A Long War In a Nutshell
A Look Back


Victor Davis Hanson

Views on the war in Iraq now transcend reasonable discussion. The war rests in the realm of emotion, warped by the hysteria of partisan bickering.

The result is that we have forgotten why we invaded Iraq in long-ago 2003. We cannot agree why we had problems after the stunning removal of Saddam Hussein. And we are not sure either whether we are winning — or why we even should.

Why We Invaded
After the victory of the 1991 Gulf War, a bipartisan consensus had emerged that Saddam Hussein had to be contained — by both arms and sanctions. Our government wanted to prevent him from using oil revenues to obtain more dangerous weapons, destroying more of his own people, and from attacking or invading yet a fifth nearby country. Few, if any, disagreed.

But after September 11, and the realization that state-sponsored terrorists from the Middle East had the desire to destroy the United States and the capability to do it great harm, the decade-long containment of Saddam Hussein, in light also of his serial violations of both armistice and U.N. accords, was considered inadequate. Few disagreed.

So both houses of Congress, backed by an overwhelming majority of the American people, authorized the use of military force to remove Saddam Hussein, at the vigorous request of the President.

The WMD Debacle
Though the Congress in October 2002 formulated 23 different reasons why Saddam posed a threat to our security, the administration — in easy hindsight, quite wrongly — mostly privileged and exaggerated just one writ: Saddam’s arsenals of weapons of mass destruction might enhance Middle East terrorist operations enough to trump even what we had witnessed on 9/11.

Supporters of a narrow war to remove WMDs relied on a past, though false consensus of such an existential threat; it was one, however, that had nevertheless prompted embargoes, sanctions, no-fly zones, and periodic bombing. Perhaps they were sure of such a WMD danger because it had been formulated at home in the 1990s and echoed abroad by both European and Middle Eastern agencies — and alone would galvanize the public in a way the other sanctioned casus belli might not.

Nevertheless, when such weapons were not found in Iraq, and the insurgency imperiled the brilliant three-week victory, the case for the war, in the eyes of many, collapsed. It did so on both moral and practical grounds. For some reason, no one cared that the other twenty-some Congressional causes were still as valid as when they had been first approved in October 2002.

The Victory over Saddam
We now argue over the requisite number of troops necessary in the aftermath of Iraq. Few, however, complain about the three-week victory of March and April 2003, in which U.S. military and coalition forces, at very little loss, destroyed the Baathist government and removed Saddam Hussein with about 250,000 troops. Someone did something right, though exactly who and what is now forgotten.