Newsweek's excellent brief on Iraq includes this passage, a little callback to how some hawks wanted to go into Iraq even while the Afghan war was raging. The Taliban's turf lacked a certain propagandic oomph:
Rather than send the snake eaters to poke around mountain caves and mud-walled compounds, the U.S. military wanted to fight on a grander stage, where it could show off its mobility and firepower. To the civilian bosses at the Pentagon and the eager-to-please top brass, Iraq was a much better target. By invading Iraq, the United States would give the Islamists—and the wider world—an unforgettable lesson in American power. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was on Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board and, at the time, a close confidant of the SecDef. In November 2001, Gingrich told a NEWSWEEK reporter, "There's a feeling we've got to do something that counts—and bombing caves is not something that counts."
That quote is from a similarly-massive piece, Powell in the Middle from October 1, 2001. But Gingrich wasn't identified at the time.
The strike-Iraq contingent fears American credibility will be damaged if the United States gets bogged down in Afghanistan.
Good point. We've forgotten that this was the conventional wisdom: that feeble Iraq would be easy to take over but Afghanistan, the graveyard of who knows how many Soviet soldiers, would be a slog.
It also believes that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction could be used against America next.
Less convincing, in retrospect.
There is "a recognition that it will be very tough to get bin Laden in the rocky and mountainous terrain of Afghanistan," said one participant in the Pentagon meetings. "There's a feeling that we've got to do something that counts—and bombing some caves is not something that counts." The world, indeed, will be watching. Asked why bin Laden finds sympathy among Arabs, a senior Arab League official said simply: "All this military buildup for one man? The Americans are making him famous. Imagine if you don't get him."