Iraq: The Success That Might Have Been

Even Iran was pressured to allow additional nuclear inspections that helped reveal the extent of its nuclear program. Moreover, Iran seemed concerned enough to announce that they were cutting back on their nuclear enrichment efforts. While the announcement was probably more cosmetic than real, it still showed concern on Iran's part. These discoveries about Iran and Libya also helped to reveal the A.Q. Khan nuclear distribution network. In addition, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were led to expand elections, albeit in modest ways. Although it is contested as to how much these events were influenced by America's invasions, there seems little doubt that American military actions played a significant role.

These developments, however, were soon stalled and to a certain extent reversed once it became clear that the United States was bogged down in Iraq. With the insurgency leading to increased American casualties and costs, the war soon became unpopular domestically, and it became clear that the United States was no longer a threat to invade any other countries in the region. Its influence waned, and its enemies, especially Iran, have grown bolder.

But this setback need not have occurred. If the United States had not wasted the four years prior to the surge, committing one blunder after another, the insurgency need not have grown so strong. If the United States had pursued the reconstruction of Iraq competently, with the proper number of troops and an insistence that the new government structure also protect the interests of the Sunnis, the human and economic costs of the war might have been much smaller and its popularity much greater. The United States might then have been a credible threat to other countries in the region, and we might now be witnessing not merely the establishment of a nascent democracy in Iraq, but momentum towards freer governments throughout the region.

We can all be happy with the success of the surge and the possible benefits in the years to come. At this point, Iraq stands as a success for the Bush administration. But let's not deceive ourselves into believing that the surge made up for the prior missteps. Had the Bush administration competently pursued the Iraqi reconstruction from the beginning, we might now be seeing the beneficial results of a genuinely transformative policy.