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POSTSCRIPT ON IRAQ q Q The invasion of Iraq in 2003—like the war in Vietnam—brought another challenge to the long-term project to sustain a noble view of America and its wars. This was surprising in light of the fact that the assault on the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein began in a climate of patriotic unity and righteous vengeance after the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001, on American soil. President George W. Bush was quick to place a moral frame on the terrorist act, a move that would immediately cast any American response into a mythical story of innocents facing evil forces in the world. And no better resource was available to him to bring clarity to the chaos of these events than the virtuous remembrance of World War II. Days after the assault, the president told Congress and a world television audience that the terrorists were antidemocratic forces that mankind had seen before in “all the murderous ideologies” of the twentieth century and followers of the “path of fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism.” Several months later, on the sixtieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, he proclaimed that September 11, 2001, would now stand alongside December 7, 1941, as a moment in which “our way of life again was brutally and suddenly attacked.” The chief executive urged citizens to remember the sacrifices of the “greatest of generations who defeated tyranny” before as they embarked upon another struggle to “defend freedom ” and “secure civilization.”1 Although the American government was quick to pinpoint the location of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, President Bush retaliated for the attacks by sending the bulk of American forces to Iraq to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator whom the United States had already fought in 1991 in a successful e=ort to liberate Kuwait. Backed by support from the United Kingdom , the Bush administration argued that the Iraqi dictator needed to be confronted sooner rather than later because he possessed weapons of mass destruc- 244 t h e “g o o d w a r” i n a m e r i c a n m e m o r y tion that could someday be used against the United States and because he had ties to al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization held responsible for the September 11 assault. Although Bush’s preemptive strike against Iraq proved controversial, it was not an impulsive act. A doctrine of preemptive war—striking first to avert danger—had already been imagined and refined by conservative policy makers such as Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, and his former aide, Paul Wolfowitz, after the Gulf War with Hussein in 1991. These conservative thinkers were devoted to one variant of the notion of American exceptionalism that was rooted in a belief that the unprecedented power the United States now held in world a=airs after the fall of the Soviet Union required that it act unilaterally in any way it wished to ensure its own stability and advance its interests—even if it meant attacking another country. The o;cial rationales for war against Saddam and the surge of patriotism that followed the terrorists’ attacks on American soil were soon challenged, however, by events in Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction were found, and no real evidence was produced that the dictator had meaningful ties to al-Qaeda. Furthermore , the assumption that the ending of a brutal dictatorship would lead to the emergence of democracy and freedom in Iraq was damaged by the emergence of an insurgency in the liberated nation that led to the deaths of thousands of American troops and many Iraqi civilians as well. There were even indications that many Iraqis were actually indi=erent to the war, preferring to go about their own business as Americans, former loyalists to Saddam, and an influx of Islamic extremists went about killing each other. As the war in Iraq became more confusing and more costly, the virtue of the entire American e=ort was called into question . By 2008, o;cials who had called for the invasion in the first place were forced to defend their move, and others were looking for ways to withdraw American troops. Barack Obama was even running for the presidency, in part, on a platform that argued that Iraq was not the main front in the war on terror. In our times critical perspectives on Iraq, less willing to justify American actions and human losses, have become...


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