Iraq War: Right Time, Right Place, Right War

It needs to be said: It was smart to go to war in Iraq; it was courageous to go to war; but most of all -- even though there are few things as horrific as war -- it was necessary to go to war against Iraq.  Had we not gone to war against Iraq in 2003, we almost certainly would have done so there or in  another Arab country at another time, and all in less advantageous circumstances.

Iraq was the right time, right place, right war.

We had to go to war, because the only sure way to ensure our national security is to drain the swamp of terrorism: to finally begin the process of wrenching the Arab world from a culture of backwardness, oppression and hatred toward the West.

And as the war seems finally to show some hope of success, it isn't time to leave.  We need to finish the job as we remind ourselves why we are there.

Too many forget that there was massive support for the war in 2003: from left to right, Democrats and Republicans; and if many of our European allies did not support going to war in early 2003, their intelligence services were supporting the views of our own multi-agency analyses: that Saddam had WMDs, a belief Saddam almost undoubtedly nurtured in order to overawe his Iranian neighbors.

WMDs were the primary reason we went to war.  .    Others include Saddam's  genocidal campaign against the Kurds and his infringement of the no-fly zone, which violated the armistice that had halted the fighting in 1991 and gave the Powers opposing him the legal right under international law to resume hostilities.

In fact, there is reason to believe that even if A. Gore had been elected President in 2000 that we would have gone to war; perhaps a bit later, after an additional UN resolution or two, but at some point we would have done so. 

And so the War came.

Came with all its brutality and horror and mistakes, most notably in the occupation.  But that's no reason now to decry our involvement.  It's easy to favorably compare "what might have been" but the reality is that all wars are filled with unpleasant surprises.

Adults normally understand and accept that -- as they accepted during the Civil War such setbacks as Fredericksburg or during World War II the disaster of Kasserine Pass or the horrific early losses in our early daylight strategic bombing campaign. 

No matter how the occupation was handled, there would have been difficulties.  There's no way of telling whether other choices would have been better than the choices that were made.  The great advantage of the choices we didn't make is that they exist as pristine "what ifs," unsullied by reality.

The reality is that Saddam would have had to have been removed at some point, and the decrepit state he held together by terror was bound to blow apart.  Better sooner than later to get a head start on taking on a country at the heart of the Arab world and Arab mythology that had been fomenting terrorism, oppressing its people and otherwise helping to sustain a collective Arab culture that is a petri dish for terrorism.

We have urged our Arab "friends" to make changes that would discourage terrorism.  We've cajoled, pressed, implored and begged them.  We've bribed, demanded and threatened.  But nothing worked.  We finally had to take the most vile offender by the scruff of its neck and force it to change. 

Contemporary Iraq is not a paradise; even our best hopes for it remain far short of what we in the West would regard as a humane, tolerant and decent society.  But there seems to be progress toward that goal, and more than any Arab country today Iraq has a chance to create a pluralistic society that does not oppress its people, that offers hope for the future and that opposes terrorism; and in becoming this kind of state offers a model to the rest of the Arab world.

Having taken on Saddam in 2000, we have five years of experience in counterinsurgency in the center of the Arab world, and we're five years closer to winning the War for the Free World in the only way possible: by changing the culture that allows terrorism to survive and flourish. 

Had we waited, the war would have been more difficult and the stakes much greater. 

Now that things seem to be moving in the right direction is not the time to pull out according to an artificial time table driven not only by ignorance of the facts on the ground but the exigencies of party politics. 

Now is the time to reap the benefits of the sacrifice of money, national prestige and most important of all, the lives of some of our best young people.  It is not the time to retreat and reveal to all and sundry that we are a  paper tiger. 

Those who support surrender say that there would be peace.  And there would be peace.  But a counterfeit peace: the fallacy of the false alternative: peace for a week, a month, a year, but what of two or ten or fifty years, the world of our children and grandchildren?

To leave without victory would be to return to the beginning, and we would have to do it all over again in a few years.  Understood or not, it was the world's good fortune that we were able to take on Saddam when we did:  It was the right time, right place, right war.

That's why we fight.

Douglas Stone is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C