Victor Davis Hanson

"Our own successful three-week war, but their failed three-year peace."

Such a self-serving disclaimer might best sum up the change of heart of several neoconservative former supporters of the Iraq war — at least according to interviews that appear in the current issues of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker magazines.

Some of these pundits and policy gurus now having second and third thoughts had called for the American ouster of Saddam Hussein as early as 1998. These days, apparently in hindsight, they question whether the present plagued occupation even justified the effective three-week war of 2003.

Americans themselves have made the same dramatic about-face. They once approved of the war by a 70 percent majority. Three years later, they think it was a mistake by almost the same wide margin. Like the pundits, the public follows the pulse of the battlefield — which now seems to be reported solely as a story of improvised explosive devices and sectarian suicide bombing.

But forget that "gotcha" Beltway buzz. Instead, let's re-examine the now-orphaned policy of bringing democracy to the Middle East — not the fickle parents who abandoned it. How, in other words, did we get to Iraq?

Taking out Saddam Hussein was not dreamed up — as is sometimes alleged — by sneaky supporters of Israel. Nor did oil-hungry CEOs or Halliburton puppeteers pull strings in the shadows to get us in. And the go-ahead wasn't given merely on the strength of trumped-up fears of weapons of mass destruction: The U.S. Congress authorized the war on 23 diverse counts, from Iraq's violation of the 1991 armistice to its record of giving both money and sanctuary to terrorists.

George W. Bush resolved to democratize Iraq also as a way to confront three grim facts of our recent past.

First, the United States had been far too friendly with atrocious regimes in the Middle East. And when bloodletting inevitably broke out, either internally or between aggressive regimes, too often we cynically played one side off the other. Or we backed repugnant insurgents, with little thought of the "blowback" that would result. We outsourced sophisticated arms and training to radical Islamists fighting against the Soviet-backed Afghan government. We hoped the murderous Saddam might check the murderous Iranian theocracy — and then again sold arms to the mullahs during the Iran-Contra affair.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.