Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why I Was Wrong, 10th Anniversary Edition

Ten years ago, on March 20th, 2003, the US invaded Iraq. I supported that invasion, and I was wrong. Specifically, I can recall when debating with others that I believed Iraq would be a better place in 3/19/2013 than 3/19/2003, and now time has come to pass judgement on my attempts at foresight.

Is Iraq better today than the day before the invasion? Arguably. But only at a far higher price for both the US and Iraqis than I imagined back then. Additionally, while it is impossible to predict alternative histories, I doubt Saddam or his sons would be in power today in Iraq if we had simply ignored him in 2003. Iraq would have been a prime candidate for revolution during the Arab Spring, leading to an end that is likely better than the state they are in now, with far lower costs than the invasion.

Where specifically did I go wrong? First and foremost, I simply under-estimated the incompetence of Bush and Rumsfield. They screwed up just about everything with this matter. Back then, I was in the waning days of my non-non-interventionalist libertopian phase, and still too trusting of the Republican party in general. Second, while it was obvious that the WMD issue was being hyped way out of proportion by the Bush administration, I really did think we would find something. Not a lot, mind you, nor enough to justify a war. Just enough to avoid the extreme embarrassment of being totally wrong. It never occured to  me that coming up with a big fat goose egg was a real possibility. Third, I underestimated the sectarianism that exists in that part of the world, and how it has ripped Iraq apart in so many ways while ringing up far higher human and financial costs than anything that I considered plausible before the war. Fourth, I underestimated how negatively this would be perceived abroad, which combined with Bush's arrogance and obvious incomptence undermined our credibility at every step.

Saddam was an awful, cruel dictator who deserved to be removed from power, which was my primary motive for supporting the war. But the war was far too costly, including over a trillion dollars slapped on the credit card, the lives of thousands of American troops, and the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqs by any measure, perhaps hundreds of thousands. We should have stayed home in this case.