Troy Senik's splendid post, "The Conservative Schism on Libya," has been on my mind ever since he put it up. One way of sizing up the schism on Libya, I suspect, would be to size up conservative opinion on Iraq. My thinking is tentative, but I'd like to try it out with my friends here at Ricochet.
Is Iraq better off without Saddam Hussein? Yes, of course--that's easy. Is it a good thing--indeed, a wonderful thing--that Iraq stands a chance of becoming the first functioning democracy in the history of the Arab world, demonstrating that democracy can indeed succeed in the Middle East? Again, yes--and again, that's easy. The real question is harder--a lot harder.
Do the benefits outweigh the costs?
The benefits, in brief: the elimination of a brutal dictator; a new government based, if, for now, loosely, on the consent of the governed; the establishment of a new currency and banking system; investments that will modernize oil production; and (although this is open to debate) an example that appears to have roused ordinary citizens throughout the Arab world, bringing down corrupt governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and, before this is over, other nations.
The costs, again in brief: More than 4,000 Americans killed and some 37,000 wounded; more than 100,000 Iraqis killed and hundreds of thousands wounded; the expenditure by American taxpayers of some $1 to $3 trillion; several years of the bitterest politics in the United States since the war in Vietnam; and, for now at least, an Iran that feels emboldened.
It's no good saying that we could have lowered the costs by instituting the surge earlier, by turning the nation over to Iraqis more quickly, or by monitoring corruption on the ground more closely. Maybe we could have. But we didn't.
The war in Iraq cost what it cost.
Was it worth it?