Jonah Goldberg

But that doesn't mean that Bush didn't offer numerous other rationales before and after the war. In major speeches he touted the importance of democratizing the Middle East. Administration officials pointed out that Saddam was the only world leader to applaud 9/11, and that he was a major source of funding for suicide bombers in Israel. They argued that removing Saddam would have a positive impact on the peace process. President Bush made a masterful case to the United Nations that, in the post-9/11 world, the world body could not afford to let a dictator - one who had gassed his own people and invaded a neighbor - flout its countless resolutions with impunity.

These rationales don't add up to 23, but who cares if they do? What important decisions have you ever made in your life that have depended on a single variable. We don't buy cars for a single reason. (Oh, it's blue! I'll take it!) Why should we launch a preemptive war for a single reason?

Of course Bush has emphasized other rationales now that we know there were no WMDs. What else is he going to do? Should he say, "Oops," and leave Iraq to disintegrate into civil war, which will plunge the region into chaos? Or should he emphasize the other - completely legitimate and consistent - rationales for this war? If we had found WMDs, Bush would still be fighting to democratize Iraq. That we haven't found them makes that task all the more important.

The fact is that all wars have complex and changing justifications. The bloodiest war in our nation's history was begun as an effort to preserve the American union. The motives behind the Civil War are endlessly debated, but this much is beyond dispute: As the war dragged on - and as a chorus of naysayers bitterly denounced Lincoln's determination - the president resolved to make freedom and individual rights central struggles of the conflict.

Those who scold President Bush for breaking "the rules" - for changing the way he makes his case for a just war - must also explain how Lincoln was wrong. They must explain how the Cold War, begun as an exercise in Realpolitik, did a disservice to those whom it eventually freed from tyranny. I, for one, will be delighted if one day we can see the Iraq war in this grand American tradition of "changing rationales" after the fighting began.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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