Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Iraq: What Might Have Been

 

290165818_4058f117ce_bIn a previous thread, Ricochet member Majestyk expressed a major complaint that he has about libertarians, liberals and even conservatives who gripe about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: What is your alternate scenario?

If we could unwind the clock of history and place you inside George W. Bush’s head (a la Being John Malkovich) what is your preferred policy prescription for U.S. foreign policy in the days following 9/11?

I never hear that question answered and I barely hear it asked.

So, okay, I’ll give you my answer, and then see what you all think:

I am going to assume, for the purposes of this discussion, that we all agree Saddam Hussein was an outstandingly brutal dictator in a region that pretty much specializes in brutal dictators. He was a problem for his people, for his neighbors, and for the United States and our allies that would, eventually, need to be solved.

The key word there is ‘eventually.’ Since Saddam was not, in fact, responsible for 9/11, and did not present an immediate threat to us thanks to containment and sanctions, he need not have been anywhere near the top of the list of the nation’s priorities in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Had I been inside George W. Bush’s head, I would have been chanting “Afghanistan….Afghanistan… Afghanistan…”

Once the echo of my chanting died away (‘…ghanistan….istan….nnn”), I’d have recommended a swift, violent, targeted, and punitive attack on Afghanistan, with the goal of taking out Osama bin Laden and/or as many members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban as possible while making it look easy.

When we were finished, if whomever remained in the way of Afghan leadership expressed a desire for help build a reasonable, decent country, we would join a broad coalition of other nations ready to help them do it. If they preferred to be a crummy, impoverished, savage backwater, so be it. Just don’t screw with us again.

What about Iraq?

For all their undoubted sufferings, there were advantages for the Iraqi people in being oppressed by Saddam Hussein.

First, he wasn’t an Islamist. He was barely a Muslim, one of several reasons why Osama bin Laden loathed him. (After the invasion of Kuwait, Osama proposed having his people push the Iraqis out, and was furious when the Saudis allowed the U.S. to do it instead, especially since this meant placing U.S. bases on sacred Saudi soil).

Saddam was a secular butcher. His heroes were Hitler and Stalin, so women in Iraq not only did not have to wear a hijab or hide in their homes, they were educated and employed. If they were targeted by the regime, it was for their politics, not their gender.

Second, Saddam was big on education. When he came to power, the vast majority of Iraqis were illiterate. When he left office (so to speak) the situation was reversed: the majority could read and write. Saddam wanted his country to be modern the way Hitler wanted Germany to be modern, so he invested in training and technology in a way that an Islamist state never would.

By educating his people and neglecting to oppress women, Saddam was creating the very class of people most likely to identify with Western, secular democracies, to increasingly resent being terrorized and oppressed, and to have the ability to organize his overthrow and manage the aftermath. I think it likely that, within a few years, Iraqis might well have created for themselves the very system that George W. Bush tried to impose by the worst of all possible means: an ineffectual bloodbath.

Tragically (in retrospect), we invaded. We trashed the infrastructure and sacked the police and army without providing alternative sources of law and order. The chaos inspired a massive, panicked brain-drain of the elites, and created a baleful association between the words “democracy” and “imperialism” in the minds of the Arab masses. Had we postponed dealing aggressively with Saddam, not only might we have spared thousands of American and Iraqi lives, but the Arab Spring might have bloomed a decade earlier in cleaner, richer soil.

The United States would have emerged from the post-9/11 period with undiminished moral capital, as well as the energy and will for further and more crucial armed interventions, both of which would give the president — any president —-a far stronger position from which to negotiate with other potentially problematic or threatening countries.

 

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  1. Jason Rudert Member

    +1.
    It will be decades before Iraq again has an executive as enlightened and decent as Saddam Hussein.

    • #1
    • March 4, 2015, at 2:15 PM PST
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  2. Misthiocracy held his nose and Member
    Misthiocracy held his nose and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Another possible benefit: The youthful jihadis recruited internationally would have had less choice about where to expend their energy.

    Instead of being able to choose between travelling to Iraq or Afghanistan, their only choice would have been Afghanistan.

    Considering how many of these kids came from comfortable middle-class homes, the prospect of freezing in the Afghanistan dark isn’t terribly attractive, especially considering their co-religionists speak a different language there.

