Concerning the present situation with Iraq, I can think of one circumstance which would convince me that the war is necessary. That would be if it can be definitively shown that inspections cannot make any more progress. I think plenty of people on both sides of the issue would agree with the statement that, if inspections cannot make any further progress, then war is necessary for the purpose of disarming Iraq. The question then moves to whether or not that showing has been made. To me, it has not, but I'm beginning to wonder about it.
I do not accept regime change as a valid basis for war, nor can I accept pre-emption. Both, I feel, are buzzwords designed to cover up the fact that we're talking about an unprovoked, offensive war. In my view, an offensive war is never justified. Only a defensive war. Nazi Germany launched an invasion; the allies (belatedly) repelled the invasion. Fom the allied perspective, that was clearly a defensive war (and a necessary one, but they are two separate issues). The Gulf War was a defensive war (not directly defensive, since Iraq did not invade or attack the United States, but defensive of ally Kuwait). These are both easy cases.
The present case is a lot stickier. The only justification that can even hope to fall on the right side of the offensive-defensive dichotomy is the disarmament justification. Even this, though, gets ugly. You don't have any clear provocations like the invasion of Poland in 1939 or the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But you do have a real interest in preventing a tyrannical thug like Saddam Hussein from acquiring nuclear weapons (which, in the hands of North Korea, have reduced Bush's vaunted moral clarity to full-fledged Clintonian foreign-policy nuance, and we can't have that!). Preventing Iraq from acquiring nukes is a totally legitimate, not to mention crucial, interest.
However, if that goal can be achieved without putting American soldiers at risk, and without killing any innocent Iraqis, or destabilizing the region, or fomenting fundamentalist Muslim hatred, or furthering Osama bin Laden's apocalyptic holy war wet dreams, then that's the way to go. The clear alternative to war is U.N. inspections. If the inspections can work to disarm Iraq and to frustrate his plans to acquire nukes, even if it cannot succeed in removing Saddam from power or pre-empting whatever it is we're trying to pre-empt, then it is the only legitimate option. If the inspections cannot achieve this goal, then war is the only available option.
In light of the huge costs and uncertainties, not to mention loss of human life, which accompanies any war, it makes sense to put the burden of persuasion on the side of going to war. In other words, it must be conclusively demonstrated that the inspections cannot succeed before the war alternative becomes legitimate.
So, while I am beginning to harbor doubts as to the potential effectiveness of inspections, I am not yet convinced that they are hopeless. I will be paying very close attention in the coming days and weeks to this point.
All of this relates only to the moral justification for war. I am still convinced that the Bush Administration cannot be trusted to carry out a war in the right way, and I think the weight ofthe evidence is overwhelmingly on my side. But then, that all depends on what you think the goal of the war is, and opinions, even within the White House, differ wildy on that question.