WHY ARE WE IN IRAQ?….OK, I’m going to struggle through some stuff here, but I’m pretty sure I have a point to make. Maybe.

Yesterday Gregg Easterbrook repeated an argument that he’s made before about our occupation of Iraq:

Why are we in Iraq? If the reason really, truly was that we really, truly believed Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons, then our assault on Iraq was justified, but now we must leave immediately, as no banned weapons have been found.

….Either the Bush aministration must admit that it was wrong about weapons of mass destruction and articulate different–possibly valid–reasons for the occupation of Iraq, or we must leave immediately.

When I first read this I just shook my head. Was he deliberately pretending to be naive? Or does he really not know why we’re in Iraq? Or what? After all, the underlying motivations have been extensively debated in the blogosphere, and you gotta figure that if bloggers have figured this stuff out, so has Gregg.

Then I see the evening news, and there’s Bush solemnly telling us that America will never cut and run. There’s too much at stake. And in the New York Times today, there’s a good example of the kind of thing he’s been saying for the past few months:

“A peaceful and free Iraq is essential to the security of the United States,” Mr. Bush said. “This will help change the world in a positive way so that years from now, people will sit back and say, ‘Thank goodness America stayed the course and did what was necessary to win this battle in the war on terror.’ ”

….”[Saddam is] no longer running the country,” Mr. Bush said. “He’s no longer got rape rooms; no longer raping young girls or having young girls raped,” he said, continuing, “He’s no longer torturing people; he’s no longer developing mass graves.”

Do you see the problem? Although bloggers and the political media have been talking for a while about the allegedly real reasons we’re in Iraq ? drain the swamp, war of civilizations, reduce pressure on Israel’s flank, the domino theory of bringing democracy to the Middle East, etc. etc. ? it’s true that George Bush has not once put his name to any of this stuff, has he?

Nobody talks about WMD anymore, of course, and Cheney’s the only one who still pushes the al-Qaeda nonsense (although a bit half-heartedly even in his case). So what’s left? Saddam was a bad man and we’re obligated to finish the reconstruction job now that we’ve gone in there and blown the place up. But that’s not exactly a message to stir the blood, is it? After all, if the only public reason for going to war is limited to changing the governance of one particular odious patch of desert in the Middle East out of dozens, how many Americans are really likely to stay interested over the long haul?

So here’s what I’m getting at: maybe Easterbrook has a point. Why doesn’t Bush tell us why it’s important to stay in Iraq? I mean really tell us. Not just in negative terms (“we won’t be scared away”) but in positive terms of what his goal is. What does he really, truly want to accomplish?

And why are his conservative supporters letting him get away with staying silent? Surely they must know that America’s willingness to expend hundreds of lives and billions of dollars depends on believing that our goal is worth it. The longer that Bush avoids talking about it, the more likely it is that public support will decline and the cherished goals of the national greatness conservatives will go up in smoke.

It’s a dangerous game they’re playing. The neocons, who seem like they’re still the strongest faction among the policy elite, have their own set of reasons for wanting to occupy Iraq, but they’re afraid to push them at a mass level because they know perfectly well that the American public won’t buy them. This means that the booster-in-chief is limited to lame explanations that are long on emotional heartstrings but short on substance ? explanations that over time are becoming less and less satisfying to Joe and Jane Sixpack.

So the public won’t buy their real reasons, and increasingly they aren’t buying the smokescreen either. It’s quite a pickle they have themselves in, isn’t it?

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