    Without the invasion of Iraq, many of them might have stayed home.

    Maybe.

    Only maybe.

    I am no expert.

    • #2
    • March 4, 2015, at 2:52 PM PST
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  3. Tuck Inactive

    I supported both Bush wars, Afghanistan and Iraq. In hindsight, I still think they were the correct course of action, but I think the attempt at nation-building was misguided. (Reasons don’t matter, I’ll just observe that both attempts to turn those nations into Japans or Germanies have failed, and move on.)

    I still think that getting Hussein out was the correct thing to do.

    Just imagine this scenario: Obama, visiting Hussein, bows and assures him we’ll end the containment and sanctions, and move on to a normalization of relationships.

    Not much of a stretch, as that’s what he’s doing with Iran.

    A weak Iraq with a weak government is still better for the US today than a weak Iraq run by the Husseins.

    As far as the ISIS question goes, given that the leader of ISIS was from Iraq, it’s hard to say if the group would or would not have emerged if Hussein stayed in power. Al-Qaeda would still be around, however, and would likely be up to the same sort of activities. As would Hussein or his sons.

    • #3
    • March 4, 2015, at 3:23 PM PST
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  4. Tuck Inactive

    Misthiocracy: Instead of being able to choose between travelling to Iraq or Afghanistan, their only choice would have been Afghanistan.

    They’d be going to Syria. Or Libya.

    • #4
    • March 4, 2015, at 3:27 PM PST
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  5. Steve C. Member

    Colin Powell supported the invasion. If he felt strongly it was the wrong course of action, he could have resigned. Cyrus Vance did.

    • #5
    • March 4, 2015, at 4:06 PM PST
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  6. Zafar Member

    Tuck:

    Misthiocracy: Instead of being able to choose between travelling to Iraq or Afghanistan, their only choice would have been Afghanistan.

    They’d be going to Syria. Or Libya.

    I don’t know how accurate this is, but from a 2007 article in the Daily Mail:

    Fearing defeat, Saddam was prepared to go peacefully in return for £500million ($1billion).

    The extraordinary offer was revealed yesterday in a transcript of talks in February 2003 between George Bush and the then Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar at the President’s Texas ranch.

    The White House refused to comment on the report last night.

    But, if verified, it is certain to raise questions in Washington and London over whether the costly four-year war could have been averted.

    Only yesterday, the Bush administration asked Congress for another £100 billion to finance the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The total war bill for British taxpayers is expected to reach £7 billion by next year.

    More than 3,800 American service personnel have lost their lives in Iraq, along with 170 Britons and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

    However, according to the tapes, one month before he launched the invasion Mr Bush appeared convinced that Saddam was serious about going into exile.

    “The Eqyptians are speaking to Saddam Hussein,” said Mr Bush.

    “It seems he’s indicated he would be prepared to go into exile if he’s allowed to take $1billion and all the information he wants about weapons of mass destruction.”

    It sits wrong, but it also might have established a precedent for Arab dictators to go peacefully without destroying their countries on the way out. (This exile thing worked with the Shah of Iran, and Idi Amin.) That might have resulted in better outcomes in Libya and even Syria?

    Though I think it is a mistake to think that all wrongs flow from one person – thousands of people lived and profited from Saddam’s dispensation – getting them on side and with their horns pulled in would have required some nose holding (ie with the Ba’ath Party) and fancy footwork.

    • #6
    • March 4, 2015, at 4:15 PM PST
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  7. Zafar Member

    Tuck:As far as the ISIS question goes, given that the leader of ISIS was from Iraq, it’s hard to say if the group would or would not have emerged if Hussein stayed in power. Al-Qaeda would still be around, however, and would likely be up to the same sort of activities. As would Hussein or his sons.

    ISIS filled a power vacuum and also rode on the back on Sunni Iraqi grievances with the Shia dominated Central Govt. It’s extremely unlikely they would have come to power in a Saddam (ie Ba’ath ie Sunni) dominated Iraq because two of the required factors (power vacuum, Sunni grievance) would have been absent.

    Would other problematic groups have arisen? Possibly, though not probably given no power vacuum, and almost certainly not ISIS equivalents.

