In 2004 I published an article in the journal, Middle East Policy that was entitled "Drinking the Koolaid." The article reviewed the process by which the neocon element in the Bush Administration seized control of the process of policy formation and drove the United States in the direction of invasion of Iraq and the destruction of the apparatus of the Iraqi state. They did this through manipulation of the collective mental image Americans had of Iraq and the supposed menace posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Not all the people who participated in this process were neocon in their allegiance but there were enough of them in the Bush Administration to dominate the process. Neoconism as it has evolved in American politics is a close approximation of the imperialist political faction that existed in the time of President William McKinley and the Spanish-American War. Barbara Tuchman described this faction well in "The Proud Tower."
Such people, then and now, fervently believe in the Manifest Destiny of the United States as mankind's best hope of a utopian future and concomitantly in the responsibility of the United States to lead mankind toward that future. Neocons believe that inside every Iraqi, Filipino or Syrian there is an American waiting to be freed from the bonds of tradition, local culture and general backwardness. For people with this mindset the explanation for the continuance of old ways lies in the oppressive and exploitative nature of rulers who block the "progress" that is needed. The solution for the imperialists and neocons is simple. Local rulers must be removed as the principal obstacle to popular emulation of Western and especially American culture and political forms. In the run up to the invasion of Iraq I was often told by leading neocon figures that the Muslims and particularly the Iraqis had no culture worth keeping and that once we had created new facts, (a Karl Rove quote) these people would quickly abandon their old ways and beliefs as they sought to become something like Americans. This notion has one major flaw. It is not necessarily correct. Often the natives are willing to fight you long and hard to retain their own ways. In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War the US acquired the Philippine Islands and sought to make the islands American in all things. The result was a terrible war against Filipino nationalists who did not want to follow the example of the "shining city on a hill." No, the "poor fools" wanted to go their own way in their own way. The same thing happened in Iraq after 2003. The Iraqis rejected occupation and American "reform" of their country and a long and bloody war ensued.
The neocons believe so strongly that America must lead the world and mankind forward that they accept the idea that the achievement of human progress justifies any means needed to advance that goal. In the case of the Iraq invasion the American people were lectured endlessly about the bestialities of Saddam's government. The bestialities were impressive but the constant media display of these horrors was not enough to persuade the American people to accept war. From the bestialities meme the neocons moved on to the WMD meme. The Iraqi government had a nuclear weapons program before the First Gulf War but that program had been thoroughly destroyed in the inspection regime that followed Iraq's defeat and surrender. This was widely known in the US government because US intelligence agencies had cooperated fully with the international inspectors in Iraq and in fact had sent the inspectors to a long list of locations at which the inspectors destroyed the program. I was instrumental in that process.