A WAR RETROSPECTIVE….Matt Yglesias calls it a “murk-fest,” and it’s true that asking a bunch of liberal hawks whether they still think the war was a good idea smacks of serious navel gazing. Still, this Slate con-fab actually has a few interesting points. Here are two of them.

First, Ken Pollack:

I think the war put to rest the fantasies of the neocons that we could simply arm Ahmad Chalabi and a few thousand followers (followers he still has not actually produced), give them air cover, and send them in to spark a rolling revolution. Richard Perle and others argued for that initially, but in the end they had to support a full-scale invasion as the only realistic course.

To take this one step further, one result of the war has been to demonstrate to even the most hawkish war supporters that nation building is really, really hard ? something they apparently didn’t believe beforehand. So in a funny way, the outcome of the war probably makes it less likely that George Bush will do something similar anytime in the near future.

Next is Tom Friedman, who offers several reasons for supporting the war and then explains what he thinks the real reason was:

The real reason for this war?which was never stated?was to burst what I would call the “terrorism bubble,” which had built up during the 1990s….This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was to go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something?to let everyone know that we, too, are ready to fight and die to preserve our open society. Yes, I know, it’s not very diplomatic?it’s not in the rule book?but everyone in the neighborhood got the message: Henceforth, you will be held accountable. Why Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Because we could?period. Sorry to be so blunt, but, as I also wrote before the war: Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.

Regardless of whether this is a good reason or not, I think Friedman is exactly correct: this is the real reason we invaded. Unfortunately, it also reveals the biggest problem with the war, one that’s obvious if you put Friedman’s remark alongside Pollack’s: unless we get the postwar rebuilding right we haven’t actually demonstrated anything. If what we really end up proving is that this kind of war is so long, hard, and futile that the American public won’t support another one, then what’s the lesson? I think the answer is pretty obvious.

Still, Slate’s liberal hawks are holding firm: even though they largely agree that Bush was dishonest in making his case for war and incompetent in his postwar planning, they all continue to say that it was the right thing to do, and furthermore they all claim that WMD wasn’t their primary reason for supporting the war in any case. (Crikey, is there anyone left who’s willing to say that they gave a damn about WMD before the war?)

Unanimous agreement doesn’t really make for a very stimulating discussion, though, so these guys better find something to fight about. Otherwise the next four days of this exercise are going to be pretty tedious.