    • #7
    • March 4, 2015, at 4:21 PM PST
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  8. Tuck Inactive

    Zafar: It sits wrong, but it also might have established a precedent for Arab dictators to go peacefully without destroying their countries on the way out. (This exile thing worked with the Shah of Iran, and Idi Amin.)

    It doesn’t sit wrong with me. I was concerned about the well-being of two groups: Americans, and, second, the innocent Iraqis. Getting Hussein out by writing a check would have been best for those two groups, even if it meant he lived out his life in luxury.

    I don’t think you have the same moral hazard that you do with kidnappers (payment encourages more kidnapping) as becoming a dictator of a country isn’t a trivial matter, and the folks who are interested in doing it are likely going to try whether or not there’s a golden parachute courtesy of Uncle Sam at the end.

    • #8
    • March 4, 2015, at 4:25 PM PST
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  9. Tuck Inactive

    Zafar: …Would other problematic groups have arisen? Possibly, though not probably given no power vacuum, and almost certainly not ISIS equivalents.

    But in point of fact, ISIS is just a spin-off of al-Qaeda, and it’s parent groups existed in Iraq under Hussein. But you’re certainly right, they would not have evolved in the same way if Hussein was around.

    Hussein was little, if any, better…

    • #9
    • March 4, 2015, at 4:31 PM PST
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  10. MisterSirius Member

    The “exile thing” didn’t work so well for Napoleon. “Able was I ere I saw Elba,” etc. (Or hmm, maybe it did work well for him, to the vexations of those what put him there?)

    And ol’ Hussein was such a trickster, it seems to me to be hard to see him as getting all “good world citizen” once he got his gilded cage. That is, I can too easily imagine him making further mischief, even if not up to the unambiguous level of the 100 Days of Napoleon, his comeback tour ending with that fab Abba tune.

    • #10
    • March 4, 2015, at 5:18 PM PST
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  11. Valiuth Member
    Valiuth Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Frankly I despise this counter factual pondering. How do we know how long Saddam would have lasted? What if given time Iraq eventually fell into civil war like Syria? Why would the Arab Spring happen without the the US invasions (I’m not saying they are connected directly, but why assume they would happen at all). Why assume anything would be better other than because you disliked what really happened?

    Al Queda and their ilk have been boiling up through Muslim societies for the last few decades. There is no reason to think that they would not eventually have reached the critical mass that they have now. What drives these people is not limited to American foreign policy. In fact I am rather certain that American actions are far from their central concern. They may take advantage of what we do, but their agenda is independent nevertheless.

    I am rather of the opinion that this isn’t a fight or confrontation that can be avoided. This isn’t a pass for us to act recklessly but rather a warning that eventually we will be drawn into this fight as it occurs within the societies and nations in this strategic region.

    Perhaps going into Iraq hastened this conflict and made things worse, maybe it just ripped off the bandage and is letting the puss run, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. Who can say?

    • #11
    • March 4, 2015, at 5:25 PM PST
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  12. Zafar Member

    MisterSirius:And ol’ Hussein was such a trickster, it seems to me to be hard to see him as getting all “good world citizen” once he got his gilded cage.

    Stick him in a palace in Saudi. Worked for Idi Amin – nobody heard from him again. That whole country is like one big home detention situation.

    • #12
    • March 4, 2015, at 5:41 PM PST
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  13. Zafar Member

    Valiuth:Al Queda and their ilk have been boiling up through Muslim societies for the last few decades. There is no reason to think that they would not eventually have reached the critical mass that they have now.

    But they have not been boiling up through all Muslim societies in the same quantity. There seems to be a correlation between societies without democracy and the strength of Al Qaida type organisations. It’s serious enough to ponder whether there’s a causal relationship – and if there is, imho it’s yet another reason to encourage democracy, even when it throws up stuff one doesn’t like. Responsibility tends to moderate nuttiness.

    Als0 – pondering what might have been is part of drawing lessons from history. Let’s try not to repeat mistakes.

    • #13
    • March 4, 2015, at 5:47 PM PST
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  14. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    Jason Rudert:+1. It will be decades before Iraq again has an executive as enlightened and decent as Saddam Hussein.

    God. That is so sad.

