History will surely examine with a cold eye whether the Bush administration looked carefully enough at the potential consequences before it went to war in Iraq.
But if decisions are made unwisely in the days ahead, it may also examine another question: Did the United States look carefully enough before leaving the war in Iraq?
Abdul Aziz al Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), visited President Bush at the White House this week. The visit was likely part of the follow-up to a memo that National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley sent to President Bush in late November that suggested Bush push Hakim to throw his party's support behind Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to help Maliki build a new political base independent from Shiite warlord Moqtada al Sadr.
That we must hope for Hakim to play this role is emblematic of the dilemma we face -- and makes a review of some recent history timely.
There was a day when a certain leader vowed that Iraq's "evil Baathist leaders" would be consigned "to the dustbin of history."
It was not 2003, but 1980. The leader was Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. He believed that Iraqi Shiite clergymen, who had been his colleagues when he lived in exile in Najaf, Iraq, were primed to spark an Islamic revolution against Saddam Hussein.
These Iraqi clergymen were not Khomeini's seedlings. They were parallel branches rising from the same root and trunk of Shiite revolutionary thinking that had produced Khomeini himself. Two Iraqi Shiite clans prominent in this movement were the Sadrs and the Hakims.
In "The Islamic Movement of Iraqi Shi'as," published in 1992, professor Joyce Wiley of the University of South Carolina outlined the role these families played in the rise of Iraqi Islamism.
In the late 1950s, about the time Iraq's military overthrew the nation's Sunni monarchy, a young Shiite clergyman named Muhammad Baqir al Sadr began a movement called Hizb al-Dawa al-Islamiya (Party of the Call to Islam). It was designed to provide a religiously based Islamic political alternative to secular Arab nationalism and atheistic communism.
Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim, then Iraq's pre-eminent Shiite cleric, supported Sadr's movement, as did many of Hakim's multitudinous sons. When al-Hakim died in 1970, Sadr became an ayatollah and inherited much of Hakim's religious following.
After Iran declared an Islamic Republic under Khomeini in 1979, Saddam put Sadr under house arrest in Iraq. "From his confinement," writes Wiley, "Ayatollah al-Sadr issued a fatwa declaring that believing Muslims were obliged to struggle against the Ba'th Party."