Five years ago the war in Iraq began. I’m not sure even the gloomiest pessimist would have predicted that we’d still have so many troops and so many problems so many years after the invasion. Knowing what we know now, I don’t think anyone can reasonably argue that going to war in Iraq was a wise or prudent decision.

Our rationale for war has proven rather specious. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein had no intimate ties to terrorists. Democracy is not easily spread with armies. There was, at best, a very distant threat from Saddam’s regime that in no way required immediate action. Yes, Saddam was a brutal tyrant but he was, sadly, one of many evil men in this world. Removing all oppressors from this world is a noble idea but one that requires an unacceptable sacrifice of resources and lives. One that is regrettably impossible. We are left with the difficult but ultimately proper choice of affecting change slowly – not of tolerating tyranny but of understanding that the foundations of freedom are most effectively laid gradually and organically.

There are plenty of theories as to why the Bush Administration made the decision to invade. Some accuse the president of duplicitous or downright sinister motives. Others just assume incompetence. I tend to believe the fault lay not in cold deceit but in burning hubris. September 11th remade the president and the president decided to remake the world. Targeted action for this long struggle was not enough. He wanted bold change and he let himself believe it was immediately possible. Iraq made the most efficient target for that change, especially with the widely held belief that the nation held weapons of mass destruction.

However, not everyone was convinced of this war’s necessity. From even before the first bomb fell, our nation divided itself over the war. Whole swaths of Americans refused and still refuse to see the war as anything but “Bush’s war.” There has been no shared burden, no equal hope for victory. Many have spent the last five years eagerly pointing out every failure, trumpeting every casualty and ignoring any success. The hysterics of the opponents combined with the uncritical cheerleading of proponents polarized this nation to the point that there was very little room for honest, thoughtful debate. It should have never taken us over four years to realize that more combat troops were necessary to quell the violence. But “more troops” was untenable to both sides – an admittance of error to supporters and an admittance of the possibility of victory to opponents.

We are left with an Iraq and a war dramatically different from the one we began five years ago. We would be better if we had never invaded. But we did. We would be better if, after the invasion, we conducted the conflict with far greater competency. But we didn’t. The only thing we can change is our own attitudes, choosing to move away from the absolutist views of the poles and addressing the situation from a more realistic, constructive standpoint. I advocate staying until stability is secured and Al Qaeda is fully or all but vanquished. But for those who want us out, I can only hope that, should we leave, we choose to leave with better planning and a better sense of reality than we used when we went in.

I think this war has been a tragedy. I think the potential for even greater tragedy remains strong unless we proceed with great caution and wisdom. Either staying or withdrawing will have serious cost. Ultimately, we must choose the least bad course. Not easy to do but, with a new president, something we can still hope will happen.

Politics Iraq, Five Years On