[Mr. Pipes was one of 11 contributors to this symposium on counter-history. His essay is titled "A benefit to security, a detriment to attitude." For the others, see http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/special_packages/sunday_review/12611856.htm. For a list of contributors, see http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/special_packages/sunday_review/12611857.htm.]
Much would be different had George W. Bush not decided to invade Iraq.
In some ways, the situation would be worse:
The Iraqi population would still suffer under the totalitarian rule of Saddam Hussein. The shaky economy, car bombs and ethnic unrest that Iraqis face today are far lesser evils compared with the poverty, injustice, brutality and barbarism that was their fate between 1979 and 2003.
Regional security would be imperiled. Saddam Hussein invaded two countries (Iran in 1980, Kuwait in 1990) and launched missiles against two others (Saudi Arabia, Israel); the chances are high that he would aggress again, perhaps this time to impede oil routes through the Persian Gulf. Additionally, he sponsored suicide terrorism against Israel and maintained close relations with the thug regime of Bashar al-Asad of Syria.
U.S. security would be endangered so long as a megalomaniac ruled Iraq with the means to build and the will to use weapons of mass destruction. Hussein showed this capability as early as 1988, when he several times deployed chemical gas, even against his own people (in a village in 1988, killing 5,000). His links to al-Qaeda might have led to his cooperating with it to deploy WMD in the United States.
But, had the war not taken place, the situation in other ways might be better:
European attitudes toward the United States would be improved. Polling and other data demonstrate that the Iraq war inflamed an international hostility against Americans unprecedented since 1945.
Muslim unrest has been exacerbated by the war. A powerful radicalization has been apparent not only in majority-Muslim countries (Turkey, Jordan and Pakistan are good examples) but also in Western countries (such as the United Kingdom).
Domestic U.S. politics would be less fractious without the war. The post-9/11 solidarity had already frayed before the Iraqi war began in March 2003, but that decision worsened tensions, as symbolized by the heightened acrimony in the U.S. presidential elections of 2004.
To generalize, benefits of the war have been mainly security-related and the costs mainly attitudinal. The world is safer with Hussein awaiting trial in a jail cell, but also more divided. The Bush administration succeeded militarily but failed politically.
On balance, the war brought more positives than negatives; unpopularity and acrimony are a price worth paying so that the Iraqi government no longer endangers Iraqis or the rest of the world.