As active U.S. military involvement in Iraq draws to a close, what does the moral scorecard on this adventure look like from an American point of view? Granted that a comprehensive weighing of results will only be possible some years from now, at the moment the picture is something like this.
In a perverse way, American policy in Iraq has been a model of consistency from start to finish. The original decision to invade back in 2003, based as it was on faulty intelligence and mistaken expectations about Iraqi receptivity to democracy, can now be seen to have been grossly in error. As for the here and now, it’s less obviously, but very likely, a parallel error for America to pull out prematurely, as in fact we now seem to be doing.
Yes, the Iraqi government refused to give the Obama administration what it wanted by way of a status of forces agreement that would allow American troops to remain. But it’s difficult to believe the administration truly pushed all that hard for a deal or was all that disappointed at not getting one.
So who won this war? For the moment at least, the answer to that also seems clear: the big winner was the deeply anti-American regime in Iran whose influence in Iraq appears likely to increase enormously after the Americans are gone. And who lost? That also is an easy one. The losers were Saddam Hussein, the United States, and the Iraqi Christian community. And, oh yes—probably Iraq itself.
Naturally there are people who dispute all this, especially apologists for the Obama administration. There also are people, I suppose, who still believe Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction are out there somewhere in a cave in the Iraqi desert, just waiting to be discovered. As far as I can see, neither group makes an especially persuasive case.
Thus the paradox stands. Someone trying to form a moral judgment of U.S. actions in Iraq can reasonably hold (as I do) that it was wrong for America to go to war in the first place and it’s wrong to quit now. The first conclusion is based on the fact that Saddam was not attacking or threatening to attack any American vital interests when we attacked him. As for the second, having barged into Iraq and, with much bloodshed, turned it into a shambles of doubtful governability, America should have the decency to stick around and help clean up the mess.
But it’s probably too late to do much for the Christian community of Iraq. Face to face with hostile Islamic fundamentalism after the fall of Saddam Hussein, most Iraqi Christians have fled the country. The need now is to help them find new homes and new lives.
A similar process of analysis should now be applied to Afghanistan as well as to other places in the Arab world where the United States has one or more fingers in the pie. Increasingly it appears that the merry talk of the self-deluded American media, suggesting that democracy was on the verge of breaking out on the heels of the Arab Spring, was so much wishful thinking. It’s good to see the tyrants go, but what happens next in places like Egypt, Libya, and Syria is anybody’s guess.
American security interests will be in play in the Arab world for years to come. If the U.S. has a long-range policy there that’s both realistic and morally sound, I haven’t noticed it. How long can we afford to wait?