The Iraq War of 2003 was undone by blithe assumptions, cultural ignorance, and careless planning. But compared with the accelerating drive to confront Iran, the Iraq War looks like a masterpiece of meticulous preparation.
The project of a war with Iran is so crazy, it remains incredible that Donald Trump’s administration could truly be premeditating it. But on the off, off chance that it is, here’s a word of caution from a veteran of the George W. Bush administration: Don’t do it.
I supported the Iraq War in 2003 because I believed the Bush administration’s case that Iraq was again actively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. (A first program had been destroyed by Israeli warplanes in 1981; a second had been halted by UN inspectors after the Gulf War of 1990–91.)
Yet the goal in 2003 was bigger than denuclearization. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was both oppressing his own subjects and menacing his neighbors. By replacing Saddam’s regime with a more humane and peaceful successor, the U.S. could set the Arab Middle East on a path to a better future—contributing to America’s own security after 9/11.
Had the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam achieved those things, the world would indeed be a better place. It is an unknowable question whether, with more resources and wiser decisions, those things could have been achieved. It is also a futile question. The American political system of 2003 was not going to provide more resources, and even in retrospect, it is difficult to identify what wiser decisions could have delivered better success in Iraq.