There's a genre of fiction called alternative or "what if" history. As in, what if Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee defeated the Union at the Battle of Gettysburg? Or, what if Hitler had not been born?
Or, what if the United States had not invaded Iraq?
That's a fair question, now that U.S. troops have withdrawn , prompting the question: "Was the Iraq War worth it?"
We well know about the horrible costs of the war: almost 4,500 American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed and more than $1 trillion spent. But while we've heard a lot about the cost side of this equation, we've heard not so much about the benefit side. It's as if there was no benefit.
And a good way to calculate the benefits is to ask: What if President George W. Bush and Congress had decided in 2003 not to attack the tyrannical and murderous regime of Saddam Hussein? With the support of much of the American public.
Saddam, always a destabilizing force in the Middle East, would still be terrorizing his people and his neighbors as he did when he invaded Kuwait. He would have continued to support terrorist activities. He would be in a nuclear arms race with his sworn enemy, Iran. Perhaps he would have renewed the decadelong war he had with Iran. Perhaps he would have been at war again with his own Kurds, gassing them once again. Sunni and Shiite fractures could have bled beyond Iraq, turning the entire Middle East into a sectarian battlefield.
The Iraq War, besides giving Iraqis a chance to live in freedom, broke an unbroken chain of hostile, anti-American dictatorships linking Syria, Iraq and Iran. And made a statement about America's willingness to use power in its own interests. Only the most naive or ideologically sightless would argue that this benefit does not advance American goals.