Posted by Steven Hayward
A week or so ago I set the comments section afire with a link to Gerard Bakers counterfactual notions of what would have happened if we hadnt invaded Iraq in 2003. Now Michael Barone offers his counterfactual analysis of the question.
Perhaps the most important counterfactual factor is that we would still think that Saddam had WMD, probably including nukes by now. Oh, a few members of the intelligence agencies might have begun to make the case that Saddan was bluffing, but who would have believed them? Or how could we have known with any degree of certainty? And what President could live with the idea that Iraq might not be making nukes? And what media would take the Presidents word on it? No, the conventional wisdom would still be that Iraq was now constructing or already had nukes. Now, some critics of the Iraq war said, "How hypocritical to go after only Iraq, when we have greater reason to suspect NK and Iran of WMD!" A poor argument, easily refuted, but lets just ignore its simplicity for the moment and ask those who made it the following: "Just what argument could we now make to Iran and the world that it must cease its nuke program, if it were common (if perhaps false) knowledge that we had let Iraq have them?" Opposition to the invasion of Iraq war was/is a de facto acceptance of a Middle-East nuclear arms race. Visualize, if you will, the house of Saud armed with nuclear bombs, futile EU calls for the Turks to stop their program, and talking heads explaining why five-way nuclear deterrence might really work.
Folks, after Saddams capture we gained our main war aim. The Iraq War is already a victory. The democratization effort is simply about whether a greater victory will also be won on top of the first. Lincoln never forgave Meade for not chasing Lee after Gettysburg. The neocons would never have forgiven Bush had he not chased after a democratic Iraq. Of course, this second stage of the war is also about whether France/Russia/EU, academia, the MSM, and the Dems get to define the whole war as a disaster.
Now, to my realist conservative friends, or to those Lowry at NR defines as "to hell with em hawks," I have three simple questions. 1) What was the scenario for taking Saddam out, assuring ourselves that significant WMD(esp. nukes) were out of the Iraqis hands, but not sticking around to promote some sort of government? 2) When you realize that we would have had to have put our weight behind some likely government even had we left rapidly, then what sort of govt would have been likely? 3) If the current half-victory (and I concede entirely that democracy may not work there, that the signs are currently pretty dicey) is turning out to be a huge political defeat for Bush/conservatives, would not a bloodbath in Iraq following our departure have been a far worse disaster? One that would have lost Bush the 2004 election? And forget the election--had an Afghan-anarchy or a horrible new tyrant arisen, could we have looked ourselves in the mirror knowing we hadnt even given the Iraqis a realistic chance to prove themselves?
George W. Bush made the hard choice, the responsible choice, and the right choice, both with regards to invading and with regards to rolling the dice on democracy. History will vindicate him. Common-sense counterfactual history already does.
Perhaps the most important counterfactual factor is that we would still think that Saddam had WMD, probably including nukes by now
That assumes he didnt. Thats still not settled. Google Primakov and Sarandar.
Its not unreasonable to assume that Saddam would have launched a WMD attack against the continental US via Al Queda proxies.
Agreed, Fen, its not 100% settled, although it does little good for Iraq war defenders to hang their hats on that fact. I would not be surpised if the Syrians now own some chemical/bio-warfare materials courtesy Saddam. However, I have not seen anything that would suggest on the issue of nukes, that he had a real program, even if he was biding his time for an opportunity to restart his program. My best guess is that even by 2006 (in the counter-factual scenario by which he remained in power, with little serious pressure from inspections) he would not have had nukes, even if he might be on the way. But the key point is this--world opinion would have assumed that he was well on the way. Wed constantly be hearing the line, "Well, if you let Saddam have em, who shouldnt get to have em also!"
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