In relation to Iraq, I recall the position of "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf as set forth in his 1993 autobiography:
From the brief time that we did spend occupying Iraqi territory after the war, I am certain that had we taken all of Iraq, we would have been like the dinosaur in the tar pit - we would still be there, and we, not the United Nations, would be bearing the costs of the occupation. This is a burden I am sure the beleaguered American taxpayer would not have been happy to take on.George H.W. Bush similarly opinined in 1998,
We should not march into Baghdad. To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero. Assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerilla war, it could only plunge that part of the world into ever greater instability.On Monday, George W. Bush expressed,
Pulling the troops out would send a terrible signal to the enemy. Immediate withdrawal would say to the Zarqawis of the world and the terrorists of the world and the bomber who take innocent life around the world: 'the United States is weak.Yet, despite the Bush Administration's protestations, this war was sold to the American people as something that was going to be short and easy. I'm not sure quite how that sale was made - but I think it would have been better made with a candid discussion of the true costs and burdens of invading, occupying, and the attempted reinvention of Iraq. Granted, the sales pitch would have been less convincing, and it is possible that in the end the American people wouldn't have bought into a war that they knew would be this difficult, this protracted, and this expensive. (I'm sure that at least Donald "Democracy is messy" Rumsfeld would have accepted the will of the people, right?)
We now have columnists like David Ignatius suggesting that, in regard to the war, the President is tone deaf. Or Harold Meyerson all-but calling the war plan a failure. But we don't seem to have any reflection upon the fact that had the Bush Administration respected the American people enough to tell the truth from the beginning (say what you will about whether they believed WMD's were present; the truth I'm talking about is that of the difficulty and cost of the post-war) we would either have made the informed commitment to stick with the project despite those risks and costs, or we would have chosen not to invade. Either way, we would be better off.[FN1]
FN1. The case is sometimes made that it isn't a question of whether "we" are better off, but is a question of "bringing freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people". We have yet to do that, and may never accomplish such a goal. The moral weight of that argument, and the counter-argument that the aftermath of invasion could be no better or worse than life under Hussein, is something that should have been thoroughly discussed and considered in the pre-war period, as a factor in the nation's informed choice.