It still confuses many Americans that, in a world full of vicious slimeballs, we're about to bomb one that didn't attack us on 9/11 (like Osama); that isn't intercepting our planes (like North Korea); that isn't financing Al Qaeda (like Saudi Arabia); that isn't home to Osama and his lieutenants (like Pakistan); that isn't a host body for terrorists (like Iran, Lebanon and Syria).
I think the president is genuinely obsessed with protecting Americans and believes that smoking Saddam will reduce the chances of Islamic terrorists' snatching catastophic weapons. That is why no cost - shattering the UN, NATO, the European alliance, Tony Blair's career and the U.S. budget - is too high.
Even straining for serenity, Mr. Bush sounded rattled at moments. "My job is to protect America, and that is exactly what I'm going to do... I swore to protect and defend the Constitution; that's what I swore to do. I put my hand on the Bible and took that oath, and that's exactly what I am going to do."
But citing 9/11 eight times in his news conference was exploitative, given that the administration concedes there is no evidence tying Iraq to the 9/11 plot. By stressing that totem, Mr. Bush tried to alchemize American anger at Al Qaeda into support for smashing Saddam.
William Greider writes in The Nation, "As a bogus rallyting cry, 'Remember 9/11' ranks with 'Remember the Maine' of 1898 for war with Spain or the Gulf of Tonkin resolution of 1964..." A culture more besotted with inane "reality" TV than scary reality is easily misled. Mr. Greider pointed out that in a Times/CBS News survey, 42 percent believe Saddam was personally responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and in an ABC News poll, 55 percent believe he gives direct support to Al Qaeda.
The case for war has been incoherent due to overlapping reasons conservatives want to get Saddam.
The president wants to avenge his father, and please his base by changing the historical ellipsis on the Persian Gulf war to a period. Donald Rumsfeld wants to exorcise the post-Vietnam focus on American imperfections and limitations. Dick Cheney wants to establish America's primacy as the sole superpower. Richard Perle wants to liberate Iraq and remove a mortal threat to Israel. After Desert Storm, Paul Wolfowitz posited that containment is a relic, and that America must aggressively preempt nuclear threats.
And in 1997, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard and Fox News, and other conservatives, published a "statement of principles", signed by Jeb Bush and future Bush officials - Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby and Elliott Abrams. Rejecting 41's realpolitik and shaping what would become 43's preemption strategy, they exhorted a "Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity," with America extending its domain by challenging "regimes hostile to our interests and values."
Saddam would be the squealing guinea pig proving America could impose its will on the world.
With W., conservatives got a Bush who wanted to be Reagan. With 9/11, they found a new tragedy to breathe life into their old dreams.