The news that the US and Iran might cooperate to save Iraq's government is a measure of just how badly the Iraq war failed to achieve its aims.
"Unlike Saddam Hussein, we believe the Iraqi people are deserving and capable of human liberty," President George W. Bush said on March 17th, 2003. "And when the dictator has departed, they can set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation."
After 9/11, there was a struggle to define what the attacks actually were. There were some who saw them as a crime: a mass homicide, carried out in spectacular fashion. But there were others who saw them an inevitable collision between the values and the armies of the liberal, democratic west, and the autocratic, theocratic Islamic world. "A clash of civilizations." They actually used that term.
This is crucial context for the Iraq War. The Bush administration didn't just want to invade Iraq because of Saddam Hussein's (nonexistent) stockpile of illegal weapons. They wanted to invade Iraq to create a liberal, democratic counterweight to radical Islam. They wanted to create a country that would, through its glittering example, erode the foundations of Iran's theocratic regime and al Qaeda's deadly ideology.
It was called the Democratic Domino Theory. First Iraq would become a beacon of political freedom and economic success. Then, one by one, the populations across the rest of the Middle East would rise up and force their countries to follow. The war on terror wouldn't end with a fight. It would end with a vote.
A decade later Iraq is becoming the things it was meant to destroy. It could become a Shiite dominated state dependent on Iran for its security. It could become a weak or broken state that serves partly as a haven for the Sunni terror organization ISIS. It could end up as both.
The one thing it will not be is the liberal, democratic counterweight to radical Islam that the Bush administration sought. There is no one in the Middle East who looks to the Iraqi state and sees a better life for them and their children.
The totality of the Bush administration's failure in Iraq is stunning. It is not simply that they failed to build the liberal democracy they wanted. It's that they ended up strengthening theocracies they feared.
And it's not simply that they failed to find the weapons of mass destruction that they worried could one day be passed onto terrorists. It's that a terrorist organization now controls a territory about the size of Belgium, raising the possibility that America's invasion and occupation inadvertently trained the fighters and created the vacuum that will lead to al Qaeda's successor organization.
And all this cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives.