So who lost Iraq? The blame game mostly fingers incompetent Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Or is Barack Obama culpable for pulling out all American troops monitoring the success of the 2007-08 surge?
One can blame almost anyone, but one must not invent facts to support an argument.
Do we remember that Bill Clinton signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 that supported regime change in Iraq? He gave an eloquent speech on the dangers of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.
In 2002, both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly to pass a resolution authorizing the removal of Saddam by force. Senators such as Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John F. Kerry and Harry Reid offered moving arguments on the Senate floor why we should depose Saddam in a post-September 11 climate.
Democratic stalwarts such as Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV and Rep. Nancy Pelosi lectured us about the dangers of Saddam’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). They drew on the same classified domestic and foreign intelligence reports that had led Mr. Bush to call for Saddam’s forcible removal.
The Bush administration, like members of Congress, underestimated the costs of the war and erred in focusing almost exclusively on Saddam’s supposed stockpiles of weapons. Otherwise, the war was legally authorized on 23 writs. Most of them had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction and were unaffected by the later mysterious absence of such weapons — which is all the more mysterious, given that troves of WMD have turned up in nearby Syria and more recently in Iraqi bunkers overrun by Islamic militants.
Legally, the United States went to war against Saddam because he had done things such as commit genocide against the Kurds, Shiites and the Marsh Arabs, and attacked four of his neighbors. He had tried to arrange the assassination of a former U.S. president, George H.W. Bush. He had paid bounties for suicide bombers on the West Bank and was harboring the worst of global terrorists. Saddam also offered refuge to at least one of the architects of 1993’s first World Trade Center bombing, and violated U.N.-authorized no-fly zones.
A number of prominent columnists, right and left — from George Will, David Brooks and William F. Buckley to Fareed Zakaria, David Ignatius and Thomas Friedman — supported Saddam’s forcible removal. When his statue fell in 2003, most polls showed that more than 70 percent of Americans agreed with the war.
What changed public opinion and caused radical about-faces among the war’s most ardent supporters were the subsequent postwar violence and insurgency between 2004 and 2007, and the concurrent domestic elections and rising antiwar movement. Thousands of American troops were killed or wounded in mostly failed efforts to stem the Sunni-Shiite savagery.
The 2007-08 surge engineered by Gen. David H. Petraeus ended much of the violence. By Mr. Obama’s second year in office, American fatalities had been reduced to far less than the monthly accident rate in the U.S. military. “An extraordinary achievement,” Mr. Obama said of the “stable” and “self-reliant” Iraq that he inherited — and left.
Prior to our invasion, the Kurds were a persecuted people who had been gassed, slaughtered and robbed of all rights by Saddam. In contrast, today a semi-autonomous Kurdistan is a free-market, consensual society of tolerance that, along with Israel, is one of the few humane places in the Middle East.
A Saddam-led Iraq over the past decade would not have been a peaceable place.
We can also imagine that Saddam would not have sat idly by the last decade as Pakistan and North Korea openly sold their nuclear expertise, and as rival Iran pressed ahead with its nuclear-enrichment program.