Reading Eastward to Tartary, written in 1998 and published in 2000, I was struck by the comments, made by political figures and intellectuals in the Balkans to the American journalist, about Saddam Hussein. Of course America was going to have to do something about him, they thought. They wanted only to assure the American that many people there would support this (they have, largely), and to caution them not to put up with his antics too long. They wondered what Clinton was going to do about this.
Something had to be done. The situation was inherently unstable, and obviously so. Were OIF and OEF the best choice? I would certainly entertain arguments that many other things might have been better. But we have moved into rather a fantasy land, believing that all we have accomplished is the replacement of a rather evil but generally stable situation with a more ambiguous, less-stable one. We have spent a great deal of money, and many American lives for this result, and those questioning this most vocally are among the most amnesic about our real choices. The idea seems to be that had we not gone to war, what we would have today is much the same - that Iraq would have bothered none of its neighbors, have made no threats, and would still be playing an annoying but mostly harmless game of Three Card Monty with the WMD*.
It is a natural mistake, I suppose. We tend to believe that if we change one thing, only that will change, because there are an infinite number other possibilities, often mutually exclusive. We cannot imagine infinite possibilities - even imagining the half-dozen most likely is much more complicated than imagining one possibility which we can actually see parts of. But 7 years out, the most likely result of our not having gone to war would be...almost unimaginable. Positive or negative, it would be so thoroughly surprising to our current eyes that we would declare it completely unpredictable. The area is unstable. That particular situation was unstable. Why would we imagine (once we have brought ourselves up short and considered the matter coldly) that something like the present, plus billions of dollars saved and many people not dead, would be the most probable result? That is actually the least probable result.
*Which I continue to believe are in the mountains of Syria, moved there with the aid of the GRU (once KGB) specialists known to be present in Iraq in 2002-2003. See Sarindar, or Pacepa.