    • #14
    • March 4, 2015, at 6:41 PM PST
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  15. Sandy Member

    Kate Braestrup:

    Jason Rudert:+1. It will be decades before Iraq again has an executive as enlightened and decent as Saddam Hussein.

    God. That is so sad.

    I took that as tongue-in-cheek. Rudert?

    • #15
    • March 4, 2015, at 6:52 PM PST
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  16. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    ValiuthHow do we know how long Saddam would have lasted? What if given time Iraq eventually fell into civil war like Syria? Why would the Arab Spring happen without the the US invasions (I’m not saying they are connected directly, but why assume they would happen at all). Why assume anything would be better other than because you disliked what really happened?

    You’re right: I don’t know any of these things. I’m just making an educated guess with the benefit of hindsight. Hindsight is a great advantage, so I would add that even if by some miracle it could be demonstrated that I am correct, it doesn’t follow that Bush should have known then what all of us know now. I remember regarding Bush with considerable sympathy, given the gravity of the decisions he had to make, and the dearth of really good options. I feel the same way about Obama now. I would not want that poor guy’s job.

    • #16
    • March 4, 2015, at 7:07 PM PST
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  17. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    Sandy:

    Kate Braestrup:

    Jason Rudert:+1. It will be decades before Iraq again has an executive as enlightened and decent as Saddam Hussein.

    God. That is so sad.

    I took that as tongue-in-cheek. Rudert?

    I did, too. But it also struck me as possibly true. That is, Saddam was as good as it was going to get ..and he was so horrible.

    I have a very good friend who served in Iraq in 2004-5, and though he had plenty of bad experiences with Iraqis, he made some real friends, and loved the kids. He and I have a pact that some day, when things are better, we’ll go to Iraq and he’ll introduce me to some of his buddies, and we’ll see how those little kids turned out. Every time we talk about this, he gets tears in his eyes.

    • #17
    • March 4, 2015, at 7:12 PM PST
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  18. Jason Rudert Member

    No. I should say that I would add “effective” to that. Nouri al Maliki is a more decent guy, but he was never as good as Saddam at keeping the lights on.

    • #18
    • March 4, 2015, at 8:17 PM PST
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  19. Calvin Coolidg Inactive

    Great topic Kate.

    I’m with Valiuth on this one. We may be debating what could have been for the purposes of learning from history, but isn’t it important to portray history correctly. Aside from educating women he was saber rattling and developing WMD. His tolerance level with the Kurds shouldn’t be left out of the conversation either. Saddam may have not been trying to draw attention from the West after we smacked him around in the 90’s, but he wasn’t all that quiet about what he was up to either. The US assisted Hussein during the Iran/Iraq war and provided plenty of support to help Iraq with success. So did other territories in the region that may not have been so obliging had we not been in the mix. The one rule we had was for him to control himself upon exit of that war and he couldn’t do it. The urge to invade and conquer throughout the Middle East was too much for his pen tip sized brain to handle. He was a loose cannon and his neighbors knew it.

    Here’s a brief recap of what he was up to when Clinton was President, just so we can’t blame it all on Bush:

    http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/stories/1998/12/16/transcripts/clinton.html

    So what would have been different if he was left in power? I think eventually he would have slipped the noose around his own neck, one way or another.

    • #19
    • March 4, 2015, at 8:20 PM PST
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  20. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Kate Braestrup: First, he wasn’t an Islamist. He was barely a Muslim, one of several reasons why Osama bin Laden loathed him.

    From my home in Iraq, I could see the world’s largest mosque, half built by Saddam and now a blot on the landscape, politically impossible to demolish but rendering a giant chunk of prime real estate unusable. It’s true that before the 1990s, Saddam emphasized secular values. It’s not true that this was ever exclusive (Saddam was the chief funder of Islamists in the Palestinian conflict, for instance, and backed Islamists elsewhere, even before his turn toward fundamentalism). In 2003, though, the choices were about the 2003 Saddam, who was an Islamist, and who was becoming ever more so.

    Kate Braestrup: For all their undoubted sufferings, there were advantages for the Iraqi people in being oppressed by Saddam Hussein.

    Out of order, but this seems to me to be one of the most repugnant sentences written on Ricochet. I freely concede that others have found my work distasteful, though.

