For some time it has seemed to me that the most important distinction determining how people view the conflict in Iraq is based upon different conceptions of what exactly the war is about.
One group looks at the war as being primarily about who rules Iraq. We went to war to evict Saddam Hussein, we stayed in Iraq primarily to replace Hussein with a friendly Democratic regime, and should stay or go largely based upon the probability of success and a judgment about how much we are or should be willing to pay in lives and treasure for that outcome.
The other group looks at the war in Iraq as not being primarily about who rules Iraq, but instead as the primary battlefront in the so-called “war on terror,” or as I would prefer to call it the war on Islamic fascism. In this view, successfully replacing Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime with a Western-leaning Democracy would be a huge blow to Islamic fascist movement, but ultimately winning the “war” in Iraq should rightly be seen as an important step in winning the larger conflict, not as an end in itself.
Obviously if the first view is correct and the current fighting and dying in Iraq is simply about installing the kind of regime we want to see in Iraq, Americans are right to be asking the Bush Administration about just how costly achieving this goal will be, and just how likely are we to achieve it. After all, the American government exists primarily to defend Americans and their interests, and it is not unreasonable for most citizens to have a limit to their tolerance of our leaders pursuing costly altruistic goals with limited chances of success.
Obviously, most of the calls for withdrawal from Iraq come from people in this camp, who argue that the goal Bush has set is difficult or impossible to achieve, the costs are too high, and the consequences of failure are limited. So what if Iraq is ruled by a tyrant? As long as we can contain him, what business is it of ours? It is reasoning such as this that led to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and whatever you think of the results, it is clear that Vietnam never presented an existential threat to the United States.
However, if you begin with the premise that Iraq is simply the most important front in a global war between fundamentally incompatible worlds, the world governed as liberal democracies and the expansionist world governed by Islamic fascists, the equation changes quite a bit.
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