Republican President George W. Bush led America into a war to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, but the GOP’s presumptive nominee continues to buck his party by refusing to support that decision. Speaking in North Carolina on Tuesday, Donald Trump exposed the folly of an Iraq war that turned Iraq into a breeding ground for radical Islam.
“Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, right? He was a bad guy. Really bad guy,” Trump told the crowd. “But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were a terrorists. It was over. Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism.”
Instantly, Trump was assailed for “praising a dictator.” As expected, the criticism came from Republicans more upset that Trump won the nomination than that Clinton got a get-out-of-jail-free card from the FBI.
“It’s sort of amusing that [Donald Trump] is such an idiot, but praising Saddam is an insult to every American and ally who fought in Iraq,” tweeted Stuart Stevens, the man who led Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid.
David French, the man Bill Kristol had attempted to draft to launch a third party bid, called Trump’s comments “stunning from the ‘presumptive’ GOP nominee.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, in a passive-aggressive manner, reminded people that Hussein “was one of the 20th century’s most evil people.” Guess Ryan forgot Saddam Hussein was once a U.S. ally.
But why are these Republicans bashing Trump? Because they, along with Hillary Clinton, were the ones who led this country into a war that was not only unnecessary, but destabilizing. It was a war that created the very terror threat we are fighting today, and these are the leaders who created the folly. So Trump was not praising a dictator; he was calling out a failed foreign policy that confused America’s role in the world.
When Bush decided to go all-in with the Iraq war, he told Americans that it would make the world a safer place, and, frankly, it was America’s duty to bring democracy to the Middle East. This intervention was not commonplace in U.S. foreign policy, but foreign leaders eagerly supported Bush’s departure from nonintervention.
In 2002, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu guaranteed that a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq “will have enormous positive reverberations in [the Middle East].” Netanyahu set the stage for neoconservatives in the U.S. to seal the deal.
Though Osama bin Laden had attacked us, neo-conservatives were demanding a war on an “Empire of Terror,” which Netanyahu defined as Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Iraq, and Palestine. It was this war – a broad-based war that would destabilize the Middle East – that bin Laden must have dreamt about.
By September 20th, forty prominent neo-conservatives sent an open letter to President Bush demanding that he submit to Netanyahu’s demands and attack the “empire” that threatens Israel. The fact that our Israeli-defined enemies had nothing to do with 9-11 was irrelevant and America was at war.
In November 2003, as Americans were fighting in a foreign land in which their national interests were not imperiled, Bush delivered a speech to set forth a doctrine of using U.S. intervention to spread global democracy. He first asserted that “freedom can be the future of every nation” and then added that “the freedom we prize is not for us alone. … It is the right and the capacity of all mankind.”
Bush was clear: we were fighting in the Middle East because “sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.”
In 2005, from the Oval Office, President Bush told Americans, “I believe democracy can take hold in parts of the world that have been condemned to tyranny.” But was that sound policy or wishful thinking?
After $2 trillion dollars spent and 4,800 Americans killed, Netanyahu’s guarantee fell flat, and Bush’s promise to bring freedom to the Arab world remains a Utopian pipe dream. The Middle East is on fire, the seeds of democracy dried up, U.S. foreign policy is a late-night punchline, and when Arabs voted, they voted for extremists.
Now ISIS has exploded and is running amuck in Syria and Iraq. The Saudis actually helped to prop ISIS – their Sunni brethren – to keep Shia Iran marginalized. And this Ramadan is being defined by radical terror.
With terror acts in San Bernardino and Orlando, as well as all across Europe and Turkey, is it really a leap to think a world with Saddam Hussein would be a world without ISIS? Do we think Iran would have scored a grand nuclear deal and Putin would have his hands all in the Middle East if Saddam Hussein remained in Baghdad?
Make no mistake: Saddam Hussein was ruthless and deplorable. But this is not a debate about whether Hussein is destined for sainthood. It is a debate that asks whether bad people can benefit American national interests. Hussein used draconian policies to keep a fragmented nation of diverse tribes unified. Those strong-arm tactics worked to suppress terror and curtail radicalism. That helped to keep terror out of the U.S.
And for those scoffing at the idea of aligning with such a tyrant, FDR and Churchill had no qualms when they invited Joseph Stalin to be the third amigo. These men knew foreign policy is not based on global morality, but national security.
So when Trump reminds Americans that Saddam Hussein did more to eradicate terror than an Obama administration unwilling to utter the phrase “radical Islam,” it should trigger reflection and not indignation. It should remind Americans that the devil we know is sometimes better than the devil we don’t.