    Kate Braestrup: Saddam was a secular butcher: his heroes were Hitler and Stalin, so women in Iraq not only did not have to wear a hijab or hide in their homes, they were educated and employed. If they were targeted by the regime, it was for their politics not their gender.

    Iraq without Saddam has better gender equality than most of the Arab world. My bank employed mostly women, some wearing headscarves, some choosing more modest clothes, some in fully western clothing. Women filled senior positions and the current chairman is a woman. I haven’t worked for an organization with similar gender virtues anywhere else (I don’t know of any such major financial institution existing in the West). Rural Iraq (and some parts of the big cities) are less cosmopolitan, but they were under Saddam, too.

    If you think that Uday and Qusay’s rape rooms were gender neutral, you’re not grasping Arab notions of masculinity clearly. Saddam targeted some people because of their politics, but many people were targeted because of their race, religion, family, and, yes, gender.

    Kate Braestrup: Second, Saddam was big on education. When he came to power, the vast majority of Iraqis were illiterate. When he left office (so to speak) the situation was reversed: the majority could read and write. Saddam wanted his country to be modern the way Hitler wanted Germany to be modern, so he invested in training and technology in a way that an Islamist state never would.

    Saddam repeatedly closed the schools (during the Iraq Iran war, during the Gulf War, in regions that he was attempting to ethnically cleanse, etc.). There are plenty of stats on literacy and such that suggest he was amazing because he had a very high degree of control over his statistical agencies. The skilled labor in Iraq falls into three categories; educated before Saddam, educated abroad, and educated after Saddam. There’s a huge donut hole of guys who will never get decent jobs or education.

    It’s absolutely true that Saddam, like Hitler, would have liked to have had an excellent academic establishment. It’s also true that Saddam, like Hitler, destroyed his academic establishment. He invented a new system of accounting and ended the teaching of GAAP and IFRS and politicized other subjects. He drove academics abroad. There’s a reason that the competent businesses in Iraq are run by foreigners and ex-pats, with local partners who are often comically unable to even pretend to fulfil their theoretical roles.

    Kate Braestrup: By educating his people and neglecting to oppress women Saddam was creating the very class of people most likely to to identify with western, secular democracies, to increasingly resent being terrorized and oppressed, and to have the ability to organize his overthrow and manage the aftermath. I think it likely that, within a few years Iraqis might well have created for themselves the very system that George W. Bush tried to impose by that worst of all possible means: an ineffectual bloodbath.

    If Saddam neglected to oppress women, that might be the case. Sadly, women are humans too, and thus fell within the category to be oppressed. When he drained the marshes and starved and bullied the Marsh Arabs out of their home, he was oppressing the female as well as the male Arabs. When he was murdering the Shia, he wasn’t fastidious about the gender of those he killed (although, as above, those raped did have a gender selection element). When he gassed the Kurds, there were women there, too.

    Saddam’s Iraq lacked phones. It lacked air conditioning in a country where temperatures can reach 117 degrees. In both cases, Saddam’s palaces were exceptions, and a few more places had air con. Every institute in society, from the Scouts (modelled explicitly on the Hitler Youth) to the suborned clergy to the schools (when open) to the media to the nationalize workforce to the army was dedicated to maintaining Saddam’s rule. You’re absolutely right that Iraq had a (dwindling) middle class that could be persuaded to revolt. It did, after the Gulf War. That wasn’t an experience many Iraqis were keen to repeat. Resistance is hard to organize without phones or much in the way of computers when there are many informers and the government is keen to murder families first and ask questions later.

    So far as I know, essentially none of the domestic opposition to Saddam was of the liberal democratic kind. There were communists, there were Islamists, and there were criminals and separatists, but no one who would have built the sort of Iraq that exists today, with a free press, multiparty elections, and a federal system with significant checks and balances.

    Kate Braestrup: The chaos inspired a massive, panicked brain-drain of the elites, and created a baleful association between the words “democracy” and “imperialism” in the minds of the Arab masses. Had we post-poned dealing aggressively with Saddam, not only might we have spared thousands of American and Iraqi lives, but the Arab Spring might have bloomed a decade earlier, in cleaner, richer soil.

