A reader writes:

I disagree with both Noah Millman and Fouad Ajami. We did not go into Iraq after 9/11 because we had to make a huge military demonstration somewhere, no matter how implausible the aims (Millman); nor did we want to teach "the Arabs" a lesson (Ajami). Cheney, Bush and company had long had Baghdad in their gunsights -- 9/11 was merely an opportunity, just as WMD was merely a cover. And as far as a general antipathy towards "the Arabs", I never saw that in the Cheney/Bush policies, and I certainly never saw that in Bush personally -- in fact he seemed rather close to the Saudi royals.   
No, we went into Iraq to fulfill a longer range strategic vision: Surround Iran. Defend Israel. Secure the oil.

And why should we be aghast at that?

That's what empires do: Surround their enemies. Defend their Holy Land. Secure their vital resources. Hardly surprising that the American Empire would do any different. 

What is surprising is the sheer incompetence with which it was done. But then, that's the hallmark of the Bush years, isn't it? And the hallmark of an empire on it's way to trouble: an utter incompetence based on the inability to read the real situation. Ideology over reality. Utopian fever dreams over cold conservative wakefulness. 

Of course, as a modern PC liberal, I deplore empire. But as a student of biology, I recognize it's universality. So the question, to me, is not whether we will or will not be an empire, but whether we will or will not be a competent one -- a competent, progressive, humane, enlightened empire, or an incompetent, regressive, inhumane, unenlightened one. Which immortal rep did Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and company earn for themselves -- and for us? But then, means really are ends. 

Which is what continues to give me hope as I watch Obama.

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