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Editor’s Introduction

Ten years ago, in the long shadow of 9/11 and with significant bipartisan support in the US Congress, President Bush launched Operation Iraqi Freedom, the US-led invasion of Iraq, to destroy WMD plants and stockpiles, oust a sadistic and bloody dictator, offer the Iraqi people a chance for a democratic destiny, and along the way give their oppressed Middle Eastern neighbors an enticing glimpse of a democratic future.

Ten years later we can agree that the invasion was a convincing military success. Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard was quickly defeated, and Hussein himself was hunted down, arrested, tried, and executed. But no WMD were found—an extraordinary US intelligence miscalculation that diminished the credibility of both the president and the United States and led to silly accusations that the US had invaded for oil as well as serious ones that intelligence assessments were distorted to accommodate the administration’s rush for invasion and war.

Still, looking back now—tens of thousands of dead and injured later and a trillion dollars spent—legitimate elections have been held in Iraq and coalition governments have been negotiated and formed. And while there’s no shortage of mischief in the Malaki government’s domestic and international maneuverings (with Iran in particular), something resembling democratic governance and accountability is emerging, despite persistent but greatly reduced ethnic violence. Whether Iraq’s democracy will endure and mature and what direction future governments will lead the country in is still uncertain. For the moment, we can acknowledge that Iraq is a formative democracy, erratic and unreliable though it may be, and what took place in the last decade continues to resonate not only in ethnic strife but also in a dialogue about democracy that has spread to other Middle Eastern countries. Whether the cost in blood and treasure was proportionate to the gains is a valid question, but probably one that cannot be answered a mere ten years later.

Putting aside whatever humiliations the people of the Middle East may have suffered at the sight of an invading infidel force, one might also reasonably argue that there have been moments during Iraq’s post-invasion experience that aptly demonstrated to the larger Arab world that their dictators-for-life were not invincible and that self-government was possible. Who can know whether Al Jazeera’s daily broadcasts of Iraq’s journey—however turbulent and bloody—did not help unburden and inspire the imagination and aspirations of the young demonstrators and the mixed bag of armed rebels whose movements and revolutions have since fundamentally altered the destinies of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria—and probably of the entire region? Is it likely that the Middle East, its youth in particular, was unfazed by the televised images of an Iraqi dictator’s arrest, trial, and execution, or those long lines of Iraqi voters risking their lives to vote for the first time and afterwards excitedly waving their ink-stained thumbs for the world to see?

Given the realignments shaping the region today, and the predominant worldview embraced by the newly elected governments that have emerged in Tunisia and Egypt—and those likely to emerge from the rubble in post-revolutionary Libya and Syria—one can be forgiven for wondering if President Bush and his compatriots regret getting their wish about offering that glimpse of a democratic future to the Middle East. Yet, while that criticism is fair enough, it denies the long-term, potentially self-correcting mechanisms built into democratic governance. If free elections continue to take place (that’s a big “if”), and if the reigning Islamist governments don’t advance policies that create jobs and opportunity (not such a big “if”), it is a reasonable bet that their constituents’ appetites will not be forever satisfied by their current diet of anti-Western rhetoric and religious zealotry. Who’s to say now that the more liberal forces to come of age in the years ahead will not organize and emerge as a moderating and modernizing force? Of course, the region could go either way, and therein lies the rub.

To be sure, a definitive determination of the “lessons” of the war in Iraq will be complicated and will take time. But with the perspective of a decade of ups and downs, wins and losses, argument and rejoinder, it is possible to begin a rough draft of this account, one that can help policymakers make right choices and avoid unpleasant surprises as they approach other such crossroad experiences that no doubt lie ahead. That is why we asked some of the brightest people we know—thinkers and doers—to offer their insights about the US experience in Iraq on this tenth anniversary of the invasion. We’re grateful to the distinguished patriots who have contributed to this discussion. Each brings a unique perspective. Each cares deeply for the way in which America manages the burden of its power and discharges the responsibilities its position in the world has thrust upon it. As you will know by now because you have seen the names of the contributors, they will not always agree. But there’s not an insight among them unworthy of consideration and contemplation for anyone seeking understanding as well as solutions to the challenges ahead, known and unknown. Indeed, the next time a president contemplates an invasion or occupation, I’d be comforted to know he or she had read these essays before the shooting started.

