Robert Kagan's justification for the Iraq war effectively ignores the elephant in the room ["Whether This War Was Worth It," op-ed, June 19]. Initiating a war is the most important decision that a society or nation can make. For a democracy like ours, a clear moral necessity, perceived by our leaders and supported by the people, is essential to taking that step. Kagan says that "the most sensible argument for the invasion" was that "containment could not be preserved indefinitely." That is now a factual conjecture that can never be proved or disproved.

Our leaders did not offer that justification, and we as a nation never passed on its validity. Our leaders, who certainly had Kagan's hypothesis before them, chose instead to proffer arguments of an immediate threat: weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's hands, ties to al Qaeda, etc. It can only be concluded that they recognized the kind of case that was, in fact, morally required, a case that we now know was never there.

It would always be easy to justify the harsh consequences of a dubious course of action if we were free, after the fact, to postulate an unprovable set of consequences that would have followed a failure to act. That easy path out of the nation's unease is not worthy of those who value our role of moral leadership in a difficult world.

-- George Avery

Chevy Chase

*

Robert Kagan makes some valid points in his analysis of war, its necessity and its inevitable second-guessing. And it's clear that we can never know what was down the path that we didn't take.

But the problem that a significant number of us have, and are persistently frustrated by, is not that we can't accept that some wars of choice are ultimately worth it. The problem is that we were persistently and alarmingly sold a war of absolute necessity. We were not told that removing Saddam Hussein was a worthy goal in and of itself. We were told that we as a nation were in mortal and immediate danger. This, of course, was untrue and was known to be untrue by those promoting this war. If we had had the debate that Kagan speaks of, perhaps the Bush administration could have made Kagan's exact case. This did not happen. There can be no honest debate without, well, honesty.

Regardless of whether having removed Hussein from power is better for our world, which most people can probably agree on, the more important issue we Americans should be considering is whether accepting blatant, alarmist lies from our government, especially those concerning life and death, is "worth it."

-- Mark Berube

New York

I cannot recall, in my 25-year career in the international security field, a more deeply flawed analysis than that presented by Robert Kagan. The bottom line, to Kagan, is that containment could not be preserved indefinitely, and he quotes Sandy Berger as stating that containment was not "sustainable over the long run."

Yet those arguments were used against the containment policies initiated by Harry Truman and Dean Acheson in the late 1940s, when they were referred to as products of the "college of cowardly communist containment." Then, too, there were arguments that containment couldn't work in the long run -- but those arguments were proved wrong. Dead wrong.

Today, our far more sophisticated methods of satellite surveillance would have allowed us to watch nearly every transit movement from every suspected weapons site in Iraq. Even if we had eventually decided that military action was unavoidable, a decent respect for military planning would have allowed time for the buildup of land forces and a carefully planned campaign rather than the overly optimistic, haphazard operation we launched so prematurely.

An equally likely outcome of a containment policy might have been that, as in the case of the Soviet Union, Iraq would have morphed into something different from the "reign of terror" state it was. In that case we might well have avoided war and its terrible price both to ourselves and to the Iraqi people.

-- Peter Storm

Vienna

The writer served as a national security analyst at the Office of Management and Budget during the Nixon administration.