    If the Arab Spring had started a decade earlier, it would have taken place in December 2000, before Bush took office. I hope we’re in agreement that your claim is implausible. Even before the Arab Spring, throughout Bush’s time in office, Arab governments were democratizing, signing up for free trade agreements with the US, and otherwise cooperating more closely with America than before. The same fringe leftists who look back fondly on Saddam may claim that US MENA relations soured during that time, but the data all points the other way. Arabs across the Middle East soured on AQ, traded more with the US, became more democratically empowered, shared intelligence more, and generally did as they were asked.

    Thanks to Iraq, other Middle Eastern countries can see a flourishing Arab democracy with a free press and separation of powers. The pause after the 2010 election (stupidly, the constitution is on the Belgian model, and even the Belgians struggle to assemble coalition governments with it) was awkward, but the Middle Eastern media regularly pointed out that Iraq was able to have elections and changes of government (at that point the Federal government hadn’t democratically changed hands, but the governorates had) and Iraq’s governing structure was peaceful and stable through the Arab Spring, in contrast to governments elsewhere. This was a help, not a hinderance, and the Iraqi politicians I knew were much in demand to speak at rallies and meetings for new governments and for protesters.

    • #20
    • March 5, 2015, at 1:37 AM PST
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  21. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tuck:

    Zafar: …Would other problematic groups have arisen? Possibly, though not probably given no power vacuum, and almost certainly not ISIS equivalents.

    But in point of fact, ISIS is just a spin-off of al-Qaeda, and it’s parent groups existed in Iraq under Hussein. But you’re certainly right, they would not have evolved in the same way if Hussein was around.

    Hussein was little, if any, better…

    Right. The defense of Saddam regarding Al Ansar is generally that he didn’t control the territory that they held, so he’s not responsible for their actions. If we’re talking about the well-being of the Iraqi people, though, then we need to consider the parts of Iraq not under Saddam’s control as well as the parts which were. Towards the end, he increasingly farmed out government, particularly in Anbar, to criminal gangs who would raise revenue and hand him a share. This combined with Ansar and other areas that were no longer government held on a less consensual basis. For all these areas, liberation was a particular blessing.

    Saddam took over and immediately started killing people. Sometimes he killed them in their hundreds, sometimes in their hundreds of thousands, depending on the scale of opposition and the various threats he faced.

    Sanctions were collapsing as Clinton passed on the baton, and would not have lasted a year longer. Saddam would have publicly defeated the West’s efforts to dethrone him, which would have given him a lot more support (obviously, the end of sanctions would also have given him a lot more money), so he probably wouldn’t have needed to kill Iraqis to maintain power in the heartland, but it seems unlikely that retaking his territory in the outer provinces would have been terribly bloodless. At some point he would feel threatened by some demographic or other and murder them in huge numbers, but until then it seems likely he’d have been able to return his focus to Jew killing, possibly with nukes.

    • #21
    • March 5, 2015, at 1:45 AM PST
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  22. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jason Rudert:No. I should say that I would add “effective” to that. Nouri al Maliki is a more decent guy, but he was never as good as Saddam at keeping the lights on.

    I don’t know if you mean this literally. Iraq’s gone from somewhat over 4k Megawatt production to over 10k in 2013. For a long time the difficulties with electricity numbered among the highest concerns for critics of the government, but mostly that was because demand shot up far faster than delivery, which took longer. People were now free to cool their homes and their food, and far more people did so than could be quickly accommodated. Now they’re accommodated, partly thanks to Maliki’s government not getting in the way any more than they did.

    If you don’t mean it literally, I’m curious about what you do mean.

    I’m also curious if you think Al Abadi is also inferior to Saddam at light maintenance and I hope that you agree that he’s more decent. Similarly, I hope that similar courtesies can be extended to Allawi, Jaafari, and the other leaders superior to Saddam that have ruled Iraq since.

    • #22
    • March 5, 2015, at 1:57 AM PST
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  23. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    James Of England:

    Wow—you obviously have a lot more experience and information than I do! I freely admit that mine comes entirely from reading and from friends who, like you, worked in one capacity or another in Iraq. Thank you—terrific post.

