Would the people of Iraq have been, for the most part, better off if we had not toppled Saddam? I don't think there is any question that as brutal and oppressive as Hussein was, the majority of Iraqis would have preferred the stability to the chaos and bloodshed of the last eleven years.
I know this sound terrible, but I don't really care that much about the answer to that question. The question for me is, would Americans have been better off? Originally, I believed that it was in our best interests as a nation to remove Hussein and put pressure on Iran by having a military presence on both of their borders.
I believed this because I assumed that our military had learned the bloody lessons of Korea and Vietnam, and they understood that fighting a war meant taking it to enemy and destroying his ability to attack us. I began to have doubts very soon, when Bush was talking about how we didn't need to sacrifice, that we should go shopping, and live our lives.
As a people, we were ready, after 9/11, to take it the enemy. Our leaders never had that intent. The war on terror -- a stupid name -- became a means for controlling us and removing more privacy and liberties through the provisions of the Patriot Act, the establishment of Homeland Security and the totalitarian tactics of the TSA. Corporate Friends of Government were rewarded with fat contracts. The reach of the federal government was extended, and its power over our lives was consolidated.
The destruction of terrorist strongholds should have been over years ago. Our troops should never have spent more than a few months in Iraq or Afghanistan. Intelligence agents, Special Forces, and smart ordnance could have dealt with the threats without the need for billions poured into worthless hellholes, the loss of thousands of lives, and the mutilated bodies of thousands more in conflicts that were never intended to resolve anything -- wars we never intended to win.
Now Iraq falls, strengthening Iran's hand, offering new opportunities to the increasingly Islamist government of Turkey. Afghanistan is all but surrendered to the Taliban. What do we have to show for all we have done since 2001? A wrecked economy and a butcher's bill.
I was never a neocon, but I had too much faith in a politicized military. It's time to severely cut defense along with everything else.