From 2004-7, the Bush administration did not reply to or defend itself against its critics, as the media bought into “Bush lied, thousands died” and canonized Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, and Code Pink. Few even remember that Barack Obama had been on the record voicing agreement by 2004 with the Bush administration policy in Iraq (e.g., “There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute.”) and that the major Democratic presidential contenders in 2004 and 2008 (Joe Biden, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Tom Harkin, and Chris Dodd) had not just supported the war, but done so enthusiastically in their warnings about WMD. Somehow “my brilliant three-week removal of Saddam, your disastrous five-year occupation” became the Democratic talking points without much pushback from the Bush administration.
That Barack Obama in 2009 simply embraced the entire Petraeus plan (after advocating as an early presidential candidate in 2007 to get all combat troops out by March 2008) and mostly expanded the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols (from Guantanamo and renditions to drones and the Patriot Act) without a murmur from the Left suggests that their prior opposition was in large part partisan, not principled, and should have been countered in that context. Instead, the Bush administration, in pill-bug fashion, closed up and let its opposition define the entire post-9/11 landscape as one of failure and worse.
III. The Ripples of Iraq
There were positive ripples from Iraq — at first. Dr. Khan’s nuclear franchise shut down in fear of U.S. post-Iraq muscle flexing. Col. Muammar Gaddafi voluntarily gave us his WMD arsenal. Bashar Assad got out of Lebanon and never returned. Kurdistan emerged as a stable, prosperous, and humane pro-American enclave. Iran began to worry. Even later, for all the unrest of the Arab Spring, Iraq remained about the only major Arab country that still held elections and had avoided mass uprisings.
Obviously, the cost of 4,400 lives, thousands wounded, and $1 trillion spent raise the question of not just whether the cost was worth it, but whether we would ever again repeat such a venture. Based on current public opinion, the answer for now is no.
Yet had there been a bloody, two-month fight to oust Saddam, costing as much as we lost between 2003-8, followed by postwar quiet and stability, then the losses could have been tolerated. The greater anguish came from the notion that the original war was so brilliantly conducted that we did not expect to lose so much more “in peace” than “in war.” In some sense, the very idea that the U.S. went into the heart of the ancient caliphate, removed a genocidal monster, stayed on through an insurrection, and shepherded a constitutional government is almost surreal.
The political blowback was the loss of the Congress in 2006 and the rise of a hard-left Democratic Party. This resulted by 2009 in Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid nationalizing the health care system, running up serial $1 trillion deficits (trumping in four years Bush’s splurge in eight), and dividing the country alone class, gender, and racial lines.