First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?
The word "hawk" falls short of describing my position, both then and now. "Eagle" might be better; even hawks get jittery in my presence. I think the Iraq War was and is important for three reasons:
1. We needed to kick somebody's ass. During the Clinton years, we (not just the President, all of us) assumed the world was civilized, and that if we could make people understand us and like us we'd be safe. Turns out, the world ain't civilized and never was. It's a lot more like a prison yard than a cocktail party. And in that sort of environment, you don't stay safe with bribes and discussion. You stay safe by finding the local badass and beating him down. Saddam was the local badass; no other Arab country has anywhere near his military capability. We beat him down in three weeks.
2. Pursuant to point 1, the world needed to understand that we would not only kick some ass, but that we were willing to pay the price to do it. The extreme casualty-aversion shown by President Clinton was unacceptable, since it gave the bad guys the impression that they could win by killing a half dozen soldiers. Now they know even killing 1000 soldiers won't make us back down. That's important.
3. By invading and then occupying Iraq, the President has lured the region's would-be terrorists into an area where the almost all of the Americans to attack have machine guns and are trained to kill them. Those who are not so equipped and trained are in Iraq of their own volition and accept the associated risks. The rest of us are that much safer. Better the terrorists fight, and die, in Iraq than attack us here.
There are, of course, lots of other arguments in favor of war. As an American, though, I've focused on the war's benefits for America. I don't have the time to go into the war's benefts for Iraq.
Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?
The continued violence in Iraq bothers me, as it bothers everyone. The bungled response to that violence is even more disconcerting. As I've written before, the appropriate response to armed resistance is brutal suppression of that resistance. We've been far too concerned with making the Iraqis and Arabs at large like us and, thus, far too lenient with the bad guys in Iraq. To answer your more specific questions:
1. Every soldier killed or wounded is a tragedy, but let's not lose track of the fact that these guys are soldiers. Getting blown up is in the job description, and always has been. Some might think that makes it a crappy job description, but there's nothing to be done about it. 2 casualties a day is militarily miniscule. Would we have "lost" the war in Vietnam had the KIA rate been 2/day? Hell, no. Again: America needs to regain the willingness to spend blood and treasure for our national goals.
2. Of course Iraqis see the US presence as an occupying force. The US presence is an occupying force.
3. The success or failure of the Iraq-as-Democracy experiment is not the only, or even the primary, metric by which to gauge the importance of the war. Many of the primary benefits to America (detailed above) are attainable without a democratic Iraq. In any case, since when have "classified US intelligence reports" predicting a country's future stability ever been, well, correct?
Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?
Several things come to mind:
1. The frequency and severity of terrorist attacks in America. If there are no or few attacks in America, that reflects well on the "lure 'em into Iraq and kill 'em" strategy.
2. The willingness of other strongmen to openly support terrorism. Saddam did this, and it cost him. Will others? In Libya and to a certain extent Syria, this metric is looking promising. In Iran, less so.
3. The willingness of rogue states to continue nuclear weapons research. Nuclear weapons are the only WMD that matter to me. Again, in Libya this metric looks good. In Iran and North Korea, less so.
4. The level of social hysteria in America over a few military casualties. Will we still be as upset over 18 deaths as we were in 1994? Will we cut and run at that point? Probably not. This is a good thing.
5. The establishment of representative government in Iraq. This goal looks attainable, though difficult. In the end, of course, whether the Iraqis establish such a government will be up to them, not us. That's why this item comes last; it's important, but we shouldn't guage the success or failure of the whole enterprise on this one metric.
So there you have it. I know that there are liberals out there who're rarin' to let me have it, so go ahead. Be polite, though. Remember the rules: get snarky with me and I'll make you cry.