Feature

Iraq

Three years later, was it worth it?

Remember 'œshock and awe'? said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. Three years ago this week, the U.S. attacked Iraq with a bombing campaign of such might and ferocity it was supposed to end the war before it began, as well as remind the watching world of the folly of messing with 'œthe world's reigning superpower.' Three years later, the Bush administration looks anything but omnipotent, and its 'œmessianic idealism' looks 'œoddly naïve.' Yes, we toppled Saddam Hussein, but have become bogged down in a bloody and persistent insurgency and a deepening Sunni-Shiite schism. We've lost 2,300 (and counting) American lives, and spent more than $300 billion—and yet, Iraq's future remains utterly uncertain. After the 'œcakewalks' of Grenada, Kosovo, and the first Gulf War, the war in Iraq has been a 'œhumbling letdown.'

So much for the idea that democracy can be exported, said George F. Will in The Washington Post. A key rationale for this war, after the fact, was the theory that Mideastern dictatorships could be transformed into benign allies simply by invading them. If Iraq is any guide, that theory is incorrect. Iraqis have been trooping to the polls and waving their purple fingers since January 2005, yet 'œconditions are worse than they were a year ago, when they were worse than they had been the year before.' Each vote has merely 'œconfirmed what should have been clear from the start,' said David Rieff in the Los Angeles Times: that Iraqis have far more loyalty to their various ethnic and religious groups than to the idea of a unified Iraq, let alone to any abstract notions of democracy and freedom. Bush's 'œutopian visions' of sowing democracy around the globe have 'œcome to dust' in the streets of Baghdad and Fallujah.

That's a lesson that Bush—'œofficially, at least'—seems not to have learned, said USA Today in an editorial. Judging by the new National Security Strategy the White House released last week, this administration is as gung-ho as ever about the so-called Bush Doctrine: the idea 'œthat the United States should strike at enemies before they strike first.' The updated security strategy even offers the example of Iraq as a vindication of the Bush Doctrine, because the threat from Saddam Hussein 'œ'has been addressed once and for all.'' This cheery document doesn't mention, of course, the war's cost to U.S. credibility, or the anger of the Muslim world, or the lives lost'”including those of more than 30,000 Iraqis. In reality, the invasion of Iraq was a 'œblunder of historic proportions' and a 'œcautionary tale about just why strike-first needs to remain, as in the past, the final option.'

But it was the final option, said the New York Post in an editorial. Whether or not Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, he was happy to let the world believe that he did, treating the various U.N. resolutions that tried to settle the matter with 'œblatant defiance.' In the post-9/11 world, 'œsuch outlaws had to be dealt with.' The public and pundits may be suffering 'œbuyer's remorse' now, said Fouad Ajami in U.S. News & World Report, but when the invasion began, the war enjoyed widespread support. Remember: It was in Iraq that a wounded America put rogue nations and terrorist thugs on notice that it would tolerate no more threats. We should remember too that Iraq is free of its murderous dictator, and now holds its own fate in its hands. Democracy has taken root not only there, but in Egypt, Lebanon, and other parts of the oppressed Mideast. This has not been an easy war, but its full benefits have yet to be seen.

Joe Klein

Time

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