Saturday, March 03, 2007

Looking back

Glenn Reynolds takes the challenge and reviews the archives from March 2003:

So was I like Brian? Was my big mistake underestimating the dishonesty of the people who disagreed with me about the war?

Well, let's give that one a pass and look at the big picture. Knowing what I know now, would I have supported the invasion of Iraq? The actual invasion and capture of Iraq went better than most people expected -- certainly better than I expected, as I figured we'd see about as many casualties on the road to Baghdad as we've seen in the entire four years since things started. On the other hand, the postwar reconstruction, which I expected to be hard, has been worse than I, or most people (including the war critics), expected. (In retrospect, Mark Steyn's report about Palestinians heading to Baghdad was probably a harbinger of trouble.)

The domestic political posture is grim -- we've gone well beyond the three year rule on Iraq, and we're more than five years into Afghanistan, and that's costly. I think it's probably true that the White House wouldn't do it over again, if they knew what was ahead -- certainly the alternative "low-hanging fruit" approach, which called for attacking terrorist havens in Somalia, etc., probably looks better in retrospect. On the other hand, I don't much care about the political future of the Bush Administration or the Republicans as such, and would happily sacrifice them to make the country safe. Did the Iraq invasion do so? The absence of significant attacks on the U.S. is evidence, but not proof. Saddam and his regime are no longer a threat, and although Iran remains a threat, it was a threat before. It's been trying to get nukes, and regional hegemony, for decades and it's not clear that toppling Saddam made things worse, though it certainly hasn't (as I'd hoped) rendered Iran any more pliable.

And that goes to my big problem. I supported the invasion of Iraq because I saw it as a move toward shaking up the entire Middle East. But as I've noted before, we seemed to exhaust our momentum as soon as Baghdad fell. (It's almost enough to make you believe the Weekly World News theory, mentioned here before, that the invasion was really all about capturing a crashed alien spaceship Well, no, but it does have a degree of explanatory power . . . .) The cost of toppling Saddam wasn't nearly as bad as some had feared, and even with the cost of reconstruction added in it might well be worth it if the result was the toppling or moderation of Arab and Islamist despots. But the Bush Administration seemed to lose all momentum in that direction and without that larger payoff I'm not sure it was worth it. That's not a reason to cut and run now: We're there, and we owe it to the Iraqis, and our troops, to make it a success. But where I was wrong in March of 2003 was in seeing the toppling of Saddam as the beginning, rather than the end, of the stage of post-9/11 history that started with the rout of the Taliban. In other posts, I've quoted Talleyrand to the effect that "you can do anything with bayonets, except sit on them," and that's what we've done. Was that the plan all along? It's hard for me to believe, but if someone had told me that was the plan in March of 2003 I'd have been much less supportive of going into Iraq. Not that it didn't have its benefits.

In reading Flemming's post, I'm struck by the somewhat narcissistic, "I told you so," tone. Yes, it's nice to be proven right about things but--like far too many people on the subject--there is no perspective (theres that word again!), no acknowledgement of the bigger picture.

It would make a far more useful conversation were he re-examining some of the arguments of the time, pro & con alike. Like Glenn's reminiscence, it would lend itself to a better understanding of what has and hasn't been accomplished. Instead, Flemming seems satisfied with just making sure we all know how rotten we are.


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