Six years ago, the conventional wisdom was that Ayad Allawi, then prime minister of the appointed Iraqi interim government, was a puppet of the United States.
Last month, though, the Allawi-led Iraqiya alliance won, by a narrow margin, more parliamentary seats than any other coalition in national elections — and he may become the country’s next prime minister.
The secular Allawi successfully campaigned on the message of curbing religious interference in government — countering the often-argued charge that the U.S. has created a radical Islamic republic in Iraq.
Indeed, as we look back at our years in Iraq, almost all of what once passed for conventional wisdom has been proven wrong.
Yes, there is still terrorist violence in Iraq — especially recently, as the leadership of the country’s next government remains in doubt. And, yes, there are still around 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq. But in the first three months of 2010, the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq was about equal to those murdered in Fresno, Calif.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s democracy has for some time now proven itself independent from the U.S. — and that old antiwar accusation that we entered the war to control Iraqi oil was false.
Last June, the representative Iraqi government held its first oil auction — featuring transparent negotiations in which no American oil company was awarded an oil concession.
Instead, Chinese, Russian, British, French, and other national oil consortia were given the awards. These were legitimate contracts, too — not the sweetheart deals Saddam Hussein used to make with other governments in exchange for international political cover.
After the U.S. removed the monstrous Saddam, many argued that we were only empowering neighboring Iran — and thus that the U.S. and the region were better off when he was in power. Putting aside the morality of playing one dictatorship against another, has theocratic Iran really benefited from the emergence of a constitutional democracy in Iraq?
Currently, the Iranian theocracy is far more unpopular among Iranians than the Iraqi democracy is among Iraqis. Ending Saddam Hussein’s reign in the short term might have been welcome to the ruling Iranian mullahs, but a nearby, functioning, secular, constitutional state — with a Shiite majority — is becoming its worst nightmare. Millions of restless Iranians must now wonder, “If Iraqi Shiites can talk freely on television, why can’t we?”
Given Iraq’s progress these last years, it’s hard to find anyone who still argues — as the current troika now directing U.S. foreign policy, Pres. Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, once did — that President Bush’s 2007 troop surge was a mistake.
To then-senator Clinton, the surge’s purported success required a “suspension of disbelief.” But, as we now know, the surge saved Iraq and provided a blueprint of sorts for operations in Afghanistan.
Finally, there was the assertion that antiwar protests were all genuinely based on opposition to the American presence in Iraq rather than fueled, in large part, by partisan politics. But since January 2009, when Obama was sworn into office, there have been almost no antiwar demonstrations against the still-sizable American presence there. Popular demonstrations in the U.S. now oppose excessive government, not the war.
And Hollywood has ceased making its usual, unpopular antiwar movies like In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, The Kingdom, Rendition, Lions for Lambs, and Home of the Brave.
Many on the left no longer oppose the Bush-Petraeus plan of slow, graduated withdrawal from Iraq, as this strategy is now sanctioned by President Obama. In the words of Vice President Biden, Iraq may well become one of the Obama administration’s “greatest achievements.”
It’s true that many original supporters of the three-week removal of Saddam Hussein underestimated the ordeal of establishing a constitutional state in his absence. But it’s also evident that many who damned the war did so mainly to embarrass then-president George Bush.
We see all of this mostly in hindsight. Dire assertions about Iraq did not come to pass. Antiwar passion cooled once war-critic Barack Obama was no longer a presidential candidate but became president — and commander-in-chief.
And, most importantly, a successful democracy finally did arise after the fall of Saddam.
– Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and editor, most recently, of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.