My latest for Race42016.com…
The Big Lie in the debate over the chaos unfolding in Iraq is that somehow, the rise of ISIS would not be occurring were it not for President George W. Bush’s ostensibly indefensible ‘war of choice’; that by removing Saddam Hussein and participating in an ill-fated ‘nation-building’ project, we fostered instability and created a vacuum for ISIS — now called the Islamic State — to fill. Take away the Iraq War (and bring back Saddam Hussein), and, according to the likes of David Axelrod, we wouldn’t have to deal with this problem, since it wouldn’t exist.
It is simply a lie. Saddam Hussein, one of history’s bloodiest tyrants, was never a source of stability, and, unlike other former Arab autocrats like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, he was never ‘our bastard’; he was a longtime geopolitical nemesis and a clear threat to peace for as long as he remained in power. Saddam Hussein invaded two of his neighbors, fired SCUD missiles at a third, used chemical weapons on Iraq’s Kurdish minority, and funded regional terrorism. In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the bipartisan Iraq Liberation Act into law, making regime change the official stance of the United States toward Iraq. (As non-interventionists never tire of pointing out, yes, we did cooperate with Saddam Hussein — once, in the 1980s, when we simply determined him to be the lesser of two evils in his war against Islamist Iran).
Iraq under Saddam Hussein would have been a breeding ground for the likes of ISIS. Like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein was a Ba’athist, a secular strongman who sometimes allied with Islamists against common foes, but had little in common ideologically with them. Like Assad, he would have been a ripe target for Islamist ire during the Arab Spring, and would have likely responded in a manner much like Assad. Hillary Clinton is right that Syria poses a ‘wicked’ problem to the United States. Right now, Iraq does as well — but Assad’s fate — and his willingness to use chemical weapons against the people he claims as his — mirrors what an Iraq run by Saddam Hussein would surely look like right now, holding all else equal.
Of course, it is not necessary to hold all else equal, because, upon the recognition that the Maliki government clearly was not equipped to deal with terrorist threats to Iraq, the United States should have never abandoned the country. It is true that the government wanted us to leave — but that should not have mattered; Iraq owes the existence of its government to us, and our mission there was not primarily a humanitarian one, but was conducted for national security purposes. Do people suppose that Angela Merkel wants tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in Germany, or that Japan likes being denied its own military? Surely not. But Germany and Japan posed a threat to the United States and to the world order once, and we decided that it should never happen again — and we meant it. So it should have been in Iraq — but President Obama decided that his desire to fulfill an ideological campaign promise entitled him to suspend the reality principle. The ‘facts on the ground’ made it clear that Iraq was not ready to assume total responsibility for its own defense. This does not make Obama in any way responsible for the rise of ISIS, of course — ISIS alone bears responsibility for its own primitive savagery and inhuman barbarism — but it does make him short-sighted, perhaps foolish, even. His former Secretary of State certainly seems to think so.