Yes, it is easy to criticize the pre-war period. I do it often on this blog. The US botched the diplomacy, the intelligence was flawed and likely distorted for partisan reasons, and al Qaeda had no significant ties to Saddam Hussein.
Is this so much water under the bridge? Should we just forget the failures and "move on"?
No, and Professor Robert Jervis of Columbia reminds us why. The Bush administration's botching of the lead up to war will have long-term consequences that the US should be thinking about right now.
I recommend everyone read his fall 2005 article, "Why the Bush Doctrine Cannot Be Sustained."
The Bush administration has embraced a doctrine of "preemptive war." It declares that the US will launch Iraq-like wars again at other state targets -- whenever it deems such an attack necessary.
But Jervis explains why this is not really possible. The domestic public and longtime American allies won't support such wars, especially because the Bush adminstration has trashed traditional threat analysis dependent upon the "external environment." Instead, the US now says threats emerge from non-democratic regimes. This greatly lowers the threshold for launching a war, but vastly complicates the chances for success:
American vital interest requires not the maintenance of the status quo, but the transformation of world politics, and indeed, of the domestic systems of many countries. This project is more far-reaching than traditional empires that sought only to conquer. Although difficult to achieve, this could be accomplished by superior military power. For the transformation Bush has in mind, superior force is necessary but not sufficient; it can succeed only through the efforts of others. Furthermore, not only must the populations and elites in currently dictatorial regimes undergo democratic transformations, but America’s allies must work with it in a wide variety of projects to sustain the political and economic infrastructure of the new world. The unilateralist impulses in American policy are likely to inhibit such cooperation, however.Jervis explains that the Bush administration has staked US policy on the "giant gamble" of Iraqi democratization.
If the Bush administration overestimates the extent to which it can and needs to make the world democratic, it incorrectly assumes that the American domestic system will provide the steady support that the Doctrine requires. (p. 375)
He's betting that they've lost. Iraq "is likely to end up being both authoritarian and anti-American" (p. 374).