beyond traditional notions of geography and history and embraced a new to vision: using free trade and democracy to create a series of interlocking relationships that end war. In many ways, it birthed history’s first democratic empire. It also exemplified what is great about this country—a democratic ideal, a sprit of greater good. And it worked, not just to make the world safer, but to make it better. I don’t think there can be any argument about this. The success of America in the post war period represents the triumph of democracy and modernity over feudal disunity.
When President George W Bush unleashed hell on Iraq he no doubt had in mind visions of global rebuilding. The administration thought that months after the invasion, the streets of Baghdad lined with Iraqi citizens waving American flags. They also thought that US inspectors would uncover weapons of mass destruction. This is why they ducked their head and plowed through the international scorn. They fully expected to supplant the horror of war with images so patriotic that they would make the strong global opposition to the war seem short sighted.
It was a grand idea. But somewhere along the way we were misled by the image of the middle east we wanted, instead of the middle east that exists. Iraqi citizens are not waving American flags. They are strapping bombs to themselves just for the opportunity to detonate a few American servicemen with them.