To understand the American decision to invade Iraq, and to learn the lessons of that mistake, one must begin not with George W. Bush’s claims of Iraqi WMDs or with the 9/11 attacks, but rather with a series of initially obscure ideological debates on elements of the American right.
Those debates, which played out throughout the 1990s, had their roots in disagreements within the Republican Party over American power — and in the evolution of a right-leaning but surprisingly heterodox intellectual movement known as neoconservatism.
Neoconservatism, which had been around for decades, mixed humanitarian impulses with an almost messianic faith in the transformative virtue of American military force, as well as a deep fear of an outside world seen as threatening and morally compromised.
This ideology stated that authoritarian states were inherently destabilizing and dangerous; that it was both a moral good and a strategic necessity for America to replace those dictatorships with democracy — and to dominate the world as the unquestioned moral and military leader.
Neoconservatism’s proponents, for strategic as well as political reasons, would develop an obsession with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. That obsession would, by the end of the decade, congeal into a policy, explicitly stated: regime change.
Their case was always grandly ideological, rooted in highly abstract and untested theories about the nature of the world and America’s rightful place in it. Their beliefs were so deeply held that when 9/11 shook the foundations of American foreign policy, they were able to see only validation of their worldview, including their belief in the urgent need to bring democracy to Iraq.
My emphasis. Good succinct definition of the neo-con view.