Should the United States have invaded Iraq five years ago? Revisionist history and partisan politics aside, I happen to believe that large elements of the argument to do so made sense at the time. But so what?
Neither my belief in the need to confront Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction program, nor the belief of those who felt that under no circumstances should we have set one foot in that country, means a thing. It is what it is. We broke it, and we need to fix it.
Highlighting the negative, ignoring most of the positive and using the misery of the war to score cheap debating points have been in vogue for the last few years. While those who twist or ignore the facts would rather not be reminded of recent and relevant history, on this anniversary, I think it's worth another mention.
History, for instance, shows that in 1998, Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed, the Iraq Liberation Act. It stated, "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."
In December 1998, after ordering military action in response to Mr. Hussein's decision to expel the U.N. weapons inspectors, Mr. Clinton said, "Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there is one big difference: He has used them. ... The international community had little doubt then, and I have no doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again."
While many critics of the war like to portray our intelligence operatives as buffoons or rubber stamps for the Bush administration, they often conveniently ignore the pre-war intelligence reports of nations such as England, France, Russia and Israel. All believed - right up until the day we invaded - that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. So did Mr. Hussein's own generals.
Revisionist history has no place in this debate. Partisan politics has no place in this discussion. Such lowest-common-denominator tactics serve only to demean the sacrifices and deaths of tens of thousands Iraqis, and almost 4,000 U.S. troops.
There are voices of reason in our nation who speak on this subject with conviction and without bias, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut being one such person. Sadly, because he dared to be an independent thinker on this subject, he was basically drummed out of the Democratic Party.
What drove some in the far left to assail Mr. Lieberman? Aside from his carefully articulated support for the invasion, it was the fact that he would not abandon his principles and agree to a date for withdrawal.
Did we invade Iraq at the right moment? Former colleagues of mine from the Pentagon felt we should have waited two, four, eight or even 18 months before sending our troops into harm's way. During those months, our intelligence agencies and special-ops teams could have worked behind the scenes to destabilize or topple Mr. Hussein.
Did President Bush truly get the best information from the Pentagon and others before deciding to invade? Did senior Pentagon officials with no military service rush us into war and make cavalier and costly predictions of easy victory and little resistance because they had no combat experience and risked nothing behind the safety of their desks?
Such questions must be asked and answered based only on the existing information prior to the invasion. The passage of time makes us all military geniuses.
The war in Iraq can and should be honestly debated by those trying to draw lasting and valuable lessons from the planning, conflict and aftermath. But first we need to make that country right.
According to the latest ABC News poll, 55 percent of Iraqis now say their lives are "going well." Last year, that number was 39 percent. Despite the constant drumbeat of criticism, a majority of Americans now see things improving in that war-ravaged nation.
Whatever your beliefs about whether the invasion was a good idea, it is a fact of history. Now, we have a moral obligation to finish the job.