Tony Blair, former British prime minister and President George W. Bush’s best foreign ally in the war in Iraq, has candidly admitted the conflict was, in some ways, ill-conceived and executed.
Is he right?
The best way to judge a war is by the results. There’s really no way around it.
- Is Iraq better off today within the orbit of Iran, a radical Shiite regime? No.
- Is the world better off with that re-alignment? No.
- Is the region better off? No.
- Did the Iraq war ultimately lead to the rise of ISIS as part of a Sunni backlash against the Shiite-dominated, Iran-aligned regime? Yes.
- Does Iran have a stronger hand to play in the Middle East today as a result of the Iraq war? Yes.
- Is there more death, violence, upheaval and conflict in Iraq today than there was with Saddam Hussein in charge? Yes.
Unfortunately the kind of instability we see in the region today is what you can expect when the goals of an invasion are ill-defined, initially limited to “regime change,” but then morphing into the more nebulous objective of “nation-building.”
The Iraq war was costly – in lives, blood and money.
It’s pretty difficult to look back and say it was properly conceived, well-planned and expertly executed.
It’s better not to embark on foreign military adventures without clear-cut, achievable goals and a definition to victory.
One of the problems from the start with the Iraq war was American unwillingness to define the enemy. The Iraq war was an extension of the “war on terrorism,” which had the same problem. Terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy.
The reluctance to recognize and articulate the dangers of radical Islam was always the biggest barrier to victory.
How do you win a war when you can’t even say who you are fighting?
Saddam Hussein was a monster – a terrible tyrant. Yet, in the neighborhood he lived in, he was hardly the worst offender. He was an easy target, but replacing him with a government that would respect human rights, and especially the rights of minorities, would prove thornier than most people imagined.
We have the same problem in Syria today. Barack Obama has made regime change the principle goal in Syria. Bashar Assad is a tyrant, too. But, by the standards of the Middle East, he looks like one of the good guys, at least in terms of the protection of Christians and other religious minorities.
Obama made his highest objective overthrowing Assad, who is aligned with Iran, while making it easier for Iran to procure nuclear weapons.
It was a strategy that was completely backward from the start.
It is Iran’s nuclear ambitions that represent a crisis to the whole word, not just the Middle East. Obama’s policy was even more misguided and wrongheaded than Bush’s. And it will haunt us for decades to come.
Both in Iraq and Syria, as well as Afghanistan, we can see that simple regime change doesn’t really change a thing. In fact, it more often than not has unintended consequences.
You might think America would have learned this lesson after Vietnam – an even more costly war that was fought without defining victory.
But we didn’t – at least the politicians never figured it out.
It’s time for the U.S. to stop trying to be the policeman of the world. While policemen can be effective at arresting bad guys, they can’t be expected to change people’s hearts and minds. And in the Middle East – in fact worldwide – conflicts and human rights abuses are problems caused by warped hearts and minds.
Military force should only be used to kill bad people and break things with overwhelming power. Historically, when America has applied this simple principle in foreign wars, the outcome is usually more successful.
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