Victor Davis Hanson

So was the know-it-all reporter right then about Iraq, or is he right now about Afghanistan, or neither, or both? And will the media revise their earlier criticism and concede that America's problems in conducting difficult wars in the Middle East are inherent in the vast differences between cultures -- fault lines that likewise have baffled even Barack Hussein Obama, the acclaimed internationalist and Nobel laureate who was supposed to be singularly sensitive to customs in that part of the world?

In 2008, we were told that predator drone attacks, renditions, preventative detentions, military tribunals, the Guantanamo detention center and the surging of troops into difficult wars were all emblematic of Bush's disdain for the Constitution and his overall ineptness as a commander in chief. In 2012, these same continuing protocols are no such thing, but instead valuable antiterrorism tools, and seen as such by President Obama.

For all the biases and incompetence of Nouri al-Maliki's elected government in Iraq, the Middle East's worst dictatorship now seems to have become the region's most stable constitutional government. Given Iraq's elections, the country was relatively untouched by the mass "Arab Spring" uprisings. And despite sometimes deadly Sunni-Shiite terrorist violence and the resurgence of al Qaeda, Iraq's economy, compared with some of the other nations in the Middle East, is stable and expanding.

The overthrow of Saddam was also supposed to be a blunder in terms of grand strategy, empowering our enemies Iran and Syria. True, Saddam's ouster and the subsequent violence may have done that in the short term. But how about long-term, nine years later?

The Assad dynasty seems about to go the way of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Bin Ali and Libya's Muammar Gadhafi. Syria's grand ally, Iran -- which barely put down popular demonstrations in 2009 -- has never been more isolated and beleaguered as it deals with sanctions, international ostracism and growing unpopularity at home.

Who knows whether Saddam's fall, trial and execution, coupled with the creation of an Iraqi constitutional government, triggered a slow chain reaction against similar Arab tyrannies.

The moral of the story is that history cannot be written as it unfolds. In the case of Iraq, we still don't know the full story of Saddam's WMD, the grand strategic effects of the Iraq war, the ripples from the creation of the Iraq republic, or the relative degree of incompetence of any American administration at war in the Middle East -- and we won't for many years to come.


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.