I’m often asked by friends who know I think about this stuff a lot: “Was the war in Iraq worth it?” Most of them know that I thought at the time of invasion that it was, on balance, the right decision. Most of them know I thought the Bush administration did a terrible job planning for everything after the military engagement, and probably got a bit lucky there too.
As demonstrated by how they treated (fired, some say) General Shinseki after he argued that occupying Iraq would take twice as long and twice as many men as President Bush had said, it was clear that the Administration had not learned the key lesson of Vietnam: Don’t let politics interfere with military decision making. I think they did learn the lesson eventually, however, and we hear very little about such problems now.
How does one tell the mother of a dead 20-year old soldier that “it’s worth it”? How does one quantify the value of the war versus the tax dollars it’s costing? I don’t have good answers to either of these so it’s with a mixture of confidence and uncertainty that I say “Yes, the war was worth it.”
I recently attended the annual retreat of the Leadership Program of the Rockies (http://www.leadershipprogram.org), which I’m privileged to be a part of this year. (I encourage any Colorado residents who believe in liberty and free markets and who are interested in enhancing their leadership skills to apply for next year.) Two of the speakers addressed the current situation in Iraq.
First was retired US Army Major General Paul Vallely whom you might recognize from Fox News. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,37307,00.html
) Second was Zainab Al-Suwaij, an inspiring Iraqi woman who has been living in exile in America for most of the last 15 years and is now a major force in Iraqi education and in encouraging participation of women in Iraqi politics. (http://www.womenforiraq.org/zainabalsuwaij.php
Though the people they know and talk to in Iraq are very different, they both tell the same story: Things are going much better in Iraq and in the region than the media would lead you to believe.
When the average Iraqi is asked what complaint they have about the American invasion, a common answer is “The Americans took too long to come here.” Infrastructure repair is going well. The political situation, although very dynamic and under constant attack from non-Iraqi insurgents, does not seem to be tending toward civil war.
We may yet end up with a democratic (if not exactly liberal) country in the heart of the Middle East. Although the government is likely to be dominated by Shiites, they are likely to be relatively independent of Iran. Furthermore the Kurds will have major representation in the government. Although the Sunnis didn’t participate in large numbers in the elections nor get any significant number of their own elected, the Shiites and Kurds know that it is not in their interest to risk a civil war by abusing the Sunnis. I hope they keep that big picture in mind despite the years of oppression by some of the Sunnis under Saddam’s Baath party.
It appears that with some good planning, some luck, and some strength, Iraq itself will turn out OK. Plenty of things can still go wrong and I fervently hope that those in charge will have the combination of skill and good fortune necessary to forge the best possible outcome.
Yet, a good outcome for Iraq itself is not enough to make me say the war was a good idea or has been “worth it”. In fact, for me it’s less than half of the reason. [Let me only give it one sentence because anybody who argues it does not understand much: This war was not about oil.]
Although we can argue over whether Iraq was a substantial threat to the US or its interests, there is no doubt that many of its neighbors were, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, with Yemen, Egypt and Libya as near-neighbors who also behaved badly.
Saudi created and harbored terrorists, as did Iran and Syria. They all funded and supported Palestinian murderers. The Saudis had the temerity to act like our friends while stabbing us in the back. Yemen had its share of terrorists including those who attacked the USS Cole. Egypt fomented Muslim fundamentalism and Lybia...well who knew exactly what they were doing but it wasn’t good.
The US had a serious problem: How do we cause changes of behavior in many countries at once, especially after we had been little more than a paper tiger for decades in the region with the exception of the first Gulf War?
There was no good answer, but the best of the lot was to invade Iraq. There was a chance that Saddam had “weapons of mass destruction” and he certainly had demonstrated a willingness to use them. But that argument was always a straw man for much larger strategic goals which the Administration probably believed were too complicated and/or too subtle for the American people to support as a reason for war...even if they were much better reasons than the ones given to us.
Given the real goals for the war, ones which I believe were massively in our national interest, it is by that standard which I now believe the war has been worth it.
Saudi Arabia is curtailing the influence of militant Islam, especially in their education system where it does the most long-term damage. They are implementing local elections. Syria, while far from trustworthy, has just captured Saddam’s half-brother and turned over to the Iraqis. They also seem to be moving towards withdrawal from their long-term occupation of Lebanon and the Syrian-installed Prime Minister and cabinet have announced their resignation to the cheers of the people.
Yemen has handed down and upheld in court death sentences for the USS Cole bombers. President Mubarek of Egypt has just said he would allow opposition candidates to run in their upcoming election. And Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program.
These countries, while still not behaving well, are far more complaint now that they see our determination to prevent threats emanating from the Middle East.
Iran is still a major problem, especially with their nuclear ambitions. But there is no doubt that even the hint of cooperation we or the Europeans get from them is due to their new-found respect for the USA’s resolve in the region.
Many people forget that Bush is the most ideological President we’ve had since Reagan. He truly believes it when he says that freedom in the world is in our interest, and I believe it too. Although it’s going to be a long and arduous process, freedom appears to be on the march in the Middle East and militant Islam appears to be under attack...by other Muslims and Arabs, as we need it to be. For these reasons even more than for the liberation of Iraq, I believe the war has been worth it.
That said, I offer my deepest sympathy and profound thanks to those who have been killed or injured in the war and to those who continue to serve their country.
[Note: For those of you who are interested in an in-depth and apolitical analysis of why we went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, I highly recommend George Friedman’s “America’s Secret War”. (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0385512457/qid%3D1109565817/sr%3D8-1/002-6601071-6566417)]