The origins of the 2nd Iraq War, like the origins of World War I, are an endlessly fascinating topic of debate. Of course I haven't yet read Mazarr's book, only this review, but it immediately stirred up a lot of doubt about what Zielinski seems to be saying about its central theme. Was this really America's moral failure, giving in to our collective "missionary ambitions?"
I have serious doubts about this, starting with the fact that this invasion was initiated by a minority presidential administration, headed by the loser of the popular vote who would also almost certainly have been the loser of the electoral vote had a partisan Supreme Court not overturned centuries of constitutional principal and halted the Florida recount. (Others' mileage may vary, of course, but my understanding is that states have always managed their own elections, and if the Florida Supreme Court had already decided to continue the recount that should have been the last word.) At any rate, America was hardly united -- except by the collective shock of 9/11. We had a minority president in office and I think there is not much doubt that the majority (losing) candidate and his administration would have pursued an entirely different course in foreign policy.
That the Bush administration was so determined on war against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 therefore reflects a decidedly minority viewpoint that prevailed in part because Congress, in passing the AUMF, largely abdicated its responsibility -- as it had, sadly, done decades before during the Vietnam War. Both abdications happened in part because of deeply flawed intelligence, which led Congress and, by and large, the news media and the public to defer to the Chief Executive.
Many of us in the Intelligence Community (and, I suspect, many within the CIA Directorate of Intelligence) doubted or completely rejected what was published in the infamous Iraq WMD National Intelligence Estimate of 2002 that underpinned the Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq the following year. I have always hesitated about accusing my Langley colleagues of "politicizing intelligence" but there is not much doubt in my mind that the Agency leadership steered the DI and the rest of the IC in the direction demanded by key policymakers, up to and including the vice president. Those within the State Department and other agencies who took a hard look at Iraq saw little actual threat but a great deal of posturing on the part of Saddam Hussein, which played all too well within the astonishingly uninformed US news media. In fact, my understanding is that Iraq was largely in compliance with the UN Resolutions, and there can be no doubt that Saddam's regime posed little or no threat to anyone in the region or the rest of the world. The Iraqi military was, after the debacle of 1991, a shadow of its former self and the WMD threat was nonexistent -- as the post-invasion investigations conclusively proved.
So, call it an American moral failure if you like, but in my view it was chiefly a judgment failure of a minority of zealots who had gained power in the US through very complicated political and judicial circumstances. My own moral failure was not to resign in principle, a failure shared by many further up the federal food chain than me, but hey -- I had a family, needed a salary and health care, you know the story.
Just read Ralph's most perceptive views on the 2nd Iraq War.
Whether or not Intelligence was 'politicized' as mentioned Ralph was in much better position to know or be aware. In any event, even IF it were not, as it moved up and forward to the political levels of US Govt., it certainly would have become so, being as that is their province and job.
This is not to get into a political discussion, even as right not today some 1 million estimate protestors are expected in DC over recent domestic tragedies every bit as wrenching as the 2nd Gulf War. This, merely an aside mention while reply to a couple of points Ralph has brought into focus.
The State view mentioned was shared at that time, the Iraq situation did not appear to present any threat; even so, those in the Administration then seems determined the US would not take the NY attack without responding and Iraq became for them something to demonstrate the US would not just roll over and call it a day. Hence, those events leading up to and actual invasion of Iraq proper which had been rejected as the end objective for the 1st Gulf War. A limited war over Kuwait became an all out war over Iraq. This way the critics of that 'limit' could get their decisions made into policy and events by marching to Iraq proper, 'to finish the job', which to them had not been completed.
This critical decision was not just a matter of semantics but very decisive conclusions and outcomes. This leads to concurrence with Ralph's observations about minority of zealots being the cross upon which this 2nd Gulf War
My 2nd point was/is merely a comment upon our Federal system of Govt. To which the authority for elections is indeed left to the States, having been setup that way by the Founding Fathers. It is also a source of various difficulties that have ben shown in the modern era to history and politics. Elections are the province of States not the Federal Govt.