Well before the inauguration of George W. Bush and al-Qaida's 9/11 attack on our homeland, the Iraqi military was firing on U.S. and British aircraft enforcing United Nations-imposed no-fly zones. Reports of widespread corruption in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program were commonplace, as was Saddam's refusal to permit international inspections of suspect nuclear, biological and chemical WMD sites. Allied intelligence services, U.N. inspectors and a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Congress believed that Iraq's deadly weapons programs were still viable in 2003. Saddam wanted the Iranians to believe it. They did, as did many of his generals.
The failure to find these weapons after the liberation of Baghdad points to our defunct human intelligence capability -- not U.S. military inadequacy. The decision not to recall defeated Iraqi military personnel to their barracks and enlist their help in rebuilding their country exacerbated a growing insurgency. The current administration's inability to negotiate a status-of-forces agreement for U.S. military access in Iraq has emboldened Iran.
But none of this means the war in Iraq wasn't "worth it." After Saddam was captured in December 2003, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi abandoned his nuclear weapons program. We were there in 2005 for the first free and fair elections ever held in the "land between the rivers." The credibility of the global jihad fomented by al-Qaida was destroyed in Iraq.
Dealing with today's government in Baghdad, headed by Nouri al-Maliki, is hardly easy -- but it's no longer a genocidal threat to its own countrymen, its neighbors or us. Despite security challenges and the chaos in neighboring Syria, the Iraqi economy, educational system and standard of living gradually are improving.
The outcome of OIF isn't perfect. The Obama administration still could lose the peace that our warriors won. But a decade after we accompanied our troops across "the berm" into Iraq, we still can look Gold Star mothers and the spouses of our wounded in the eye and tell them: "By volunteering to go into harm's way, your American heroes made us all safer. Their selfless sacrifice was worth it."
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.