‘What If Saddam had not been deposed”
Posted by ssbg on June 30, 2007
From: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=062607C By Peter J. Wallison : 29 Jun 2007
Given the problems and US casualties in Iraq, polls show a large majority of the American people believe the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Yet, if we imagine what the world would look like today if Saddam Hussein had not been deposed, it seems clear that almost no outcome in Iraq would be as adverse to the interests of the United States as today’s world with Saddam still in power. It is important to recall that Saddam had thrown the UN weapons inspectors out of Iraq in 1998, and only allowed them to return in 2002 because of the credible threat of a US attack. In addition, the sanctions regime was collapsing—Saddam had learned how to extract billions of dollars for weapons out of the humanitarian exceptions to those sanctions–and our European friends, and perhaps UN officials themselves, were complicit in this. Under these circumstances, Saddam could not have been “contained” or rendered harmless, and Iraq could not have been indefinitely subject to UN inspections. At some point, Saddam would have been able to throw out the inspectors again, with no further action by the UN. It was clear that the UN itself would do nothing to enforce its own resolutions. We also know from the reports of the weapons inspectors that Saddam and his scientists were working to develop nuclear weapons, work that certainly would have continued if Saddam had remained place. Saddam had already demonstrated that he would use chemical weapons, and there is no reason in logic that he wouldn’t also restore his chemical weapons stocks once the inspectors had left. He had the largest army in the region, and had shown a determination to use it for expanding his control beyond Iraq. It’s not far-fetched, therefore, to consider what economists call a counterfactual—what things would look like today if the US had not invaded Iraq. First, US troops would still be in Saudi Arabia. Our troops were there because of the Saudis’ fear of an Iraqi attack. We should recall that one of the principal reasons bin Laden cited for attacking us—not only on 9/11, but for many years before—was that US troops were supposedly defiling the Muslim holy places in Saudi Arabia. As absurd as this seems to us, it apparently resonated with the Mohammed Attas of this world. With Saddam still in power, American arms would be necessary to protect Saudi Arabia, and our presence there would still be a continuing irritant among militants and a source of al Qaeda-inspired terrorist attacks against the United States around the world. Imagine, also, trying to persuade Iran to abandon the development of nuclear weapons when Iraq—which had attacked Iran—was actively engaged in doing exactly that. We hope now to change Iran’s course through economic sanctions—a difficult prospect to be sure—but that would be a hopeless quest if its leaders and population believed they needed nuclear weapons to deter Iraq. Once it became clear that Iran would develop nuclear weapons, many Sunni Arab nations would want a nuclear deterrent, and Israel’s position would be hideously complicated. Then there’s Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Before he was deposed by the US invasion, Saddam was bidding for leadership of the Arab world in its opposition to Israel and US policy in the Mideast. We can now see the resources he would have brought to bear in that effort. Saddam was a Sunni leader of a Shi’ite country. As he watched the Islamic world becoming more fundamentalist, he too became more overtly religious. Undoubtedly, he saw himself as the new Nasser, the one person who could unite the Arab and perhaps the Islamic world against the West and Israel. If he had remained in power, he would now be contesting with Iran for sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas. With these two regional powers competing in their militancy against Israel, there would be little chance of a Mideast peace any time soon. Gaza, now under Hamas control, would become a protectorate of Iraq, and the effectiveness of the West’s financial boycott would have been nullified. Saddam’s interest in driving the US out of the Middle East would be coincident with those of al Qaeda and he would have the weapons of mass destruction that al Qaeda has been seeking. We could never be sure that if we opposed Saddam—say, in another Iraqi invasion of Kuwait—he would not make weapons of mass destruction available to al Qaeda. In short, it would be difficult to construct a scenario in which the ultimate outcome of events in Iraq today would be as negative for the United States as a world in which Saddam remains in control of Iraq. So, while we are justifiably dismayed about what is happening today in Iraq, we should not allow this to obscure the central point—that the world is a better and safer place because Saddam is out of power. Looked at this way, we have already achieved a lot; what remains now—as the President and Senator McCain have said—is to steady ourselves and see it through. Peter J. Wallison is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; he was White House counsel in the Reagan administration.