The only plausible reason for keeping American troops in Iraq is to protect the democratic transformation that President Bush seized upon as a rationale for the invasion after his claims about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be fictitious.
We have been down this road before with the Times - they displayed similar amnesia about the rationale for war back in Nov 2003, and Andrew Sullivan (the old Andrew) was there.
Relatedly, here is an EJ Dionne column from Jan 2003 criticizing Bush for offering three reasons to liberate Iraq, and asking him to settle on just one:
But Bush still has a problem that goes beyond style: We don't know if this war is primarily about (1) taking weapons of mass destruction out of Saddam's Hussein's hands, or (2) removing Saddam from power, or (3) bringing democracy to Iraq and revolutionizing the politics of the Middle East.
Supporters of war argue that all three goals are compatible. In principle, they are. But because the administration has gone back and forth about which of these goals matter most and how they fit together, its policy has been open to easy challenge.
Some bonus links - here is the President's Feb 26, 2003 speech to the AEI which inspired the Feb 2003 NY Times editorial mentioned by Andrew above; here is the President's Sept 2002 speech to the UN, which concluded with this:
If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world. These nations can show by their example that honest government, and respect for women, and the great Islamic tradition of learning can triumph in the Middle East and beyond. And we will show that the promise of the United Nations can be fulfilled in our time.
Neither of these outcomes is certain. Both have been set before us. We must choose between a world of fear and a world of progress. We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather. We must stand up for our security, and for the permanent rights and the hopes of mankind. By heritage and by choice, the United States of America will make that stand. And, delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand, as well.
Thank you very much.
Now, with all that evidence against them, where might the Times be coming from on this? My guess is, projection. (Or is it transference? My psycho-babble is even weaker than usual tonight).
Folks like John Kerry said, in supporting the war (or disarmament, or vigorous negotiation, or whatever Kerry was supporting when he voted "yes") back in October 2002, that the only reason for war that was acceptable to him was disarmament:
Let me be clear, the vote I will give to the President is for one reason and one reason only: To disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, if we cannot accomplish that objective through new, tough weapons inspections in joint concert with our allies.
Years later, the Times may be imagining that, since disarmament was the only reason that liberals wanted to hear, it must have been the only reason Bush offered.
Well, they knew better at one time, and perhaps they will again.
UPDATE: Somewhere there is someone with something nice to say about Kerry's Senate speech rationalizing his support for the war resolution. But not here.