    A few notes: In my attempt to keep my OP short, I was trying to telegraph a lot into short sentences… hence the “advantages to being oppressed by Saddam” which I hoped would be understood as heavily ironic. Again, he was known to be a particularly brutal dictator in a region where the bar was set high (or low) for brutality. No question—Saddam was a monster and only a willfully blind fringe leftist could possibly look back fondly on his regime. And, as I also said, something did need to be done about him…when, how and by whom is the question. Calvin said: I think eventually he would have slipped the noose around his own neck, one way or another. I agree.

    If I had been the president, (I think, anyway—he presumably knew things I don’t!) 9/11 would have pushed “do something about Saddam” farther down on the to-do list, but not off the list. Saddam’s evil intentions toward the outside world were probably (?) held at bay for the time being by containment and sanctions, and Al Qaeda and the Taliban were a more immediate problem for the US at that moment.

    That does not mean that we would not, eventually, have had to do something about Saddam, possibly including an invasion. And because Saddam wasn’t abiding by the terms agreed to at the end of Desert Storm, I think we had a legitimate casus belli without trying to link him to 9/11. Even if containment and sanctions were working, Saddam was making the innocent bear the deprivations the sanctions imposed, and using the result as propaganda. (Before the war, the fringe left in the west were furiously opposed to the sanctions on humanitarian grounds.)

    I knew I’d get into trouble as soon as I brought gender into this. You, J-of-E may be old enough to remember that Ms. Magazine published an article during the build up to Desert Storm about how things were better for women in Iraq, and therefore we shouldn’t judge him so harshly? That was when I lost interest in (capital F) Feminism.

    So let me try to be clearer: Saddam’s (relative) disinterest in excluding women-as-women from public life does not even begin to mitigate his guilt for appalling crimes against everybody. The “advantage” was not to the individual woman unfortunate enough to live under his rule but to—potentially—the country that might have emerged should he have been overthrown. And —am I wrong?—you might have confirmed this when you said Iraq without Saddam has better gender equality than most of the Arab world. That’s a good thing, right?

    I think I will stand by the “Saddam wasn’t an Islamist.” He was, as someone in this thread has pointed out, a trickster and opportunist: when it suited his book he would play the devout muslim, and of course he supported the Islamists in Palestine and probably would have donated to any group inclined to make trouble for the US, but the difference between Saddam’s gang and a true Islamic fundamentalist regime is pretty clear.

    If the Arab Spring had started a decade earlier, it would have taken place in December 2000, before Bush took office.

    “A decade” was sloppy math. Sorry.

    Even before the Arab Spring, throughout Bush’s time in office, Arab governments were democratizing, signing up for free trade agreements with the US, and otherwise cooperating more closely with America than before. The same fringe leftists who look back fondly on Saddam may claim that US MENA relations soured during that time, but the data all points the other way. Arabs across the Middle East soured on AQ, traded more with the US, became more democratically empowered, shared intelligence more, and generally did as they were asked.

    Do you think this was because of the war (as it was waged) or in spite of it? I’m actually hoping against hope you’ll be able to tell us that historians will look back and conclude that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a complete success.

    • #23
    • March 5, 2015, at 6:05 AM PST
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  24. Zafar Member

    James Of England:

    I don’t know if you mean this literally. Iraq’s gone from somewhat over 4k Megawatt production to over 10k in 2013.

    Compared to 9,300 MW in 1990. Not to dismiss post-occupation efforts, but a lot of what Saddam (bad man, no argument) built up wrt infrastructure was destroyed – and it took a long time to replace.

    Also – what do you mean by Arab countries democractizing in the decade after the first Gulf War?

    Were Egyptians, for example, realistically more able to peacefully change their Government (ie vote Mubarak out and an Administration of their choice in) in 1999 than they were (thank you MWM) in 1991? Were they more able to do this in 2010 than they were in 2004? How can you say that Egypt got more meaningfully democratic over that period? Based on what measures?

    • #24
    • March 5, 2015, at 6:40 AM PST
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  25. Kermit Hoffpauir Inactive

    Saddam had chem weapons agents manufacturing capability near San Francisco. I saw, inspected and assessed the equipment for resale.

    Case closed.

    • #25
    • March 5, 2015, at 8:29 AM PST
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  26. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    History provides no do-overs. It will be decades before historians will know what advice and “intelligence” Bush was receiving. And even when you DO find out you won’t be able to erase a known result from your head. When asked, “What would you do?” it will never be the blind choice a president makes.

