The tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq has nearly everyone, even the hawks, stating that if they knew then what they know now--that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction after all--they would not have backed an invasion. The left purported to believe that President George W. Bush did know the truth, but ignored it. Historians know differently. The intelligence agencies at the time were persuaded that Saddam did have the WMD and the political leaders of both parties accepted that conclusion.
Here's what's wrong with the conventional wisdom, in any case: Saddam expected that the US, following UN reports by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Hans Blix that there were no WMD, would not invade. After that potential crisis passed he fully intended to go back to development of WMD. He told this to the US intelligence case officer, George Piro, the Arabic speaking FBI agent who handled him during his confinement and trial before he was executed. It was reported on 60 Minutes.
According to Piro, as I described in this space in 2008, Saddam told him that "he had planned to restart the WMD program in all phases--'chemical, biological and nuclear'--within a year after the lifting of U.N. sanctions. The 9/11 attacks and the reactions to them set back his plan, but didn't eliminate it."
60 Minutes did not emphasize this important aspect of their interview with Piro, however, and except for the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page picked up my blog post on the subject, neither did the mainstream media. It was 2008 and nobody wanted to think about this.
If, indeed, Saddam was intent on getting WMD after a Western decision not to invade, how likely would it have been that the West later would have found out in a definitive way that he was making WMD again? And then how likely would it have been that the US would go again to the immense political, diplomatic and military effort to re-mount a credible invasion?
Saddam was a vile tyrant and Iraq, despite all, is better off with him gone. Certainly the Kurds are much better off. So are the Shias in the South. To say that the US left too little in the way of "new buildings" (schools, etc.), as described today, downplays the reality that Iraq has recovered its oil industry and has the ability to support itself in the future. It also has relatively free speech and a semi-democratic form of government, which gives it more potential than many other Middle Eastern countries.
The mistakes made in Iraq by the US in the past ten years--not to mention the mistakes of Iraqis--are dismaying and sad. But some things were done right and this story is not over yet. It might have been over had Saddam and his totalitarian regime remained in power.