It's disturbing that very few media analysts are doing the kind of "then-and-now" look at the current administration's stated reasons for war that the Daily Show has been putting on. It's discouraging, though not surprising, to see people accept this change:
Then: Iraq is a threat because it has WMDs and is developing additional ones, and is trafficking with terrorists.
Now: We've liberated an oppressed population.
The second reason is closer to what I believe are the actual core reasons of our current batch of policy makers. They want to make the world into a more workable place, and see the removal of belligerent political entities as a means to do that. Of course, the particular mad-on for Iraq also has a lot to do with the feeling that the "job wasn't done right" earlier, and that Hussein has been mocking us since then.
Naturally, that would be a harder case to make to the U.S. public.
But say you do accept their current public motivation -- liberating people who are being oppressed, abused, tortured and killed. Given that, isn't there a strong case for occupying the following countries (not a comprehensive list):
Iran -- totalitarian religious government with a population that wants more freedom
North Korea -- totalitarian regime that is starving its population at large while maintaining an enormous army
China -- odd mix of capitalism and totalitarianism, with strong suppression of protestors and a lack of religious freedom
Sudan -- genocide in progress, being ignored by the government
Saudi Arabia -- lack of human rights, harsh punishments (and, incidentally, support for some brands of terrorism)
Pakistan -- ruled by an unelected military leader
Syria, Egypt, Jordan -- more problems with lack of democracy and civil rights
I'm sure you can add more. Now, we obviously don't want to be in the position of occupying all these countries, and there's a reasonable case to be made for scaring some countries into line (e.g. Libya) by how we act toward other countries. Unfortunately, that doesn't work if a country's government is confident that they represent an unacceptable risk (e.g. North Korea).
There is one clear reason for a country to go to war -- to protect its own existence and the lives of its populace. To this, I've heard added "halting genocide" as the only other legitimate reason to go to war with a country on a basis outside of self defense.
Certainly, it's impractical to take a military approach to all problems. It's galling, however, to see such a failure in perspective on when we do or don't take that kind of action. Consider:
If Iraq did have WMDs (and we honestly had good reason to believe they did, based on their own program of deception) they were still unlikely to pass them off to terrorist groups. On the other hand, North Korea sells weapons to all buyers. Not only that, but they're sitting right next to one of our allies with a massive army, and they've been sending terrorists over to that country for years. Iraq contained some terrorist camps in uncontrolled regions. North Korea kidnapped people from Japan to train its agents, and has sent a number of terrorists over to South Korea to kill people. If you're worried about nuclear-armed terrorists, where better to start than the country that produces both nuclear weapons and terrorists?
Not that I want us to invade North Korea. Just saying that we're deep in double standard territory here.
I had a conversation earlier this week with my friend Tim around this topic and about setting standards for success in military actions. People are averse to setting up rules for things like when we should invade other countries and when we should subsequently leave them. I think it bothers some people to have actual guidelines for these things, even though it would clarify our goals, needs and available options.
I'm not quite sure why that is, though it feels like a very human thing to do.