WASHINGTON — Two years after the invasion of Iraq, one thing is clear: this has turned out to be no cakewalk.
During the planning of the invasion, we repeatedly heard that old adage of military action: expect the unexpected. Wars, they say, never go according to plan.
At first, when the ousting of Saddam Hussein proceeded quickly and with relatively few casualties, it seemed to our pleasant surprise that the old adage wouldn't apply.
But the pockets of resistance just never seemed to end. Now it is clear that history books will not designate the Iraq War as the three-week episode that took place during March and April 2003, when the Hussein regime fell, but as a multi-year ordeal lasting from March 2003 through whenever the current insurgency ends.
So, in retrospect, has toppling Mr. Hussein enabled us to achieve our long-term objectives of reducing the prevalence of weapons of mass destruction and making life better for the Iraqi people?
It is still too early to tell. If, in five or ten years, it turns out that the insurgency has petered out, that the country has stabilized, that it has a friendly, non-WMD-producing government, and the people are better off than they were under Hussein, then the answer is yes.
And there are the added benefits, such as Libya's apparent decision to forego WMD based on our actions in Iraq, Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, and the movement toward democracy in various places in the Middle East. In addition, the US military's presence in Iraq is acting as a magnet for Islamic terrorists around the world. By congregating there, they are in a much better position to be killed or captured than if they came to the United States to do their dirty work. While this certainly does not eliminate the threat of terrorism here at home, it does reduce it.
But if the insurgency gets even worse and degenerates into a full-scale civil war, then from a humanitarian standpoint our Iraq campaign will have been a failure, particularly if the victor is a regime rivaling the brutality of Saddam Hussein. If a new regime develops and proliferates WMD, then it will have been a strategic failure as well.
Whether Iraq improves or gets worse won't be a time for I-told-you-so's. Hindsight is 20/20. And two-and-a-half years ago, almost everyone thought Hussein had WMD, based on his previous actions and his refusal to come clean about his arsenal. The Precautionary Principle - a term that's often applied in the environmental movement but that is germane to the anti-WMD effort as well - was in effect. Given the limited information we had at that time (not the information we know now), the rationale for invading was compelling.
Even assuming Hussein had not re-started his WMD programs, he had plans to do so. As Charles Duelfer, the CIA's special advisor for Iraqi WMD, states in his key findings, "[Hussein] wanted to end sanctions while preserving the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when sanctions were lifted. ...His lieutenants understood WMD revival was his goal from their long association with Saddam and his infrequent, but firm, verbal comments and directions to them." US chief weapons inspector David Kay echoes these findings.
At some point in that fictional future, perhaps during a US administration less willing to face down tyrants, the inspectors might have been kicked out again. The international community might have given in to the strong political pressure to lift UN sanctions. Then Saddam Hussein would have had free reign to produce WMD again.
We are on the verge of re-entering a frightening new era of cold war, as third-world dictators develop WMD. Consider how many times nuclear war almost broke out, either intentionally or accidentally, when there were just two principal adversaries, the US and USSR. In a world of numerous cold wars involving an assortment of nuclear-armed rogue nations, the chances of such war go up many fold.
Is it not far better to take action before rogue nations obtain WMD, rather than waiting until after they obtain them?
it is interesting that some commentators have expressed dissapointment about not finding WMD in Iraq. But the lack of such weapons is a good thing. Had Hussein possessed them, he probably would have used them on us. And then the US casualty count could have been in the tens of thousands in the war's first week.
Politically, perhaps the ideal circumstance would have been to find WMD without Hussein ever having used them on us, thus showing the world that yes, Hussein did have WMD. But to think he would possess such weapons and then not use them on invading US troops is hopelessly quixotic.
The ouster of Hussein ensures - for now - that at least one fewer rogue nation will ever gain the ability to end civilization as we know it.