EDITOR’S NOTE: Derrik Gay is a former intelligence officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, Iraq vet, and a JD/MBA student at Northwestern University. He is also a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. He lives in Evanston.
“George W. Bush was Right About Iraq.“
In the past couple weeks, this headline has splashed across social media sites and newspapers all around the country. Is this headline referring to weapons of mass destruction being found in Iraq? No. Is this headline referring to newly uncovered evidence that Saddam Hussein was providing support to al-Qaeda? No. Is this headline touting the wisdom of invading Iraq without a broad coalition? No.
Supposedly, this headline is referring to President George W. Bush’s ‘prophetic’ warning about withdrawing from Iraq in 2007. In a speech given to the press corps, Bush cautioned that withdrawing from Iraq too early “would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al-Qaeda … It’d mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It’d mean we’d allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It’d mean we’d be increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) is committing horrific mass killings, has brutally executed two American journalists, and seeks to expand throughout the Middle East. Iraq has indeed become a safe haven for terrorists. On its face, Bush’s assertion seems to prophetically foreshadow the current upheaval accurately.
But this shortsighted view of history ignores so many things Bush and his national security advisers were wrong about. We were not greeted as liberators, imposing democratic ideals on a country by military force is not easy, and disbanding the Iraqi army was a huge strategic blunder that eliminated a policing force and led many well-trained and disgruntled former service members to the insurgency.
The line of reasoning needed to conclude ‘Bush was right,’ ignores the most obvious counterargument: that the Iraq invasion itself created the conditions that would require a continual presence by the U.S. military in that country. Before the Iraq war, Iraq was not a safe haven for al-Qaeda — Afghanistan was. By taking scarce resources away from the conflict in Afghanistan and launching another offensive against Iraq, al-Qaeda was not dealt a crippling blow but instead had swarms of new recruits as opposition against U.S. interference in the region ballooned.