Before the Iraq War, administration neoconservatives were fond of saying, "The road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad." In the wake of the war and of George W. Bush's June 4 summit meeting in Aqaba, Jordan, many people in Washington think they were right. Liberal columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. wrote in The Washington Post on June 6, "One core claim of the war's supporters was vindicated on Wednesday when Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, his Palestinian counterpart, committed themselves to the president's pathway to peace. Defenders of the war always said that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would change the political dynamics of the Middle East. In the short term, at least, they have been proved right."
In justifying their war against Iraq, the Bush administration and its supporters based their case primarily on the threat to the United States posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ties with al-Qaeda. But to date, American and British troops have found no signs of a chemical-, biological- or, more importantly, a nuclear-weapons program and have uncovered only low-level ties to al-Qaeda. And even if they subsequently find a few canisters of mustard gas, or railway tickets from Kandahar to Baghdad, it would hardly confirm America's claims that Saddam Hussein's regime posed a threat to the United States.
During the Iran-Contra scandal, it became clear that private citizens had been playing a critical role in the Reagan administration's foreign policy. Some of them, such as Richard Secord, had previously been government officials; others, such as Michael Ledeen, had briefly been advisers or consultants. They were not known to the public or to Congress, were not directly accountable to the government itself and did not have to adhere to the usual government rules on lobbying. Today, the Bush administration is relying on a similar army of unaccountable irregulars to devise, carry out and promote its policies in the Middle East.
Much of the furious debate at the United Nations has been over whether inspectors are capable of disarming Iraq, but what really divides the United States from its chief critics on the Security Council are two diametrically opposed scenarios of a post-war Iraq. The American scenario, dubbed "new dawn," sees a transformed Iraq leading a democratic revolution in the Middle East that would sweep away monarchs and dictators, end the isolation of Ariel Sharon's Israel, boost oil production and bring in high-tech industry. The French and Russian scenario, dubbed the "gates of hell," foresees a rise in Islamic radicalism and terrorism and in global economic and military instability.
When a country goes to war, one question that already should have been answered is "why?" But many people in the United States, Europe and elsewhere are genuinely perplexed about why the Bush administration is so determined, even at the cost of war,
to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In their public statements, administration officials have, if anything, increased the puzzlement. They have portrayed their campaign against Iraq as a continuation of the war against terrorism. They have claimed to have evidence of close ties between Hussein and al-Qaeda, but outside of a few scattered citations, they have failed to make a case that Hussein is an active ally of Osama bin Laden.