Was Saddam Hussein all that bad?
That’s certainly a provocative question.
But here we are, nearly nine years after his death, still faced with the difficulties of determining what to do with Iraq, including the emerging global threat of ISIS.
Remember the so-called Pottery Barn rule voiced by Colin Powell right before the invasion of Iraq? “If you break, you own it.” The problem is, we never quite owned it.
The United States completed its full withdrawal from Iraq in October 2011, but now faces the possibility of having to send troops back, particularly as no other nation appears willing to step up and take on the rogue element of ISIS.
Over the weekend, Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin), a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination who has a decent chance of winning if nominated, refused to rule out the possibility of deploying U.S. forces in Iraq.
“I don’t think we should ever send a message to our foes of how far we’re willing to go,” Walker said to ABC News’ Jon Karl in an interview in Iowa. “I wouldn’t rule out boots on the ground. If the national interests of this country are … at risk, in this country or abroad, that to me is the Geneva standard that we do for military engagement.”
Those remarks could be interpreted to mean there is a real possibility that the United States will once again send troops to Iraq should an actual threat from ISIS manifest itself closer to the homeland.
Between 2003 and 2015, there have been 4,491 U.S. casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom, including 73 Alabamians. If we go back, there will certainly be more and we’ll relive the demagogic politics of war.
The ugly truth is that as bad as Saddam Hussein was, the human rights atrocities he committed on his own people are still better than having to see the flag-draped coffins of American dead come back to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
That was an unpopular opinion voiced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), another 2016 Republican presidential hopeful. Paul has argued U.S.-led endeavors in the Middle East, including Iraq, Libya and Syria, have resulted in situations worse than existed previously.
“I think it’s a really important question, and I don’t think it’s just hypothetical. Because we seem to have a recurring question in the Middle East [as to] whether or not it’s a good idea to topple secular strongmen or secular dictators, and what happens after that,” Paul said in an interview last month. “You know, Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya was the same kind of scenario. We toppled Gaddafi, a secular dictator, but we got chaos and the rise of radical Islam, and I think we’re more threatened now. But I think the same was true of Saddam Hussein. I think Iran is now stronger and emboldened. In many ways, Iraq is sort of a vassal state to Iran. We worry about Iran getting a nuclear weapon. So, I think we’re a lot worse off with Hussein gone. There’s a civil war going on there.”
Unfortunately, the Saddam Hussein method of governance seems to be the most effective method in that region of the world. It seems brutal dictators are the only thing that can maintain anything close to a civil society in the Middle East.
Overcoming the internal politics, in particular the Sunni-Shiite divide, which has been in place for 1,300 years and isn’t going away anytime soon, is what it is going to take. Sure, the United States can send troops into Iraq and weed out ISIS, but another threat will emerge and we’ll be back to square one.
The Jeffersonian democracy experiment in Iraq has failed. So what’s next?
As much as we Americans frown upon the notion of brutal regimes, installing one in Iraq is what may be in the best interest of the United States in order to establish a lasting peace. But we should learn from past mistakes where U.S.-friendly dictators lacked staying power, including Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem?
Bottom line is we don’t necessarily need a U.S. puppet in power, but it would be ideal to have someone willing and able to eliminate threats like ISIS. This may entail a three-state solution comprising Kurds, Shiite and Sunni states, but whatever form it takes, it needs to have staying power.
U.S. troops in Iraq may come sooner than the next president. We’re just one ISIS terrorist attack away from even President Barack Obama being forced to rethink his air-assault-only strategy. But it would be wise to have a plan in place that would give us the best shot at being done with Iraq and not forced to have to go back in another decade.