It has been two years now since the United States invaded Iraq, and it’s safe to say that nobody, whether for or against the war then, could have foreseen what has happened since.
History ultimately will judge the significance and morality of this war. Right now we are too close to it, and events are occurring too rapidly and unexpectedly, to know what that judgment will be.
Those who, like us, opposed the war early on because it was unprovoked, because Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the United States and because it was wrong to take such unilateral action without the support of the international community have watched with dismay as disaster has piled onto disaster, beginning with the post-invasion looting all across Iraq. Then came the profiteering by Halliburton, the growing Sunni insurgency and the violence it created, the horrific Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the accounts of “rendition” of suspects to be tortured elsewhere, the staggering costs and, throughout, the mounting list of American and Iraqi casualties, the latter in the tens of thousands and largely ignored by American media.
Meanwhile, the original rationales for invasion—that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was allied with Al Qaeda—turned out to be bogus.
All the while, though, it was impossible, even for opponents of the war, not to feel glad that Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror had ended. And earlier this year, the Iraqi elections seemed to indicate that the people of this country may yet have the desire to move, albeit slowly and painfully, toward some form of democracy.
It would be churlish for opponents of the war not to admit that televised images of Iraqis voting brought a glimmer of hope that something worthy might yet come of it all. Those same images seem also to have ignited a flame of reform throughout the area, especially in Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Clearly, the pent-up desire for freedom exists and was greater than previously known or imagined. As one Arab commentator noted, people there are citing the Koranic verse that speaks of a catastrophe that bears good fruit.
How this will play out remains to be seen, of course. Some of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East—Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt chief among them—are close allies of the United States. None of them wants to relinquish power, and the United States isn’t about to invade them to force the issue. But if Iraq succeeds in creating a functioning democracy, the Israelis and Palestinians continue to cooperate to resolve their issues and Hezbollah agrees to join the government of Lebanon, this brief springtime of hope may become an unforeseen flowering.