In the build-up to justifying starting a war in Iraq and the subsequent shift in rationales as the original “compelling” reasons evaporated like the ghosts they always were, support for the decision to go to war remained high for quite a while. These days even a lot of people who initially vigorously supported going to war are casting about randomly, searching for some “honorable” way to end it, although my personal experience indicates that few of them have admitted they were wrong about starting the war in the first place. If you try to pin them down as to why the war was justified, they mention weapons of mass destruction less frequently than they did before the war. It is true Iraq did at one time have some stocks of banned weapons. The U.S. Government would be in a position to know something about Iraq’s chemical weapons, since they acquired them from us. It is now clear they eliminated their stockpiles and halted production and research after the First Gulf War to try to avoid being invaded. Even if they had still had some banned weapons available, they had no delivery method that would have allowed them to use them on us, so that justification for war had little validity before the invasion.
The connection between the Iraqi government and the events of 9-11 was non-existent, and those of us who were paying attention knew that before the war started. If the purpose of invasion was to create a vibrant, viable democracy, we have failed miserably.
So why did we feel compelled to invade Iraq? Was it because we were attacked and we had to hit back at somebody? We had been attacked before and did not feel a need to invade Iraq. The first attack on the World Trade Center did not create a national outcry to “shoot something” (as Steve McQueen said in The Sand Pebbles). So why this time and not then? Not because of the higher death toll (at a slightly later time of day the toll might have been much higher). The difference is stark: the buildings fell down. Nobody used the attack on the Pentagon (remember that? It happened the same day) or the crash of a plane in a field in Pennsylvania to justify attacking Iraq. Just the World Trade Center. Why? Because the buildings fell down. Without that outcome, if the damage had been great and the loss of life high but the towers had not collapsed, they would have been rapidly rebuilt and the focus would have been on tracking down Osama (remember Osama? He’s still out there). Instead we had to demonstrate our outrage by invading another nation and causing an untold number of casualties.
These past several years we have let September 11th remain in the forefront of our national consciousness not because we were attacked and some people died but because a couple of high-rises collapsed. If the towers were still standing the neo-cons would never have been able to obtain public approval for their long-held desire to invade Iraq.