The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but . . . there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two...Now all these things are true concerns. While the WMD reasoning has come under a lot of fire recently, there's no doubt about Saddam Hussein's barbaric treatment of his own people. His ties to terrorists are well-known, and there's good evidence, if not absolute proof, of his ties to al Qaeda. As for the WMDs, it's true that no large stockpiles have been found. That they existed at one point is not in doubt; he used them in the war against Iran and against the Kurds. Whether they've been destroyed by US attacks against Saddam through the years, destroyed by Saddam in secret (the least likely, I think), buried in the sand, or shipped to Syria, I don't know. The programs, however, were certainly there--Kay reported on many of them. None of them involved large scale manufacturing, but when it comes right down to it, we were never as worried about large scale manufacturing as we were about producing just enough to contribute to a terrorist attack. It does not take a large quantity of chemical or biological weapons to mount a terrorist attack--remember the anthrax letters? They involved an absurdly small quantity of anthrax. Imagine what could have happened with larger, but hardly massive, quantities.
These are not the only reasons, however. Another reason, largely unstated, is that we are embarking on a mission to change the whole of the Middle East, and that could not happen with Saddam Hussein in the way. Contrary to what Edward Said would have had us believe, the biggest problems in the Middle East are not due to poverty and ignorance, but to tyranny and oppression. To deal with that, we have to bring democracy to the Middle East. Now, since a large number of people in the Middle East already want democracy, it's not as if we're forcing it upon them, but they are currently living under oppressive regimes who are uninterested in the idea, or use it just for show. See Iran's recent "election." The way to start that change happening is to show support for these native movements, to demonstrate that democracy can work in the Middle East, and to demonstrate our own determination to follow through. Aside from being a strong candidate of where to first establish democracy in the Middle East, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a living example of US impotence. While we beat Saddam in 1991, he had routinely thumbed his nose at US and UN demands. What is probably worst of all, when a popular uprising occurred in response to his defeat in the first Gulf War, he crushed it ruthlessly, while the US did too little, too late. In doing this, the US failed to show support for the democratic forces in Iraq, and as long as the US did nothing, this was taken as a continuing sign that the US either could not or would not do anything against the tyrants of the Middle East who oppressed their people.
There were other reasons to go after Iraq first, the main one being that the American people were willing. They saw Iraq as unfinished business, and believed that we would have to deal with Saddam sooner or later, so that when President Bush said that the time was here, they agreed. While the President can attempt to start a war without the support of the US people, Congress can very effectively stymie those attempts. Thus, while it was fairly easy for the President to gain popular support for a war to remove Saddam Hussein, the same could not be said for a war against Iran or North Korea, arguably as dangerous if not moreso. (There are probably other ways to deal with these countries, however. I may discuss them later.)
Finally, there was the international law. That may surprise those of you who call the Iraq War a violation of international law, but the truth is it was an open and shut case. Saddam Hussein had signed a ceasefire agreement at the end of the first Gulf War. He had violated it: time and time again. It was no longer valid, therefore the war continued. I'm surprised that people really have to argue about this one. That, I think, was the final reason to go after Iraq. Weapons of Mass Destruction gave the issue an urgency, possibly a false one, but the case for removing Saddam Hussein never needed them.
Update: Welcome to readers from Captain's Quarters. It seems that shamelesslly selling myself in his comments section worked. I'd direct you to other posts of interest, but I really hate it when other bloggers do that (I did add a few links to the post if you're interested, however). My blog is archived by week rather than post, anyway, and since it's only a week old, pretty much everything is on this page.
New Post: And to be fair and balanced, I make the case against the war in Iraq above.