    • #26
    • March 5, 2015, at 8:38 AM PST
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  27. MisterSirius Member

    EJHill:History provides no do-overs. It will be decades before historians will know what advice and “intelligence” Bush was receiving. And even when you DO find out you won’t be able to erase a known result from your head. When asked, “What would you do?” it will never be the blind choice a president makes.

    Well, yeah…but to be fair in this case, we seem to be trying to work in the middle ground between “Alternate history, or contrafactual, is a vapid waste of time” and “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”

    Right? I mean, here we are engaging with history, trying to suss out meaning. Listening to the wonderful “The History of Rome podcast,” wow, there are big patterns that seem to make sense and little details that really appear to be “lynchpins” of outsized change, such that those who are engaged with the material cannot help but wonder, “What if…?”

    • #27
    • March 5, 2015, at 8:51 AM PST
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  28. Franz Drumlin Member

    Had we not marched in, would the Iranians nevertheless continue with their program to acquire a nuclear weapon? Almost certainly. And what would have been Saddam Hussein’s response? Work hard to get a nuke of his own, of course. Those of us who opposed going into Iraq in 2003 must at least take that into consideration. The choices available to the Bush administration ranged from Horrible to Awful to Terrible. President Bush took the Terrible option and bad things happened. Bad things also would have occurred as a result of his taking one of the other alternatives.

    Oh, and the Marsh Arabs . . .

    Tragedy all around.

    • #28
    • March 5, 2015, at 8:54 AM PST
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  29. Misthiocracy held his nose and Member
    Misthiocracy held his nose and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Franz Drumlin:Had we not marched in, would the Iranians nevertheless continue with their program to acquire a nuclear weapon? Almost certainly. And what would have been Saddam Hussein’s response? Work hard to get a nuke of his own, of course. Those of us who opposed going into Iraq in 2003 must at least take that into consideration.

    So, maybe they would have nuked each other?

    “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.”

    The choices available to the Bush administration ranged from Horrible to Awful to Terrible. President Bush took the Terrible option and bad things happened. Bad things also would have occurred as a result of his taking one of the other alternatives.

    Ah, but is there not a difference between bad things that happen as a result of one’s actions vs. bad things that happen despite one’s inaction?

    If one cannot prevent bad things from happening, is it not better to reduce one’s culpability for the bad things that do occur?

    Bush fils gambled that occupation would result in bad things but that inaction would result in worse things. Without a crystal ball it’s impossible to judge with 100% certainty whether he was correct and that the current bad situation is better than what would have happened without the invasion of Iraq.

    However, I am skeptical. Not dismissive, but skeptical.

    Oh, and the Marsh Arabs . . .

    Tragedy all around.

    Tragedy is a constant of human existence. The United States does not occupy every country where tragedy is present.

    Apropos of Nothing: In 2003 when a colleague asked over beers if I supported the invasion of Iraq I responded that I agreed with it in principle because Iraq was clearly in violation of the resolutions that ended the Gulf War (I didn’t think WMDs were a relevant factor one way or the other), but that I feared the invasion was doomed to fail.

    • #29
    • March 5, 2015, at 8:59 AM PST
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  30. Franz Drumlin Member

    Misthiocracy

    Misthiocracy:

    Franz Drumlin:Had we not marched in, would the Iranians nevertheless continue with their program to acquire a nuclear weapon? Almost certainly. And what would have been Saddam Hussein’s response? Work hard to get a nuke of his own, of course. Those of us who opposed going into Iraq in 2003 must at least take that into consideration. The choices available to the Bush administration ranged from Horrible to Awful to Terrible. President Bush took the Terrible option and bad things happened. Bad things also would have occurred as a result of his taking one of the other alternatives.

    So, maybe they would have nuked each other?

    “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.”

    Oh, and the Marsh Arabs . . .

    Tragedy all around.

    Tragedy is a constant of human existence. The United States does not occupy every country where tragedy is present.

    I agree. Tragedy is the subtext of my comment. This was not a mess of our making. Many hands were involved, some self-serving, some well-meaning (or both: Sykes-Picot, anyone?).

    • #30
    • March 5, 2015, at 9:12 AM PST
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