Americans have no particular taste or facility for nation-building: we want exit strategies rather than empires.
Lurking like an unbidden guest at a dinner party is the reality of what has happened in Iraq since the US invasion: We have been our usual inept and disorganized selves in planning for and carrying out the reconstruction, something that was predictible in advance and should not have surprised anyone familiar with American history.
The point here is not who is right, but rather that the prudential case was not nearly as open-and-shut as neoconservatives believe. Krauthammer talks as if the Bush Administration's judgment had been vindicated at every turn, and that any questioning of it can only be the result of base or dishonest motives. Would that this were so. The fact that our judgment was flawed has created an enormous legitimacy problem for us, one that will hurt our interests for a long time to come.
The hope that we would be awarded ex post legitimacy was not an unreasonable calculation. It might indeed have materialized had the United States found a large and active WMD program in Iraq after the invasion.
BINGO! This is why Bush was unhappy about not finding WMDs. His comment in the debate makes more sense now.
The world is different now than it was during the Cold War in ways that will affect our future ability to exert leadership and claim to speak on behalf of the world as a whole.
In al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups, we do in fact confront an enemy that hates us for what we are rather than for what we do.
Actually, experts would disagree with that characterization of al-Qaeda. Read Imperial Hubris, for example.
And now, for the best part:
It is inevitable that we will get sucked into large social-engineering projects in the future, and we need to be much better prepared. This means establishing a permanent office with authority and resources appropriate for the job next time around as part of a broader restructuring of the US government's soft-power agencies.
Fukuyama: The Neoconservative Moment