Intervention in the Iraq War and in other Middle Eastern countries presents tough choices.
The United States has targeted a lot of rogues and their regimes in recent decades: Moammar Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, Manuel Noriega, and the Taliban. As a general rule over the last 100 years, any time the U.S. has bombed or intervened and then abruptly left the targeted country, chaos has followed. But when America has followed up its use of force with unpopular peacekeeping, sometimes American interventions have led to something better.
The belated entry of the United States into World War I saved the sinking Allied cause in 1917. Yet after the November 1918 armistice, the United States abruptly went home, washed its hands of Europe’s perennial squabbling, and disarmed. A far bloodier World War II followed just two decades later. It may have been wise or foolish for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to have intervened in Vietnam in 1963–1964 to try to save the beleaguered non-Communist south. But after ten years of hard fighting and a costly stalemate, it was nihilistic for America to abandon a viable South Vietnam to invading Communist North Vietnam. Re-education camps, mass executions, and boat people followed — along with more than 40 years of Communist oppression. The current presidential candidates are refighting the Iraq war of 2003. Yet the critical question 13 years later is not so much whether the United States should or should not have removed the genocidal Saddam Hussein, but whether our costly efforts at reconstruction ever offered any hope of a stable Iraq.
By 2011, Iraq certainly seemed viable. Only a few dozen American peacekeepers were killed in Iraq in 2011 — a total comparable to the number of U.S. soldiers who die in accidents in an average month. The complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops in December 2011 abruptly turned what President Obama had dubbed a “sovereign, stable, and self-reliant” Iraq — and what Vice President Joe Biden had called one of the administration’s “greatest achievements” — into a nightmarish wasteland.
Hillary Clinton bragged of the 2011 airstrikes in Libya and the eventual death of Qaddafi: “We came, we saw, he died.” But destroying Qaddafi’s forces from the air and then abandoning Libya to terrorists and criminals only created an Islamic State recruiting ground. The Benghazi disaster was the nearly inevitable result of washing our hands of the disorder that we had helped to create.
In contrast, when the United States did not pack up and go home after its messy wars, our unpopular interventions often helped make life far better for all involved — and the U.S. and its allies more secure. The United States inherited a mess in the Philippines in 1899 after the defeat of imperial Spain in the Spanish-American war. But after more than a decade of bloody counterinsurgency fighting, America finally birthed a Philippine national government that was given its independence after World War II.
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Iraq War Tough Choices | Natonal Review