George W. Bush took that road. Yet much to his considerable chagrin, Bush discovered that it led to rather considerable unpleasantness. As it dragged on, the Iraq War exposed as hollow any American aspirations to global hegemony. Left behind when . troops finally withdrew was their reputation for military supremacy. Meanwhile as reports of prisoner abuse, torture, and the killing of noncombatants mounted, American moral confidence lost its luster. As for the Iraqis themselves, although few Americans are inclined to take notice, today they enjoy neither security nor peace.
Before applying these criteria to Iraq, it is worth noting two factors that we do not consider relevant in assessing whether an intervention can be justified as humanitarian. First, we are aware of, but reject, the argument that humanitarian intervention cannot be justified if other equally or more needy places are ignored. Iraqi repression was severe, but the case might be made that repression elsewhere was worse. For example, an estimated three million or more have lost their lives to violence, disease, and exposure in recent years during the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), yet intervention in the DRC was late and, compared to Iraq, modest. However, if the killing in Iraq warranted military intervention, it would be callous to disregard the plight of these victims simply because other victims were being neglected. In that case, intervention should be encouraged in both places, not rejected in one because it was weak or nonexistent in the other.
For example, having more troops on the ground might have prevented the collapse of order, but the . army could not have kept a sufficiently large force (350,000 or more) in Iraq for very long. Morever, an even larger . presence might have increased Iraqi resentment and produced an insurgency anyway. Similarly, critics now believe the decision to disband the Iraqi army and launch an extensive de-Bathification process was a mistake, but trying to keep the army intact and leaving former Bathists in charge might easily have triggered a Shi’ite uprising instead. Lastly, state-building in countries that we don’t understand is inherently uncertain, because it is impossible to know ex ante which potential leaders are reliable or competent or how politics will evolve once the population starts participating directly. We won’t know enough to play "kingmaker," and we are likely to end up having to prop up leaders whose agendas are different from ours.