I remember the exact moment I had my first serious doubts about
whether I was 100 percent right that the U.S. preemptive invasion of
Iraq and the take-out of Saddam Hussein was a serious mistake.
I had been strongly opposed to the U.S. intervention from the start.
I felt this way even though I believed (as did most everyone, including
the intelligence community) that Hussein had weapons of mass
destruction and even though I thought that Saddam was a murderous,
genocidal thug and the world would be better off — and the U.S. safer —
with him dead.
However, I reasoned, the WMD inspectors were back in and we had
Saddam surrounded — thanks to George Bush, by the way, for which we
Democrats did not give him sufficient credit at the time.
So why risk the uncertainties of a preemptive invasion, loss of life
and treasure, and diverting our attention from 9/11 and the war against
terror, which most U.S. intelligence indicated had nothing to do with
Of course, all these remain good reasons for opposing starting the war, even as I look back now.
But then came my first moment of doubt.
I saw on TV in early 2005, in their first preliminary democratic
elections, long lines of Iraqis waiting to vote under the hot desert
sun with bombs and shrapnel exploding around them. Waiting to vote!
And then there was that indelible image — an older woman shrouded in
a carpet-like cape, smiling gleefully and holding her purple finger in
the air for the TV cameras, purple with ink showing that she had voted.
Smiling! In the middle of war! At U.S. troops standing nearby!
Wow, I thought. Is it possible I was wrong?
Is it possible, I wondered, that Iraqis truly did want democracy and
freedom and the right to vote and government of the people, just as we
Americans do? And were willing to fight for it, with our help?
Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Even a great thing?
Maybe another democracy, however imperfect, other than Israel in the
Middle East could lead to more moderation, possibly other democracies?
Democracies that could serve as bulwarks against Al Qaeda-type of
Then in 2005-2006 came the increased violence from the Sunni
insurgents against American kids, then the sectarian civil war between
Sunnis and Shi’ites, with young Americans caught in the crossfire. My
certainty in opposing the war and supporting a deadline for getting out
And then in early 2007 came the surge, which so many of us in the
anti-war left of the Democratic Party predicted would be a failure,
throwing good men and women and billions of dollars after futility. We
The surge did, in fact, lead to a reduction of violence, confirmed by media on the ground as well as our military leaders.
It did allow the Shi’ite government of Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki in the last several months to show leadership by joining, if
not leading, the military effort to clean out of Basra the masked Mahdi
Army controlled by the anti-U.S. Shiite extremist cleric Muqtada
al-Sadr and in the Sadr City section of Baghdad he claimed to control.
This willingness by the Shi’ite–dominated Maliki government to move
against the Sadr Shi’ite extremists won crucial credibility for the
government among many Sunni leaders and Sunnis on the streets, who
joined together with Shi’ites to turn against the Al Qaeda in Iraq and
other Taliban–like extremists.
These are facts, not arguments.
I think there are a lot of anti-war Democrats who, like me, are
impressed by these facts and who now see a moral obligation, after all
the carnage and destruction wrought by our military intervention, not
just to pick up and leave without looking over our shoulders.
Surely we owe the Iraqis who helped us, whose lives are in danger,
immediate immigration rights to the U.S. Yet the shameful fact is that
most are still not even close to having such rights.
Surely we owe the Maliki government and the Shiiite and Sunni
soldiers who put their lives on the line against Shiite and Sunni
extremists and terrorists at our behest some continuing presence and
support and patience as they strive to find peace, political
reconciliation — and maybe even the beginnings of a stable democracy.
The only question is, for how long?
Forever? No. 100 years? No.
But for how long? I don’t know.
I just know I can’t get out of my mind that lady with the purple
finger held up, smiling into the camera. If getting in was a mistake,
then getting out — how and when — is not so simple as long as there is
hope that she can some day live in a democratic Iraq that can help
America in the war against terror.