In one sense, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were also weapons of mass distraction. Without doubt, US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair believed that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein either had, or had the wherewithal to produce, such weapons when they decided for pre-emptive war. In the case of Iraq, there was particular fear of chemical and biological weapons.
But weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were not the only motive for war. Both leaders were outraged about a murderous dictator and hoped that toppling him would open the door for democracy in Iraq. This (they hoped) would automatically bring about a degree of stability that would help resolve other conflicts in the region, and also guarantee the uninterrupted flow of oil.
Mixed motives are not necessarily bad motives. In fact, most human motives are mixed. The real question is whether democracy could really have done the trick, and then, whether missiles and tanks are the right method to bring democracy to a country that has suffered dictatorial rule for a long period of time.
Historical precedents played a part in the Iraq decision, not least because Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice cited them often. One example is Nazi Germany. To be sure, the Allies did not enter that war to bring democracy to Germany. In any case, Germany started the war. The Allies defended those to whom they were bound by treaty, and then the integrity of their own countries.
Perhaps the entry of the US into the (European) war had something to do with the post-war order. But there were actually two views about that order. One was that Germany should be flattened and reduced to a pre-industrial society from which no effective aggression could ever emerge again. The other was that Germany should be helped on the way to democracy.
As it happened, the protagonists of the first view were sidelined and the proponents of democratization prevailed. Indeed, the US was effective in using its "soft power" to build democracy in post-war Germany, though Britain was better. Democratic manners came more naturally to the British occupation forces.
The second example, the end of the Cold War in 1989, was also a success story. Of course, communism's collapse was not the result of a pre-emptive strike by the West (though the arms race helped drive the system to implosion). After 1989, however, Western assistance, not least by the US and Britain, eased the transition to democracy, the rule of law and market economies in most post-communist countries.
So why does this not seem to work in Iraq? Evidently, differences of culture and circumstances abound. Even so, why has so little come of the intention of the Iraq war's leaders to give democracy a chance in that country?
One reason is that bringing democracy with missiles and tanks is almost a contradiction in terms. Democracy is by definition a peaceful method of settling conflicts. Of course, the bombing of Dresden in 1945 was not exactly peaceful. One must doubt whether it contributed anything to making democracy more acceptable after World War II. Still, when the fighting was over, the bombing stopped for good, and out of the tanks came people who were intent on creating democratic conditions and capable of doing so.
There is much talk these days about "hard power" and "soft power," about America having one and Europe the other. In fact, the two belong together. Soft power without the backing of hard power changes little: