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“Knowing what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq in 2003?”
This question, posed by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly to potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush, created a stir this week when Bush first answered “Yes, of course” (I paraphrase) only to later claim that he wasn’t listening closely to the question and had mis-answered. This appears to have been an honest mistake (although a dumb one). Bush evidently was listening for the question as to whether he would have invaded Iraq if he had been in his brother’s shoes at the time. Given what we all know now, however, he absolutely would not have gone to war.
The whole kerfuffle was all just a misunderstanding. But it was instructive and depressing nevertheless.
Because after everyone thought that they heard Jeb Bush saying that with today’s knowledge he would still have invaded Iraq in 2003, there was a mad rush by most of the other Republican presidential candidates to bury him. Even the normally stalwart conservative Laura Ingraham piled on during an appearance on The Kelly File in which she suggested that America had passed judgement at the polls by voting out Republicans in 2006 and 2008. It would appear, therefore, that the view that invading Iraq was, all things considered, a good thing is now considered not merely wrong but also unspeakable.
I have mentioned on these pages previously my admiration for philosopher Willard von Orman Quine’s theory on the web of beliefs. According to Quine, one’s beliefs are not independent ideas in a vacuum. Rather, each belief reinforces “neighboring” beliefs on related topics in such a way that one’s whole philosophy is ultimately a connected mesh. So changing a single belief can often require an entire gestalt shift. In consequence of this structure, we interpret the whole world and filter evidence according to the orientation of our web.
I point this out because nowhere are preconceived ideas so important as when one is interpreting complex data filled with subtle and sometimes conflicting patterns…such as in history.
If Ingraham is right and America has concluded firmly that invading Iraq was a mistake based on faulty intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction, it is with true humility that I say that the patterns and motions of history that I perceive, filtered for my own web, tell a very different story.
The first story they tell is about Iraq in the era following Saddam Hussein. During the invasion of Iraq, when the existence of WMDs was still an open but increasingly dubious issue, Tony Blair commented (again paraphrasing) that if we were, after all, wrong about the WMDs history would forgive us. Blair was roundly skewered for this comment, but I think he was also roundly misunderstood. What he was saying, I believe, is that even if Hussein did not possess WMDs it would have been worthwhile on humanitarian grounds alone to fight to have him removed.
And so, with conventional wisdom running to the contrary, I wonder whether anyone remembers the hundreds of thousands of souls discovered in mass graves? Or the grave with hundreds of children found in the Kurdish region of Iraq? Has the steady drumbeat of leftist Bush-hating propaganda about the horror of Iraq after the war led us to forget Iraq before the war? As disruptive and dangerous as sectarian warfare in the region today is, the Iraq of Saddam Hussein was both more cruel and — what is most terrifying — a remarkably stable regime.
And Saddam’s regime was, according to the subtle currents that I perceive, the lynchpin of the whole dictatorial structure of much of the Middle East. I believe that the day that millions of Iraqis voted in meaningful elections – raising their purple fingers high – for the first time in their lives was, like the tearing down of Saddam’s statue, a bell of freedom that sounded across the region, notably to Egypt and Libya.
The secular tide which the freed Iraqi people unleashed has been accompanied by a sectarian and fractured fundamentalist Islamic tide as well. It will take a while for the secular forces to win out over the Muslim Brotherhood. But in Egypt, for example, the battle for civilization seems to be going pretty well. It seems not merely cruel but hopelessly naïve as well to simply say we would have been better off keeping Saddam and Mubarak and Qaddafi right where they were.
The efforts of the Islamic radicals like ISIS to govern are reminiscent of regimes like that of Pol Pot, where maniacal sermons are given by black-clad “brothers” standing knee deep in gore. But as horrific and dangerous as these regimes are, they are, compared to the machines of dictators like Saddam, flimsy and fragile. Only the insane (i.e. the fanatics) want to live in Jonestown.
What do you say, Ricochetti? Was it a mistake to invade Iraq? Or was our mistake the way that we lost the war after we had already won it?