What issue better to first apply reason to than one that costs American lives everyday. When looking at an issue as momentous as this military engagement, it is important to keep in mind that what has been done is done. With that said, let’s draw a few lessons for conflicts in the future.
To begin with, it is the practical position that it was wise to have America install a democratic regime, if necessary by force, in one of the Middle Eastern oil states. This was necessary first as a show of force, a psychological assertion on the world stage of the United States standing as the world power and our intolerance of the regimes that gave birth to tragic events of 9/11. The more important reason is that there is a system that has taken root in the Middle East that fosters terrorism and it has to be disabled, for otherwise that instability would continue to spawn terrorism abroad and threaten the stability of the world’s largest oil producing region, thus making a potent security and economic threat to the United States security. The system is the potent combination of oil wealth, large youth populations, stagnate economies, repressive dictators, revolutionary rage, and extremist Islam. The oil wealth has created large youth populations, who can find no part in oil economies, whose education has been hampered by Islamic doctrines, whose desire to reform has been suppressed, and whose consequential rage has been directed, with the use of Islam, away from the regimes who have created this vicious cycle, and towards the United States. This process created both the terrorists who have attacked and continue to attack the United States, and the possibility for revolutions on such a scale that could create an oil crisis. Thus to achieve political and economic security, the United States was obliged to not only attack the terrorist structures, which has been achieved through attacks on Afghanistan and the continuing Al Qaeda hunt, but also the root of terrorism, this afore described system. This could be done only by creating a stable and successful democratic regime in one of the oil states. With the regime in place, Muslims would have a goal to aspire to, America would have a good friend and better reputation, and neighboring regimes would be cowed into reform, afraid of being overwhelmed by the crowds that would no longer be appeased with more anti-Americanism. Of the Arab oil states, Iraq was the natural choice, for not only was it already at political odds with America and the world, it also had limited oil exports and thus a limited effect on the world oil market lest it be swept into war. Needless to say, it also had an abusive dictator, but, sadly, that is by no means a unique virtue when it comes to the Middle East. For these reasons, it is the practical position that a regime change in Iraq was necessary.
This is not say that support of the concept and support of the execution equate. There were, unfortunately, numerous lapses in practicality during the execution of Iraq’s regime change. To begin with, the government did not go to war for the afore described reason, rather it insisted on making the embarrassing WMD case. If one is to go to war, it is the practical policy that one tells exactly why: public trust is a dangerous thing to risk, especially in wartime. Even if one still insists on believing the case, the value of stabilizing the Middle East greatly surpasses that of squashing a potential nuclear arms owner. Second, partially because of the first lapse, the government failed to achieve overwhelming diplomatic support for the regime change. Although the support was sufficient support for the regime change, much more could have been achieved if the government had dropped the WMD case and put forth a much stronger diplomatic effort. For example, France did not want to support a war in Iraq because they import near all their oil from Middle Eastern nations. There were ways we could have addressed this fear, yet as long as we stuck to the WMD case, France just said it disagreed with that and never had to state its true fear. The failure to accumulate the diplomatic support meant that the war consequently harmed our reputation and most of the burden was placed on the US. Third, the government left many of the lessons from the first Gulf War behind, making the second unnecessarily difficult. We failed to use the overwhelming force necessary to pacify the country. We failed to plan beyond toppling the regime, creating a disastrous anarchic period nearly a year long in which the insurgency assembled. Finally, due to or perhaps the primary cause of all the others, we rushed into the war. Although it was important to take action in a timely matter, the rush meant fewer troops, less time to drum up support, and forsaking less costly alternatives, such as strategic support for an internal coup. These mistakes and more could have been prevented if we had merely followed the guidelines laid down by Colin Powell for the first Gulf War, when we knew exactly what we were doing, told everybody why we were doing it, and did it with sufficient force and planning for a spectacular success. After that war, there was good reason to believe that we would never forget those principles. Apparently, though, common sense is not so insurmountable. It will always be the practical policy in the future to remember these lessons and make sure that when the US next engages, we keep them in mind.
Yet what is done is done; fortunately the current administration did have the spirit to stick with it, despite the tragic resultants from these mistakes, and we have gotten back on the right path. At this point, the practical position on Iraq is that it is essential that the US military continue the occupation and its fight against the insurgency until it is destroyed, that we build up the Iraqi government to the point where it can maintain order and democracy in its own country, and that we build up their infrastructure and economy to the point where they might be a prosperous democracy.