Was it better under Saddam Hussein or now?

For sixty years, the cliché held true in America that whenever the U.S. got stuck in a war, it was under Democratic presidents, whereas Republicans brought the soldiers home. Truman dragged America into Korea; Eisenhower ended that war. Kennedy and Johnson dragged America into Vietnam; Nixon withdrew from there. Have the cards been switched in Iraq? Certainly the cliché can be turned around: Bush dragged America into Iraq; Obama is withdrawing. But if we set the cliché aside, we discover that Obama is withdrawing that which, de facto, has already been withdrawn.

The Iraq War does not belong to the group of wars of which America is proud. The immediate justification — weapons of mass destruction — for it was needlessly falsified, and the decisive phase was bungled. But when Bush implemented an increase in American troops, in spite of almost everyone’s objection, things got better. Obama, who will fulfill his presidential promise and bring the American boys home, is now profiting from it.

Every opponent of this war must ask him/herself the question: Was the world better off with Saddam’s Iraq — with a regime that was aggressive against its neighbors, its own minorities and citizens — or with the current one? Even today, there is too much blood flowing in Iraq; that much is evident. But numbers are better than emotions. And those numbers tell us that 2,604 Iraqi civilians fell victim to violence last year, which was one out of every 11,800 Iraqis. By comparison, in six northern states of Mexico, which is afflicted by drug violence, 2,853 civilians, or one out of every 6,400 local citizens, perished last year. So here comes our favorite fifth-grade math exercise: Is it safer in Iraq or in northern Mexico?

That is also the reason why Barack Obama does not relish the triumph very much. Violence in Iraq sold well in the electoral campaign. But in practical politics now, violence in the backyard in Mexico matters more.