Several of our contributors played direct roles in designing war policy and thus their ruminations have some of the qualities of self-inquiry. General Michael Hayden, for instance, who writes of US intelligence achievements and failures, was the director of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, a period that included the September 11th attacks and the Iraq invasion and occupation. He also led the CIA throughout much of the war. Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz was central to the planning and conduct of the war as the deputy secretary of defense. He offers nuanced insights here, and we thank him and General Hayden for their long and distinguished records of public service.

Other contributors watched the decision to go to war and the aftermath from their own unique vantage points. Jackson Diehl, an editor then and now at the Washington Post, has come to a “macro view” of the war and policy and argues persuasively that it’s time to challenge the initial lessons of the “lessons learned in Iraq,” speculating that President Obama’s “No more Iraqs” policy might one day lead to the question: What was the “worse US decision in the post–Cold War Middle East: the choice to invade Iraq, or the refusal to intervene in Syria”?

Another contributor, Professor Andrew Bacevich, is a West Point grad, a retired Army colonel and Vietnam War veteran—and a fierce opponent of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His son Andrew, a young Army officer, was tragically killed in combat there. We honor Professor Bacevich for the rigorous critique he has created not out of, but alongside his grief.

We thank each of the authors—including Walter Laqueur, Meghan O’Sullivan, Richard Perle, and David Rieff—for their thoughtful commentary. I hope these reflections will contribute to our nation’s collective understanding of both the value and the limits of American might, and when and how to deploy it in pursuit of the common good and the values that join us all.

The Iraq symposium is, for obvious reasons, our centerpiece in this issue. But there are many other articles very much worth your while. For instance, former New York Times foreign correspondent Juan de Onis, who resides in Brazil, offers an insightful survey of Latin America that reveals a continent “that is walking a tightrope of conflict between populist authoritarianism and genuine democracy” and “is fractured ideologically by a fault line that runs the length of the region from Havana to Buenos Aires.” Juan laments Washington’s prevailing “shortsighted and reductionist view” of the region and maintains that it’s time the Obama administration get beyond its “very weak and unimaginative agenda” and reset relations and priorities to seize the promise of Latin America’s strengthening economies and robust international trade.

Roland Flamini discusses the politics of Scotland’s contemporary independence movement and the choice it faces in the independence referendum set for next year. The consequences of a “yes” vote will not merely split an apparently not-so-United Kingdom, but may well shake the foundations of Europe, as other independence movements in Spain, Belgium, and elsewhere will surely be emboldened, increasing the likelihood of more European “mini-states”—and more European bureaucracy. And in his review of Pulitzer Prize–winner Anne Applebaum’s most recent book, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956, my friend Ambassador Michael Zantovsky notes Applebaum’s “huge accomplishment” in documenting that the Soviet subjugation of the region “far from being a spontaneous development or a natural by-product of geopolitical tectonic shifts, was engineered by the party and security apparatus of the Soviets and their fellow travelers.”

There’s even more. Gloria Riviera reports from Beijing on the business of bad air in China. Turkish journalist Oray Egin discusses how revolution in Syria and negotiations with the Kurds are altering the fortunes of Prime Minister Erdogan and the Kurdish independence movement in Turkey. Professor Mohan Malik writes about China’s overreaching claims in the South China Sea. Jordan Smith considers the complexities and pitfalls of historical interpretation, taking World War I as a case study. Mark Lagon and Samir Goswami question the issue of growth in India, and Cheryl Benard and Eli Sugarman tell how the war in Afghanistan has threatened the country’s underrated cultural heritage.

As always, let us know what you think.

— James S. Denton

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