The U.S. was absolutely right to invade and conquer Iraq in 2003. It suddenly has become a stock question to ask candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination a seemingly simple question: would you have invaded Iraq in 2003, knowing then what we know now? And most of them have fumbled badly. And the usual liberal suspects are jabbering away about how the war was based on a bunch of lies and utterly unjustified. Let me explain the proper and most sensible answer to this question.
I have always been surprised that nobody seems to see the crucial importance of one essential fact. The price of oil for the last decade has averaged around $100 a barrel. In the decade or so prior to 2003, it was well under $20. In 2003, Saddam’s Iraq was, absent WMD, merely a potential threat to the security interests of the U.S. and our allies in the Middle East. (And. yes, the United States of America has serious and legitimate security interests which we would be foolhardy to deny.) Boxed in by sanctions and no-fly zones, and with oil at low prices, Saddam was financially broke and militarily broken.
But fast forward five or ten years. If we had not overthrown his regime, sooner or later Saddam would have wiggled out from under the sanctions regime. And with his coffers flush with record high oil revenues, does anyone doubt that the French and the Russians would have been more than eager to sell Saddam every kind of military hardware his heart desired? We would have been facing not a pathetically weak tin-horn dictator, but a well-armed menace to the security of the Gulf, but by extension to our security. I believe that if you face a nasty and vicious adversary who can someday potentially harm you, better to stomp him into the ground when he’s weak and helpless, rather than being nice and giving him a chance to arm himself.
Now it is clear the Bush administration ginned up the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD capabilities. I think they were right to do so. (I just hope they were smart enough to realize they were doing so.) In 2003, nobody could prove Iraq had WMD (ultimately, because they didn’t - yet anyway). But nobody could really prove they didn’t. If you are confronted with a potentially lethal peril, and you can’t prove it exists, you’d be a fool to ignore if you couldn’t be sure it didn’t exist. Skeptics like Obama were just as in the dark as the Bush administration was, but without the responsibility for answering for the consequences if they were wrong.
Now it is also an unfortunate fact that the U.S. bungled the occupation. We grossly underestimated the savagery of the Iraqis. People somehow blame the U.S. for the years of obscene bloodletting that followed in the wake of our occupation of that nasty little country. I grieve for the 4.491 American servicemen and women who gave their lives in that literally God forsaken country. But of the half million or so Iraqis, who actually killed them? In the immediate sense, their fellow Iraqis, their own bloody neighbors. When some Sunni Iraqi was having the bit of a power drill drive through his skull, it was a bunch of Shia Iraqis doing the job. When some Shia Iraqi was blown to pieces by a suicide bomb, it was a Sunni Iraqi how was wearing the bomb vest. We owe no apologies to the Iraqis for the bloodshed they brought upon themselves.
In fact, those miserable people should be grateful to us. We did bring them a chance to remake Iraq into a modern democratic state. Maybe we were foolish to think such a project would succeed, and I for one would not have sacrificed one American life trying to do so. But we did, and it is the Iraqis who have squandered that precious opportunity. One need only look at what is happening in Iraq and Syria today to see what these people are capable of doing left to their own devices.
That war is over, and I am glad we are no longer pouring money into that rathole, or exposing our troops to danger trying to make it a decent place to live. But the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was the correct one, and had we not we would certainly be facing much more serious problems in this nasty little corner of the world, which is nonetheless critical to our security. And Americans should be proud that, notwithstanding numerous mistakes, we actually tried to bring a better way of life to the Iraqis, as we successfully had with the Germans and the Japanese. It was perhaps a foolhardy mission, but none the less noble for it, and its failure lies squarely with the Iraqi people.