While everybody argues over whether the likes of Dick Cheney have anything useful to say about the current Iraq crisis, I can’t help thinking the dangers of leaving Saddam Hussein in power are being grossly undersold. Have the years since his death really been so kind to the memories of the old monster?
It’s not accurate to say that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction – he most certainly did. In fact, the ISIS invaders are setting up camp in his old chemical-weapons factories as we speak. (Don’t worry, the “experts” assure us they can’t possibly make any fresh loads of poison gas.) Saddam historically used chemical weapons on a massive scale against his own people. Everyone, including Democrats who now claim to be furiously opposed to the Iraq war – but voted for it, back in the day – seems to think chemical weapons count as WMD in the hands of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. But they don’t count as WMD for Saddam – a dictator considerably more aggressive beyond his borders than Assad?
So I guess it’s “common knowledge” that when the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” is used inside Iraq, it refers exclusively to the nearly-functional nuclear weapons that were not found, even though 90 percent of the world’s intelligence services – and 90 percent of the Democrat Party, including William Jefferson Blythe Clinton – thought Saddam had them. That was never the only reason for going into Iraq, and the Bush Administration never claimed it was. (Another persistent element of liberal mythology is that it was a “war for oil,” and President Obama personally drove a stake through the heart of that myth over the past few days. The fact that it hasn’t been much remarked-upon tells you how insincere that liberal canard always was.)
The degree to which Saddam was, or might have become, chummy with al-Qaeda was another topic of much dispute when popular opinion began to turn against the Iraq war. Is it difficult to imagine that Saddam might have developed some relationship with these ISIS creeps? Anybody think the border-erasing “caliphate” ISIS wants to create would be less dangerous if Saddam Hussein was still around, and ended up running the joint? Saddam tried to assassinate a U.S. president. Are we supposed to think he’d be harmless if he’d been left in power for the past decade and change? Obama certainly didn’t even think Moammar Qaddafi could be left in power any longer, and he was a lot more neutered than Saddam Hussein would have been, absent the Iraq war. (For the record, I tend to agree that Qaddafi was more of a festering threat than most people suspected, but I’ve got problems with how his “regime change” was effected, and what happened afterward. Which, I guess, makes Libya a smaller-scale version of the Iraq problem.)
There’s also some new appreciation for Joe Biden’s idea, derided at the time, for letting Iraq split into three countries. The problem is, we’d end up with a fairly appealing Greater Kurdistan – which it looks like we might just be getting no matter what happens to the rest of the country – but then we’d have a Sunni third swallowed into the ISIS caliphate, and a Shiite third gobbled up by Iran. That doesn’t sound like a good strategic situation for the West, and it’s amazing that two weeks ago, no one was even seriously consider it.
I’m all in favor of learning from past mistakes, but if we’re going to insist that Dick Cheney have the humility to honestly admit his mistakes, everyone else should admit theirs, too. And the people of the present should have the humility to understand why the people of the past made their mistakes, not all of which were deliberate lies or boneheaded goofs. Looking at footage of Harry Reid strongly defending action in Iraq, or Hillary Clinton voting in favor of it, isn’t just about showing how these Democrats are opportunistic hypocrites – especially given their support for what Obama did in Libya. It’s also about understanding what conditions were like, on the day big decisions were made. Most difficult of all is imagining what the road that was not taken might have looked like.