I remember the exact moment I had my first serious doubts about whether I was 100 percent right that the U.S. pre-emptive invasion of Iraq and the take-out of Saddam Hussein was a serious mistake.
I had been strongly opposed to the U.S. intervention from the start. I felt this way even though I believed (as did most everyone, including the intelligence community) that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and even though I thought that he was a murderous, genocidal thug and the world would be better off - and the U.S. safer - with him dead.
However, I reasoned, the WMD inspectors were back in, and we had Saddam surrounded - thanks to George Bush, by the way, for which we Democrats did not give him sufficient credit at the time.
So why risk the uncertainties of a pre-emptive invasion, loss of life and treasure, and diverting our attention from 9/11 and the war against terrorism, which most U.S. intelligence indicated had nothing to do with Saddam?
Of course, all these remain good reasons for opposing starting the war, even as I look back now.
But … then came my first moment of doubt.
I saw on TV in early 2005, in their first preliminary democratic elections, long lines of Iraqis waiting to vote under the hot desert sun with bombs and shrapnel exploding around them. Waiting to vote!
And then there was that indelible image - an older woman shrouded in a carpetlike cape, smiling gleefully and holding her purple finger in the air for the TV cameras, purple with ink showing that she had voted.
Smiling! In the middle of war! At U.S. troops standing nearby!
Wow, I thought. Is it possible I was wrong?
Is it possible, I wondered, that Iraqis truly did want democracy and freedom and the right to vote and government of the people, just as we Americans do? And were willing to fight for it, with our help?
Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Even a great thing?
Maybe another democracy, however imperfect, other than Israel in the Middle East could lead to more moderation, possibly other democracies? Democracies that could serve as bulwarks against al Qaeda-type of terrorist states?
Then in 2005-06 came the increased violence from the Sunni insurgents against American kids, then the sectarian civil war between Sunnis and Shi’ites, with young Americans caught in the crossfire. My certainty in opposing the war and supporting a deadline for getting out re-emerged.
And then in early 2007 came the surge, which so many of us in the antiwar left of the Democratic Party predicted would be a failure, throwing good men and women and billions of dollars after futility. We were wrong.
The surge did, in fact, lead to a reduction of violence, confirmed by media on the ground as well as our military leaders.
It did allow the Shi’ite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the last several months to show leadership by joining, if not leading, the military effort to clean out of Basra the masked Mahdi Army controlled by the anti-U.S. Shi’ite extremist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and from the Sadr City section of Baghdad he claimed to control.
This willingness by the Shi’ite-dominated al-Maliki government to move against the Sadr Shi’ite extremists won crucial credibility for the government among many Sunni leaders and Sunnis on the streets, who joined together with Shi’ites to turn against the al Qaeda in Iraq and other Taliban-like extremists.
These are facts, not arguments.
I think there are a lot of antiwar Democrats who, like me, are impressed by these facts and who now see a moral obligation, after all the carnage and destruction wrought by our military intervention, not just to pick up and leave without looking over our shoulders.
Surely we owe the Iraqis who helped us, whose lives are in danger, immediate immigration rights to the U.S. Yet the shameful fact is that most are still not even close to having such rights.
Surely we owe the al-Maliki government and the Shi’ite and Sunni soldiers who put their lives on the line against Shi’ite and Sunni extremists and terrorists at our behest some continuing presence and support and patience as they strive to find peace, political reconciliation - and maybe even the beginnings of a stable democracy.
The only question is, for how long?
Forever? No. 100 years? No.
But for how long? I don’t know.
I just know I can’t get out of my mind that lady with the purple finger held up, smiling into the camera. If getting in was a mistake, then getting out - how and when - is not so simple as long as there is hope that she can someday live in a democratic Iraq that can help America in the war against terrorism.
Lanny Davis is a prominent Washington lawyer and a political analyst for Fox News Channel. In 2007 and 2008, he made multiple appearances on cable TV in support of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign. From 1996 to 1998, he served as special counsel to President Clinton.