Now to the hard part.
1. Governments nearly always have to lie to their people in order to get them to go to war; always have to propagandize, nearly always have to deceive outright. I have never criticized this administration for lying per se in the run-up to the Iraq War: only for the policy, the profoundly destabilizing decision to topple Saddam Hussein in the first place. That said, there is no serious question that the administration -- most especially through its actual centers of power, VP Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- engaged in an extensive pattern of deliberate deception in order to justify the war. The deception here was not, IMO, on the issue of whether Hussein had WMD's; other than U.S. weapons inspector Scott Ritter (who gets the Only Guy Who Was Right award for 2002-3), nearly everybody believed that he had at least something beyond the few abandoned leftovers we've actually found. The deception was about whether Saddam Hussein posed any threat whatsoever to the United States. He didn't; nobody who knew anything actually believed he did; and while the VP's and Defense Secretary's offices set about knowingly deceiving the gullible masses on the subject, nobody serious in either party ever really believed it.
(2) Which leads us to the real collapse of American leadership -- both parties in the government, and nearly all media outlets -- on this subject. In part, I think, as a direct result of practically nobody in government or media having any military study, let alone actual service,* nearly everyone at all levels of American power went completely hallucinatory about how easy this was going to be.
So as the 2002 midterm elections approached, you had the GOP dizzily getting everything it wanted, and the Dems running scared that they'd look weak...and other than Sen. Robert Byrd, nobody wanted to even debate whether to go to war: the Senate just handed the power to the administration and washed its hands of the whole affair.
I won't labor the point; we all know how it went. As blogger "digby"** memorably put it (echoing a song of my own youth): "someone left the cakewalk in the rain." :/
(3) A crucial intermediate step: in the past, governments have nearly always prepared their people for sacrifice before going to war. Neither White House, Congress nor press did that in this case. Instead, the public was promised that the U.S.'s invasion, occupation, and complete remaking of Iraq could be done not only without a military draft, but without a tax hike -- indeed, with tax cuts. I still find this mind-boggling...and it accounts for the nightmare "debate" we're having in Congress now.
(4) In brief: three and a half years on, we cannot stay and we dare not leave. We do not have sufficient troop strength -- even were it possible -- to win this thing; but if we leave, we're handing Iraq over to Iran (and to a lesser extent to the Saudis and Turks)...or simply transforming it into a charnel house at best, and Al-Qaidastan at worst.
So you have Republicans dusting off all the cliches from Vietnam: "Stay the course!" "Don't cut and run!" -- not to mention pushing a new one, "Better to fight them in Iraq than here at home" (wouldn't it be nice if it were an either/or...particularly if we were prepared to win). Democrats, meanwhile, try belatedly to tap fears about the war with vague calls for an eventual withdrawal, somehow, sometime. In short, my friends, either way we are screwed.
What do you suppose will happen?
(5) I suppose what should happen is a joint statement from the congressional leadership of both parties, and the White House, that they are very sorry but we're going to need to raise taxes and institute a draft. Now that you're done laughing, barring some completely undeserved good luck (for which we should all be praying like mad, IMO), what will happen is one of two things: either an unpredictable nightmare scenario in Iraq as we're eventually forced to leave, or -- sometime after the 2006, or even 2008, elections -- raising of taxes and institution of a draft.
And in the meantime the largely phony debate goes on: all eyes on the midterms. Leaving the real decisions for another day.
93 93/93 -- AJ
* As most of you know, I didn't serve, either; I became draft age just as the Vietnam War ended.