Thursday, December 15, 2011

Was It Worth It?

It would be Iraq.  I had a student in my office ask today whether the war was worth it.  I think that question is far harder when it comes to Afghanistan than Iraq.  Since the US is leaving Iraq this month, let's focus on that one.  There are several ways to answer the question. 

One could focus on Weapons of Mass Destruction--Iraq not only did not have any, but did not have significant programs.  Turns out Hussein was a bit deceptive on this one.  So, the principle justification for the war turns out to be a chimera.  So, one that one measure, nope, not worth it.

The Bush folks would be saying Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein.  Yep, the dictator is dead and gone.  Was that worth 4,500 American lives, tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, the empowering of Iran, the recruitment tool of a generation for terrorist groups, the trillion dollars or so now and the trillions down the road in veterans' health care costs?  While the sanctions regime was starting to collapse, it is not clear how all these costs could be outweighed by one entirely contained dictator.

The new justification of democratization, something that only really believed by the fevered mind of Paul Wolfowitz, would assert that democracy in Iraq set off a cascade of democratization that we now know as Arab Spring.  There are so many problems with this assertion, including:
  • how one can draw a casual connection from Iraq to Tunisia;
  • that we actually have democracy thus far in only Tunisia, not Egypt and not Libya;
  • that "democracy" in Iraq is a pretty questionable thing, which end up being more about tyranny of the majority (Shiites crush Sunnis and Kurds) than about the features we usually associate with democracy.
  • Oh, and having thousands of US troops in Iraq probably didn't help the opponents of the regime in Iran at all.  
While it is absolutely brutal to tell the US troops that their sacrifices were "not worth it," it would be entirely dishonest to say the war was not a mistake--in terms of the decision-making, justification, design, and implementation.  This was very much a war of choice--that the Bush Administration asked for and got this war, that the Democrats who went along with this were more afraid about domestic politics (Senators who opposed the first Iraq war made lousy presidential candidates) than about doing their jobs (but then again, they let the torture czar become Attorney General), that the media was too cowed by 9/11 to really investigate the pre-invasion claims, and that the public was too shocked by 9/11 to seriously consider the dubious claims of the administration.  Many folks did see the train wreck ahead of time, but could not do anything about it.  It will be a sad chapter in American history, and most Americans seem to agree now on this.

No comments: