Invading Iraq totally destabilized the Middle East and gave us the Islamic State (IS) — the latest in a long line of public figures to give voice to this combination of ignorance and amnesia is Donald Trump.
Speaking to Bret Baier on Fox News, the Republican presidential contender declared, “I think it was one of the worst decisions ever made. [George W. Bush] has totally destabilized the Middle East. Had Saddam Hussein still be in charge, you wouldn’t have the problems that you have right now.”
It wasn’t the dismantling of Saddam Hussein’s criminal and genocidal regime that destabilized the Middle East. The Middle East was not stable in 2003, before U.S.-led forces invaded.
In case people have forgotten, Saddam had invaded two countries, Iran and Kuwait; set alight the Kuwaiti oil fields; conducted two decades of genocidal assaults on Iraqi Kurds; attacked the marsh Arabs in the Iraqi south, destroying their environs and unique way of life; lavishly funded Palestinian suicide bombers; and produced the lion’s share of Mideast refugees that were flooding the world in the first years of the 21st century.
No, it was the withdrawal of all American forces in 2011 that permitted Shia-dominated Iraq to drift into the Shia Iranian orbit and trigger a corresponding Sunni jihadist war led by IS — not the initial American decision to invade.
In 2011, when American forces were withdrawn, al-Qaeda in Iraq had been defeated and the country was at peace.
Residual American forces should have been garrisoned there. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were delinquent in this respect. Each for his own reasons declined the opportunity to arrange this under the Status of Forces agreement once Iraq had been secured.
Yes, America was war-weary. But what better reason, then, to maintain the forces that would deter the sickening repetition of destruction, destabilization, murder and rapine that darkens the region today and for which we will eventually find ourselves obliged to intervene again, at far greater cost in lives and treasure?
Upwards of 29,000 Americans have garrisoned South Korea for over half a century to maintain peace on the Korean peninsula. Something similar could and should have been done in Iraq. Had we done so, Iraq would be a different place today.
So with IS on the rampage due to that sin of omission, let’s not indulge in Saddam-nostalgia.
Matters would not be better if Saddam had stayed — and not merely for the average of 10,000 people he murdered annually and which slaughter would be continuing had he remained.
Nor was Saddam a secular strongman who would have smothered IS in embryo. Yes, he was an irreligious figure who sought to emulate Stalin — but he was also an Arab supremacist who wanted to put down the West and who made common cause with jihadists who shared his goal.
Their supremacist belligerence appealed to him — which is why he took the sacrilegious step of having a Quran written in his own blood.
The truth is that the Middle East of which Saddam was a major component is precisely the Middle East that incubated jihadists, many of whom found training, arms and protection from him — and who collaborated in fighting the U.S.-led coalition forces with the remnants of his regime once he was deposed.
For those who believe that Saddam posed no danger, let’s recall, too, that last year, investigations revealed that, in the five years following Saddam’s overthrow, coalition troops in Iraq found 5,000 chemical warheads, shells and aviation bombs, including 400 UN sanctions-banned Borak rockets.
Just before his deposition, Saddam’s representatives were attempting to purchase North Korean nuclear weapons.
And people say Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction can’t be mentioned in the same breath.
Had Saddam remained in power, Iraq would be a nuclear power today. Given that Saddam used repeatedly every weapon he ever managed to obtain, that prospect ought to dispose once and for all of the nonsense that we were better off with him than without him.
Yes, disposing of Saddam was not a panacea. It didn’t solve all our problems. But let’s not pretend it created them either. And let’s not ignore the mistakes since his removal that have intensified them.