As Syria burns, as casualty rates soar to levels not seen in the Middle East since the Iran–Iraq War, and as a Ba'athist dictator clings to power in part by the use of chemical weapons, it simply boggles the mind that so many Americans seem to believe that the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein — and are so committed to this view that they literally want to shut down any discourse from supporters of the 2003 invasion. Here, for example, is Bill Clinton, dismissing Dick Cheney's critiques, with this incredible statement: "I believe if they hadn't gone to war in Iraq, none of this would be happening."
Let's review a bit of history, beginning with this rather important fact. Syria is a jihad-exporting bloodbath, and we never invaded Syria. Indeed the Ba'athist dictatorship has been left intact — subject mainly to Israeli containment — for decades. It had invaded Israel in 1973, had put down a bloody jihadist rebellion in the city of Homs in 1982, had occupied Lebanon for almost 30 years, and had started working with North Korea to develop nuclear weapons, but Nancy Pelosi still said, in 2007, that "the road to Damascus is a road to peace." Then-senator Kerry said, "Syria will change as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States."
They were wrong.
Syria represents a virtual lab experiment in what happens when oppressive Ba'athists try to rule multi-faith societies indefinitely through fear and oppression. Is the argument that Iraq, unlike Syria, would have been somehow immune to jihad had we not invaded? Let's not forget that Saddam's own experience with sectarian violence and jihad was remarkably similar to Assad's. In other words, he didn't put a "lid" on sectarian violence; he was the sectarian violence — using the power of a motivated, armed religious minority to commit mass murder. Saddam's regime was as unstable as Assad's. Perhaps more so.
In other words, in Syria we have a probable answer to the question: "So, what would have happened to Iraq if we didn't invade?"
Earlier this week, progressive Christian writer Jonathan Merritt called me out by name as an Evangelical supporter of the war in Iraq, claiming that people like me share the blame for persecution of Iraq's Christians, noting (correctly) that Iraq's Christians suffered during the Iraq War (as did all Iraqis), then claiming I should be "pleading for forgiveness."
I'm not sorry that I advocated that America destroy a regime that committed mass murder, harbored terrorists, invaded its neighbors, funded jihad against Israel, shot daily at American pilots, tried to kill an American president, and was diligently working to rebuild its once-massive stocks of chemical weapons.
I'm not sorry that we fought long and hard — both against the regime (initially) and the insurgency (later) — to not just defeat our enemy but to replace it with a more humane, more stable government.
I'm not sorry that while we fought we made every effort — even at the cost of American lives — to protect and safeguard the population even as we confronted an enemy who wanted nothing more than to increase the civilian body count in the most gruesome ways possible.
In fact, I'm proud of what we were building, not a perfect state, to be sure, but a place that was — while we were still there — proving to be more peaceful, more prosperous, and more free than Saddam's broken, murderous, kleptocratic tyranny.
I'm proud that every single year of the war enough Americans believed in this mission that an all-volunteer force sustained a long fight, and sustains our fight in Afghanistan to this day.
I'm not "pleading for forgiveness," but I am angry — angry that we were not permitted to preserve our hard-won victories and protect the people we'd sacrificed so much to save. Yes, Christians suffered during the war, but we did everything we could to stop that suffering, and the suffering of all of Iraq's people. Had an American force stayed behind, we would not see ISIS in control of Mosul. We would not see the Peshmerga retreating for lack of ammunition. We would not see a new Caliphate emerging from the ruin of two countries. It really is that simple.
It is easy to lament dark times and encroaching evil. It is harder, much harder, to take action. I'm reminded of this exchange between Frodo and Gandalf in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring:
"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
I'm proud of the decision my brothers in arms made, to fight against evil, to try to hold back the darkness. And I'm proud of how they did it, with great honor and courage. Even as Iraq collapses, I can look my children in the eye and tell them that I did everything I could do to try to stop the calamity they see on television. I'll tell them the stories of friends who gave everything a man could give to resist the same evil that marches today.
No, I'm not going to plead for forgiveness. There is nothing to forgive.