Like Woodrow Wilson during World War I, George W. Bush has held out the promise that by going to war, America can make the world safe for democracy. Once Saddam Hussein is ousted, we can turn Iraq into a political and economic model for the Arab world, addressing the causes of terrorism at their roots. Some liberals who support the war are attracted by this vision -- and indeed it has its attractions. But just as the outcome of World War I dashed the hopes of pro-war progressives and set the stage for an even more terrible conflict, so war in Iraq may bring not just disappointment but further cycles of bloodshed.
"If you want peace, understand war," the military historian B. H. Liddell Hart once wrote, and during the past century -- some would say ever since Gen. Sherman's march through Georgia -- that injunction meant anyone interested in peace needed above all to understand the practice of "total war."
Since Lyndon Johnson, every Democrat who has run for president has suffered repudiation within his own party after either serving in office or losing the election. Democrats repudiated Johnson because of the Vietnam War, Jimmy Carter because of the economy and Bill Clinton because of his personal conduct, and they repudiated George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis for their seeming personal inadequacy in the crucible of political battle.
The suspicion will not die that the Bush administration turned to Iraq for relief from a sharp decline in its domestic political prospects. The news had been dominated for months by corporate scandals and the fall of the stock market, and the November elections were shaping up as a referendum on the Republicans' handling of domestic social and economic issues. Investigative reporters had turned their attention to Dick Cheney's role at Halliburton and George W. Bush's sale of his Harken Energy shares just before the stock collapsed.
I should be among the supporters of an invasion of Iraq. A decade ago, after Iraq seized Kuwait, I agreed with the decision to go to war and wrote in The New Republic, at the start of the conflict, that allied forces should go all the way to Baghdad. My view was that Saddam Hussein had forfeited the legitimacy of his regime, and, having resolved not to let his aggression stand, we ought to deny him any chance for revenge. When the first President Bush called off our attack, I was bitterly disappointed.