Well, we can engage in the same sorts of debates now about the war in Iraq. Michael Barone ponders some of those counterfactuals on his blog. He bases some of his thoughts on an AEI paper given by Steven J. Davis, Kevin M. Murphy, and Robert H. Topel. Barone summarizes their findings,
Barone then turns to this column by Gerard Baker that ponders the effect on the Middle East if we had not invaded Iraq and overthrown Saddam Hussein.• Continuation of the pre-March 2003 conditions would have cost, in dollar terms, between about half and about two thirds of the cost of military operations in Iraq.
• Iraqis would have been much worse off economically had the United States stayed out of Iraq.
• More Iraqis would have been killed under a continuation of the Saddam Hussein regime than have died since March 2003.
As the writers acknowledge, there's room for argument here: There always is in counterfactuals. But the point is that a continuation of the 1991–2003 "containment" policy had high costs both for Americans and for Iraqis. These should not be ignored when we consider the wisdom of going to war.
Outside Iraq, in the Middle East, it was business as usual. The region remained immune, as it had done for 600 years, to the currents of democratic change that had swept through the rest of the world. Syria tightened its grip on Lebanon, with targeted murders and intimidation. To distract attention from their own abuses, tyrants continued to support the Palestinian intifada against the Israelis, which grew steadily more murderous.Read the rest of Baker's column. Those who criticize the war and Bush's policies have to realize that the comparison is not to some ideal world where everything was hunky-dory. The comparison is to what would have continued to have happened without our invasion and what rippling effects that would have had throughout the world.
In Iran the theocrats’ regime interpreted Saddam’s reprieve as a green light. Iraq had defied international law and the UN for more than a decade. But Saddam had survived; indeed was looking stronger than he ever had.
An unknown scientist from Pakistan, A. Q. Khan, slipped into Teheran from Pakistan. With its Libyan ally the Iranian Government accelerated its nuclear programme. The two issued a statement saying they would use their military muscle to annihilate Israel. In March 2004 Islamists attacked railway stations in Madrid. Commentators condemned the attacks but noted that these were almost certainly the fault of US and Western policy — the plight of the Palestinians, the suffering of Iraqis, the unwelcome presence of US forces in the Middle East.
In July 2005 it was London’s turn, and again it was the UK and its allies that carried most of the blame. “Blair’s Bombs” said one magazine cover, attacking Britain’s slavish support of the US in the Middle East.
As pressure grew on governments, massive protests in solidarity with the Iraqi people were held around the world. When the US and Britain blocked a Security Council resolution to lift the sanctions, the other UN members simply ignored them.
Iraqi oil began to flow again. No one paid much interest when Iraq resumed its interest in uranium purchases from Africa. A. Q. Khan dined expensively in the best Baghdad restaurants, next to Islamist