Reasonable people can argue about whether the Bush-led liberation of Iraq planted the seeds for what’s happening across the Middle East today. But it is almost a certainty that the invasion caused Moammar Qaddafi to come clean and give up his weapons of mass destruction program. When Qaddafi surrendered his WMD in 2003, even he himself acknowledged that the Iraq War influenced his decision.
In light of what some are now describing as a civil war in Libya, with the regime in Tripoli fighting for its life, this is not insignificant. If someone wants to believe that freedom fever would have spread this year even without the Iraq War, they still have to face the fact that without that war the wave of popular protest would have unleashed revolutionary anarchy in a potentially leaderless country with WMD–significant WMD, at that. When Qaddafi gave up his program, Americans were startled to learn that it was much further developed than most intelligence experts had thought. It included centrifuges, uranium enrichment facilities, and dual-use labs.
Some who still cant countenance any positive outcome from the invasion of Iraq might argue that this is a mere one-off unpredictable side-effect of a war that has otherwise caused great geopolitical damage. But, in truth, cleansing a dictatorial regime of its WMD so that the weapons would not be used by the unstable dictator or obtained by extremists after his ouster was precisely the kind of thing proponents of the Iraq War hoped to accomplish. As President Bush put it in one speech:
We can allow the Middle East to continue on its course, on the course it was headed before September the 11th, and a generation from now, our children will face a region dominated by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. Or we can stop that from happening by rallying the world to confront the ideology of hate and give the people of the Middle East a future of hope. And that is the choice America has made.
In other words, he saw that WMD, radical Islam, and Middle East autocracy were on a collision course, and that the American promotion of democracy abroad was the best chance at averting disaster. With new reports that Qaddafi has fled the capital, while his military jets fire on Libyan protestors, and that extremists from all over the region are looking to exploit new power vacuums, it’s worth considering what role Libyan WMD might have played in these events. Thankfully, that is now a question of speculation rather than observation.