Leave it to Mark Steyn to get to the nub of a matter and illuminate some grand truths. In NRO, Steyn takes on the hollowness of American power and points to those who first supported the Iraq War and then tiptoed away from it as proof:
Like the bland acknowledgement deep in a State Department "International Religious Freedom Report" that the last church in Afghanistan was burned to the ground in 2010, it testifies to the superpower's impotence, not "internationally" but in client states entirely bankrolled by us.
Foreigners see this more clearly than Americans. As Goh Chok Tong, the prime minister of Singapore, said on a visit to Washington in 2004, "The key issue is no longer WMD or even the role of the U.N. The central issue is America's credibility and will to prevail." Just so. If you live in Tikrit or Fallujah, the Iraq War was about Iraq. If you live anywhere else on the planet, the Iraq War was about America, and the unceasing drumbeat of "quagmire" and "exit strategy" communicated to the world an emptiness at the heart of American power -- like the toppled statue of Saddam that proved to be hollow. On the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, mobs trashed U.S. embassies across the region with impunity. A rather more motivated crowd showed up in Benghazi, killed four Americans, including the ambassador, and correctly calculated they would face no retribution. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, these guys have reached their own judgment about American "credibility" and "will" -- as have more potent forces yet biding their time, from Moscow to Beijing.
And so a genuinely reformed Middle East remains, like the speculative scenarios outlined at the top, in the realm of "alternative history." Nevertheless, in the grim two-thirds-of-a-century roll call of America's un-won wars, Iraq today is less un-won than Korea, Vietnam, or Afghanistan, and that is not nothing. The war dead of America and its few real allies died in an honorable cause. But armies don't wage wars, nations do. And, back on the home front, a vast percentage of fair-weather hawks who decided that it was all too complicated, or a bit of a downer, or Bush lied, or where's the remote, revealed America as profoundly unserious. A senator who votes for war and then decides he'd rather it had never started is also engaging in "alternative history" -- albeit of the kind in which Pam Ewing steps into the shower at Southfork and writes off the previous season of Dallas as a bad dream. In non-alternative history, in the only reality there is, once you've started a war, you have two choices: to win it or to lose it. Withdrawing one's "support" for a war you're already in advertises nothing more than a kind of geopolitical ADHD.
There is already historical judgment passed on the war by many. This is iidiotic. Nobody knows what Iraq will look like 10 years from now, nor what impact our presence may have on the politics of the country. Iraq is an historically secular country and the last election saw a victory by the non-religious unity party, Iraqiya. Who could have foreseen that coming in 2004?
Although the Shias engineered Prime Minister Maliki's continuation in office, they are losing power. The secular parties will continue to grow and eventually, replace the hard line Shia parties that currently run the country. Iraq will never look like a western-style democracy. But it will be far better than the governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria when all is said and done, and still probably friendly to the US.
That's the real legacy of the Iraq war.