The Lewis article gives an explanation of the 9/11 attacks that led many in the administration to think that war was the appropriate response. The Gaddis article lays out the Bush Doctrine, that is, the set of goals and beliefs that guide his foreign policy decisions, including especially those that led to the Iraq war.
We tried to understand the major points each author made and why those points would lead someone to start a war in Iraq. For the most part, we were critical. This made our task difficult. It’s important to understand what your opponents thinks before criticizing their views effectively.
Could military force be used to create democracies or, at least, an “empire of liberty”? The case for thinking that rests on the experience of American dominance over Germany, Italy, Japan, and Korea following World War II. The case against it rests on the collapse of European colonies following World War II, America’s record in Latin America, and, of course, Vietnam. When Mearsheimer mentions nationalism in his essay, he’s thinking of the first and third.
What I mean by referring to Latin America is this. The US has exercized a lot of control over governments in Latin America. It has sponsored coups covertly and outright invaded countries, among other things. Its influence over politics in this region cannot plausibly be said to have ushered in an empire of liberty.
Finally, I want to make special mention of Ben’s point. Ben had said that the US can’t maintain an empire while retaining its values. I think that’s a deep and important point to keep in mind. When we talk about preserving our security by going to war or winning the wars that have been started, it’s worth bearing in mind the costs that are being inflicted. How many people is the US allowed to kill in order to stave off threats to its security? How many is it allowed to kill in order to win a war rather than lose it? These are questions that never enter the political debate. But they should.