In sum, the most persuasive criticisms of the Iraq war—that we sent too small a force, that we erred in dismantling the Iraqi state, that we would have been wiser to concentrate on Iran—do nothing to impeach neoconservatism. And as for the criticisms that do aim at the distinctly neoconservative tenets of the war—that we should have deferred to the UN, that we should have avoided resorting to force, that we should not have tried to bring democracy to Iraq—none is persuasive.I'm not entirely convinced of this. There is certainly a case to be made that Iraq is not ready for and/or does not want democracy, which is their business to a certain extent. Of course, once that lack of democracy reaches the point where is foments terrorism it becomes very much the business of others who may be potential targets. But this does not really mitigate the essential issue, which is that the War on Terror or a war with terror is happening and will continue to happen. The neoconservative perspective on that war will likely continue to guide the policy of the United States -- and indeed of others who would be loath to admit as much -- because it is, in fact, the only stance that the democratic world can plausibly adopt.
A war such as the one we are now engaged in presents, if one looks at it honestly, with very few options. We can simply cease to fight it, which is what much of the anti-neoconservative argument boils down to, and take the inevitable consequences; none of which are particularly attractive. On the other hand, we can engage in a scorched-earth policy towards the Middle East, ending in either the total decimation of that region or the installment of various dictators who will use extraordinary violence to suppress terror and radical Islam as well. This option is not only doomed to failure but is politically and morally untenable for democratic societies, in their current form at any rate.
This leaves no option except, interpreted broadly, the neoconservative option; or, at least, the option now identified with the neoconservatives. That is, military action against terror and terror supporting regimes combined with a conscious policy of democratization in the Muslim world. This need not take place solely through mass warfare. There are numerous other, perhaps better, options. On the other hand, there will come points at which mass warfare will be necessary, and perhaps even preferable to any other course of action.
Ultimately, any war against terrorism is an intelligence war, and that is likely where things are moving in the post-Iraq era now taking shape. This will have its own challenges, and democratic nations are going to have to embrace certain policies -- such as targeted assassinations -- with which they are inherently uncomfortable in order to win it. Nonetheless, such compromises may not appear so daunting when we contemplate the reality of capitulation, which is not nearly so attractive in the real world as it may appear in the ease and comfort of the abstract.