A good year in Iraq

The Washington Post’s editorial board describes what it calls “a good year in Iraq.” The Post cites (1) a national election judged to be free and fair, “a rare event in the Middle East;” (2) the eventual formation of a coalition government led by Shiite parties, but with Sunnis and Kurds in major positions; (3) a significant decrease in violence; and (4) a much improved economy that, at least in some areas, is beginning to boom.
The Post warns about drawing final conclusions about Iraq as “many opponents of the war did long ago.” It notes, however, that Iraq’s “political class has repeatedly chosen democracy over dictatorship and accommodation over violence,” thus creating the real possibility that “a rough version of Mr. Bush’s dream [for Iraq] may yet come true.”
Here are two other conclusions I believe it is fair to draw. First, Iraq, the Middle East, and the U.S. would be much worse off today if, as most liberals (including Barack Obama) wanted, we had not overthrown Saddam Hussein. Iraq, of course, would still be plagued by one of the most oppressive regimes of modern times. And Saddam would almost certainly be up to mischief, including the support of terrorists, in the Middle East and possibly elsewhere.
Furthermore, in the face of Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, Saddam would probably have developed, or be developing, a nuclear arsenal of his own. Iran, for its part, would likely be closer to having nukes, since it reportedly halted or slowed down its program for a while in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Second, Iraq, the Middle East, and the U.S. would be much worse off today if, as most liberals (including Obama) wanted, we had not surged in 2007. Without the surge, al Qaeda and its supporters probably would have remained dominant, or at a major force, in Anbar province. Among other evils, this would have prevented the national reconciliation that, to a considerable degree, has occurred. Meanwhile, sectarian violence would have continued to rage in Baghdad and its environs. This too would have prevented reconciliation.
Without the national reconciliation, Iran would be more influential in key parts of Iraq than it is now, to the detriment of Iraq, the region, and the U.S. And America’s standing would be significantly diminished if it had accepted a defeat in Iraq at the hands, in part, of al Qaeda.
The costs to the U.S. of fighting in Iraq since 2003 have been extremely high, of course. It is possible to argue that the benefits of overthrowing Saddam do not outweigh these costs. I believe it’s considerably harder to make a reasonable argument that the much lower costs associated with our actions since the beginning of 2007 are not worth the astonishing gains we have seen during this period. These days, few critics seem interested in attempting such an argument.

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