This was no war of choice

Rick Bajornas/United Nations

Iraqis enter a polling station, January 2009.

Article Highlights

  • Arab culture is not the problem; absence of rule-of-law is

    Tweet This

  • Iraq's transformation sparked debate about democracy @mrubin1971

    Tweet This

  • December 2011 withdrawal snatches defeat from the jaws of victory #Iraq

    Tweet This

The cost of the Iraq war was high. Almost 4,500 American servicemen and women died, and many more were injured. American taxpayers paid billions of dollars. Was the Iraq war worth it? Yes.

Despite pre-war intelligence failures, the facts remain: Saddam Hussein started two wars, used chemical weapons, and subsidized suicide bombers. Saddam's lieutenants believed he had weapons of mass destruction and would use them. This was no war of choice: Sanctions had collapsed; containment failed. Had President Bush not unseated the Iraqi leader, Iraqi documents show Saddam would have reconstituted his unconventional weapons programs.

Nor was the decision to pursue democracy in post-Saddam Iraq wrong. One-in-six Iraqis had fled Saddam's Iraq. These refugees had no trouble accepting democracy in the United States or Europe. Arab culture is not the problem; absence of rule-of-law is.

"Democracy in Iraq was no fool's dream. Bush deserves credit for changing Arab political debate and presaging the Arab Spring."—Michael Rubin

Democracy in Iraq was no fool's dream. Bush deserves credit for changing Arab political debate and presaging the Arab Spring.

Iraq's liberation reverberated throughout the region. Before Saddam's fall, dictators used the Arab-Israeli conflict to deflect attention from their own failings. Iraq's transformation sparked debate about democracy. Autocrats tried to associate reform with chaos. It did not work. While Arab intellectuals condemned the invasion, they debated American mistakes not to delegitimize democracy but to improve it. Democracy in Iraq was no fool's dream. Bush deserves credit for changing Arab political debate and presaging the Arab Spring.

Certainly, mistakes blighted reconstruction. Rather than help the Iraqi government reconstitute itself and leave, Americans wasted billions of dollars trying to run the country themselves. That parts of Iraq boom today have less to do with American aid, and more to do with Iraqi resourcefulness. Democratization may be wise, but foreign assistance is not if it fuels corruption.

Naïve faith in diplomacy also hampered Iraq's rebound. Iraq's neighbors never sought a stable, secure Iraq, and waste no effort to spoil the new Iraq's potential. Iraqis paid with their lives for the State Department's naïve belief in the sincerity of Iraq's neighbors.

Critics castigate Bush for involving America in a war they say was unnecessary, expensive, and poorly planned. President Harry S Truman faced the same criticisms for the Korean War. Time proved Truman's critics wrong, as juxtaposition of North and South Korea demonstrates.

Alas, Truman's successors understood that success required long-term commitment. Our true mistake is the severance of any real partnership with Iraq. It is this abandonment—symbolized by the December 2011 withdrawal, that truly snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Rubin

What's new on AEI

Defeating ISIS: AEI experts weigh-in before the president’s address on Wednesday
image Degrading, defeating, and destroying the Islamic State
image Wealth Building Home Loan: Building wealth through homeownership and retirement savings
image The $3 iPhone
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 15
    MON
  • 16
    TUE
  • 17
    WED
  • 18
    THU
  • 19
    FRI
Tuesday, September 16, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
The Constitution as political theory

Please join us for the third-annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture as James Ceasar, Harry F. Byrd Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, explores some of the Constitution’s most significant contributions to political theory, focusing on themes that have been largely unexamined in current scholarship.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 | 8:10 a.m. – Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 1:30 p.m.
Third international conference on housing risk: New risk measures and their applications

We invite you to join us for this year’s international conference on housing risk — cosponsored by the Collateral Risk Network and AEI International Center on Housing Risk — which will focus on new mortgage and collateral risk measures and their applications.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 2:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Speaker of the House John Boehner on resetting America’s economic foundation

Please join us as Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) delivers his five-point policy vision to reset America’s economy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, September 19, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Reforming Medicare: What does the public think?

Please join us as a panel of distinguished experts explore the implications of the report and the consumer role in shaping the future of Medicare.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.