It would be a lot easier to explain to the friends and families of people who have been deployed to Iraq over the past two plus years (and I count myself in both categories) why our army is there, if it actually was made clear exactly what the mission is. Unfortunately, it seems each new 'mission' seems to last a season, get old and fall apart, and be replaced by a new 'mission.'
Of course, as we all knew, the whole cover of trying to resolve the problems by the use of 'diplomacy' during the run-up to the war in Iraq was a fraud, and the Bush administration had already long since determined that we would invade Iraq, even as early as its first days in office, according to former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who describes how it was discussed during Bush cabinet meetings. Such recent revelations as the Downing Street memo and how Karl Rove was willing to go so far as to commit treason in order to discredit a person who questioned the Bush administration's lies about Uranium from Niger only confirm what most thinking people knew months ahead of the Iraq war-- that the Bush administration rushed into a war at all costs, and then (and since) has grasped at any justification they could use at the time.
First, it was weapons of mass destruction. We know how that turned out. Of course, if that were the justification, we would never have let mobs burn and loot all of the government buildings in Baghdad (except the Oil Ministry, which we protected with a whole battalion of troops). Not only documents about WMD, but documents about Saddam's party organization, informants, war crimes, information about terrorists, and information about prisoners were in those buildings that we allowed (in fact that Dick Cheney encouraged) to be burned and looted. I wondered about that at the time and did what little I could to point it out to people in power before the documents were all gone. So, we were left with no documents that might have cast some light on the WMD matter, but just physically searching in empty holes. Were the war planners in our administration really this stupid, or did they actually want those documents destroyed because they KNEW they would show there were no WMD?
Then, it was the fight against terrorism (ignoring, of course, how we took the heat off of Osama to go focus on a country a thousand miles away from him). They had a new bogeyman, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. They were quick to point out how he had entered Iraq, before the war, in December 2002. And not only that, they were quick to point to Ansar-al-Islam, a terrorist group that maintained a base in Iraq. Well, that one also started to collapse under its own weight. First, the only evidence they could find linking Saddam to al-Qaeda was a dinner meeting that one of his diplomats and a senior member of al-Qaeda had had in Prague once upon a time. Of course, many, many countries had (and still have) closer links to al-Qaeda than that, starting with our good 'friends' the Saudis. By the time Zarqawi had entered Iraq, it was over a year since we had started the buildup to invade Iraq and two months after the U.S. Senate resolution authorizing the use of force. So to claim he was the justification was ridiculous. Not only ridiculous, but remember that they thought during the planning of the war that Zarqawi wasn't even worth including as a target. As for the terrorist base, it was located deep behind Kurdish lines and along the border with Iran, more than a hundred miles from any spot under the control of Saddam Hussein or his army.
So, then it was to bring 'Democracy and freedom to Iraq.' Leaving aside the fact that we have never invaded a country just to change their form of government (and no one would have supported this at the start of the war if it was the real reason), we find that the new Iraq is likely to be neither as Democratic nor as free as Bush has been proclaiming. Recent reports make it clear that the new Constitution will either be based on Sharia, Islamic law, or something very much like it. Many Iraqis, especially women, will actually have less (that's right, less) freedom in matters like inheritance, divorce, custody and the right to choose a career, than they did in Saddam's brutal, but secular, Iraq. It remains to be seen what shape the final Iraq will take, but it doesn't look much like it will be an Iraq that it was worth losing hundreds of American troops to create. And, last week, a freelance American journalist reported that the new Iraqi police force in the city of Basra, which we created and which the Bush administration has pointed to as an example of how we can fight insurgents ('help the Iraqis learn to help themselves,' or some such poppycock), is itself infiltrated, and in fact is significantly manned by, insurgents loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr (oh, that's a surprise). Sort of like how the Chicago police department was not much help to Elliot Ness, because wherever they went, Capone knew they were going. The journalist, Steven Vincent, was found shot dead, apparently the price for his 'expose' (of course, if he is right about the degree of infiltration of the Basra police force, then it's not like we could do anything about it short of firing the whole force and starting over from scratch).
So this week, Bush got a gift, of sorts. When the 'free and Democratic Iraq' excuse started to unravel, last month he made a speech saying that Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. So yesterday, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new number two in al-Qaeda (they seem to get a new number two sort of like 'the Village' got a new number two every week in the Patrick McGoohan series, The Prisoner (Good job, if you got that reference)) promised 'tens of thousands of American deaths in Iraq'. Of course this is bluster and he has no way of causing that many casualties, but as we have seen during the past couple of weeks, they can still cause a lot of them. Bush jumped on it though to bolster his claims that Iraq is a central front in the War on Terror.
In fact, he is somewhat correct for a change. Iraq has become such a central front, not because we chose it that way, but because the terrorists have. They are now coming from all corners of the Islamic world, for the express purpose of killing Americans. Some conservatives, in a bit of perverse logic, claim that this is a good thing, because if they are there killing our troops, then they aren't here killing their families. However, as the London train bombings show, there being terrorists in Iraq doesn't preclude the likelihood that some other terrorists are not in Iraq, and that they are perfectly capable of operating in both places at once. We saw on 9/11 how much devastation nineteen terrorists could cause, and there is no reason to believe that, no matter how many terrorists may be flooding into Iraq to shoot at our soldiers, they couldn't spare a small number (who may already be here) to carry out an attack. Heck, if we are now fighting terrorists in Iraq, I could blame President Bush personally-- for his July 2, 2003 comment when the insurgency was just beginning and there were a handful of attacks on American troops. He said, 'bring it on.' That's right. He dared foreign enemies to launch more attacks on American troops. Well, they did.
Like I said at the beginning, both our troops and the American public would find it easier to support the mission, if the mission didn't change every few months.