The 2003 invasion of Iraq has given rise to widespread public debate. There were questions raised about its legitimacy. There are advocates for both sides of the issue. This includes public intellectuals, politicians, journalists and activists. The purpose of this essay is to present to the reader arguments for and against the legitimacy of the war. To make the arguments authentic and credible, care has been taken to elicit information from the most reliable of sources – journal articles, op-ed write-ups, government records, etc.
The 2003 Allied invasion of Iraq was not an exception. Right through its history, America has not hesitated to use force under the pretexts of principles, sovereignty and justice. American military intervention in world affairs has risen drastically since the end of the Second World War. The period following the Second World War saw America assume the role of a superpower that headed the western coalition in what was a bipolar world. Since the collapse of Soviet Union, America has had at its disposal the most potent military force. Its economic structure complements military spending; leading to a military industrial complex 
Noted political commentator Ivo Daalder raises some valid questions regarding the legitimacy of the invasion. Daalder argues that the invasion was illegitimate on two counts: 1.there was no provocation from Iraq and 2.the United Nations Security Council did not approve of the war. Military actions of countries such as Iran and North Korea were condemned by the U.N. and the United States alike. If the same standards were to be applied to all participant countries then the United States deserves its condemnation.
On the other hand, supporters of the Bush Administration argue that toppling Saddam Hussein was a just act that needs no further legitimacy . Liberating the country from an oppressive dictatorship is deemed a just act in and of itself. Apart from the geo-political significance of Bush Administration’s militarism, the image of the country is also at stake. Popular opinion in the rest of the world is very unfavourable towards Americans – they don’t seem to make a distinction between the government and its populace. According to Robert Kagan,
“To forge a renewed political consensus on the use of force, we first need to recognize that international legitimacy does matter. It matters to Americans, who want to believe they are acting justly and are troubled if others accuse them of selfish, immoral or otherwise illegitimate behaviour. It matters to our democratic friends and allies, whose support may attest to the justness of the cause and whose participation may often be necessary to turn a military victory into a lasting political success.” 
Although the Iraq war was not sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council, there are other parameters for evaluating its legitimacy. There are certain conditions under which an invasion is warranted. But the important question is who decides. In the absence of the Security Council sanction, a consensus among the world’s leading democracies might provide the necessary legitimacy to any military intervention. Recent world history is comprised of several examples of successful application of this method. The latest of them was the war in Kosovo. However, in the case of the Iraq War, there was no unanimity in the decision to invade. France under the leadership of Jacques Chirac was vocal in its opposition to the war, while Germany’s stand was ambiguous. The only ready partner for this venture was the United Kingdom, which is no surprise. In the post World War world, United Kingdom’s role in world politics is one of a junior partner to the dominant military power. Hence, Robert Kagan contends, that the 2003 invasion’s legitimacy is a dubious one.
On the eve of the American invasion of Iraq, the German Foreign minister Joschka Fischer openly questioned American intentions behind the intervention. Such doubts were expressed by other members of the European Union as well. The differences were not just at the diplomatic level. A public opinion poll conducted on the eve of the war revealed how an overwhelming majority of people in Europe disagreed with the American official line. More importantly, they believed that the war was illegitimate. The public sentiment in the United States was exactly the opposite. Some analysts point that the divide in public opinion is nothing more than a reflection of the prevailing world order. Nevertheless, such a simplistic reason is insufficient in explaining a pervasive set of beliefs and attitudes .
Joseph Nye elucidates further,
“Today, a darker reality looms. A great philosophical schism has opened within the West, and mutual antagonism threatens to debilitate both sides of the transatlantic community. At a time when new dangers and crises are proliferating rapidly, this schism could have serious consequences. For Europe and the United States to come apart strategically is bad enough. But what if their differences over world order infect the rest of what we have known as the liberal West?” 
The United States, by virtue of being the only superpower, has the responsibility to protect and spread democratic values to all parts of the world. Its foreign policy should be much more than “defending and promoting material national interests”. Such was the vision of its founding fathers. In order to maintain the noble traditions of its early years, American policies should avoid making a distinction between foreign and domestic. This way, the standards applied to others will apply to themselves as well, ensuring justice to all .
Much has been made about the Bush Administration and its failings during the course of the last seven years. But the Iraq is not a one-off event. There is no evidence to support theories of Bush Administration’s connivance in the Weapons of Mass Destruction fiasco. Commentators from the liberal end of the political spectrum have been very harsh in their condemnation of George Bush. They’ve also suggested that the intelligence failures pertaining to WMD were his responsibility. Some have even gone to the extent of stating that the Administration has had a hand in the preparation of intelligence reports of WMD. Most of these claims are not substantiated by evidence. Some of them are plain outlandish. The truth most likely to enter history books is that George Bush made an honest mistake and was led astray by flawed intelligence. The Bush Administration went to the war with the conviction that their case was authentic and their motives noble. Even when faced with opposition from their traditional allies, the Administration sincerely believed that the rest of the world could be persuaded once Iraq’s WMD program is exposed. But unfortunately, such a day never came. This might have made the opposition more vociferous. But is not a vindication of their theory of Iraq War. Hence, the legitimacy for the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq comes from the purity of its motives .
For President Bush, the war’s legitimacy was grounded deeply in American values. So much is evident from his words at least. For example, the president explained in his recent State of the Union speech, “America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire, we understand our special calling: This great republic will lead the cause of freedom”. Hence, America went to Iraq not as an occupier with territorial or material ambitions, but as a liberator to free the people of Iraq from Saddam’s horrific rule .