A Liberal’s Anguish

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Every few months a member of the audience at a meeting I am addressing asks whether I regret supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The look in their eyes is both imploring and accusatory – “surely you must agree with me now”, it seems to say. I reply that I regret much: the disbanding of the Iraqi army; a de-Ba’athification programme that became a sectarian purge of Iraq‘s Sunnis; the torture of Abu Ghraib; and a failure to impose security that allowed murderous sectarian gangs to kill tens of thousands.

For all that, I say, I would not restore the Ba’ath if I had the power to rewind history. To do so would be to betray people who wanted something better after 35 years of tyranny. If my interrogators’ protesting cries allow it, I then talk about Saddam’s terror state and the Ba’ath’s slaughter of the “impure” Kurdish minority, accomplished in true Hitlerian fashion with poison gas.

My questioners invariably look bewildered. The notion that, even if they opposed military intervention, they had obligations to support those who suffered under a regime which can be fairly described as national socialist had never occurred to them. No one can say that time’s passing has lessened their confusion.

It’s 10 years since the overthrow of Saddam and 25 since he ordered the Kurdish genocide. I can guarantee that you will not hear much about Saddam’s atrocities in the coming weeks. As Bayan Rahman, the Kurdish ambassador to London, said to me: “Everyone wants to remember Fallujah and no one wants to remember Halabja.” Nor, I think, will you hear about the least explored legacy of the war, which continues to exert a malign influence on “liberal” foreign policy.

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  • Mary Sue

    Taking out Saddam was the right thing to do, no question, but yeah, how it was handled after certainly left something to be desired.

  • Richard

    Saddam was a mass murdering tyrant.
    That's all the justification that was needed.

    • LINO

      There is a difference between something being justified and it being a good idea.

  • Chezwick

    4000 of our best and brightest were killed. Tens of thousands of others are amputees and/or brain-damaged as a result of concussions from IEDs. One trillion dollars of debt was accrued as a result of the invasion/occupation.

    And what was accomplished?

    1) A genocidal monster was removed from power and brought to justice by his people

    2) The Iraqi Kurds have established a very real autonomy

    3) Iraq's WMD programs (which were very real, lack of stockpiles notwithstanding) has been ended, at least for the time being

    4) A secular dictatorship was replaced by a Sharia-based psuedo-democracy

    5) Iraq's Shia majority are now in power, significantly strengthening Iran in the region

    If we're honest, the results are checkered. Certainly the Iraqi people are better off, at least the 80% who are Shia and Kurd. But are the American people better off, considering the cost in blood and treasure, not to mention that the Iraq War was the catalyst that brought to power the one truly anti-war candidate (excepting Dennis Kucinech) of the 2008 Democratic Nomination fight….and saddled America with one of its worst Presidents in history.

    Sorry folks….I was a supporter of the war, and in my estimation, the price was too high.

    • Ceohtwo

      So true.
      Your number 4, where the US government, in its inexplicable nod to political correctness with the establishment of a theocracies in Iraq and Afghanistan (which cannot be a democracies), will stand out as a black marks on US military and diplomatic history. The US Department of State and anyone and any policy or cabal connected to those decisions and events where our state power works to establish Islamic states are not just worthless, they are radioactive.

    • Terrance Thor

      I agree with you. I would add that while a genocidal monster was removed from power and brought to justice by his people, his people brought into power another authoritarian regime and a life in which people are murdered willy nilly for the slightest disagreement with ANYONE. That is life in the Arab world and we aren't going to change that. I thought we could. We can't and maybe it is best that we don't. What we have done to empower Iran is criminal and we will pay for it even if Hagel, the idiot, says otherwise.

      • Chezwick


        It's rather absurd to spend our blood and treasure trying to civilize people who are theologically commanded to celebrate barbarism….and who do so with such enthusiasm.

    • Asher

      Tyranny by any dictator is not acceptable…Its not about Save your own Ass, its about stopping Tyranny and it was worth it!

  • SuicidePrevention

    Saddam Hussein was contained by a straightjacket before 2003.
    There were no-fly zones in the Kurdish north and in the south.
    That was good enough, and much better than the blood bath Bush

    • C.Gee

      The straightjacket was loosening. Saddam was pushing against – and breaking – the terms of the truce. The pressure to end sanctions ("sanctions are killing children" they cried – the same people who were to be so vociferously against the war) was mounting. Saddam was – without doubt, and despite the insistence by the compassionate otherwise – hosting terrorists. It was clear that he was intent on establishing himself as regional Boss, just as the mullahs are now doing in Iran.
      Mission was accomplished when the Boss was toppled, and the absence of WMD verified. There was no reason to nation-build. Whack-a-mole policy – deposition and withdrawal – would be an effective threat to tyrants with imperial ambitions. Civil war might well have broken up the nation into three. That would not have been against US interests. "Stability" is – never was – a sound foreign policy goal especially in the Arab Middle-East.

      • C.Gee

        Correction: "Stability is not – never was – a sound foreign policy goal…"

    • fiddler

      How many UN resolutions were there? 15? It's not as though Bush willy-nilly got hawkish. And as I remember the 15th was a UNANIMOUS resolution. Add to that this was a fully voluntary military much unlike Vietnam, though Liberals far and wide wanted to compare the two. Add to that Jesse Jacksons own "praise" for the Bush administration that they "showed constraint" in retaliating for 9-11. I know, that was not the same thing but Bush, though history will not look kindly on this war, DID due dilligence. The Left dogged him about WMD's and Powell took a "credibility hit", but just remember those honorable American dead VOLUNTEERED, they weren't drafted.

  • cxt

    Good article.

    Something those of the Left never seem to realize or admit–much less talk about is the results of their views and oh-so-nuanced- POV's.

    Saddam has OFFICAL card-carrying rape-squads–men litterally carrying paperwork issued by the State allowing them to rape girls and women. His goons plunged living pople into barrels of acid. They hurled people off buildings. He ruthlessly invaded his Kuwait–and his list of war-crimes their are almost to numreous to mention–he had used and had access to and the ability to prodiuce chemical weapons.

    Many people that opposed the war have nothing to say when asked if we should have just stood by and just kept letting this happen.

    We may well have screwed the pooch on the peace–which sadly wouldn't be the first or the last time we have done so. But I think the war was needed. The alternative would have been even more terrible.

    • SuicidePrevention

      There are lots of countries with horrible governments. Which ones shouldn't we invade?

      • UCSPanther

        Well, well, well. Looks like we have the same chump who thinks that condemning us to a new dark age through jamming alternative energy down our throats whining about morality.

        The truth is, pal, is that there ain't no morality. Just survival. Saddam brought his defeat on himself and had he still lived, he would be facing the same fate through the Arab spring.

      • fiddler

        While I understand what you are saying, hind sight is 20×20. It's much easier being a Neville Champerlain and let the "gathering threat" gather. Bush 41 caught flak for his calling Saddam Hussein an "Adolf Hitler"; but he was exactly right.

        It may be too late to stop Iran. What will Israel do? What would you do if you were Netanyahu and knew that little Mamood wanted to exterminate your people?

  • BLJ

    Saddam taking a dirt nap is a good thing. He would have caused more serious trouble down the road. The guy bought into the myth that he was another Paladin.

    What the U.S. should have done was crush Sadr. It would have sent a strong message to everyone including Iran that we meant business.

    • Asher

      Saddam belonged in a Spider hole with the Vermine!

  • crackerjack

    The US funded and armed Saddam for decades with no interest concerning his human rights policy. The same goes for the Saudis, Mubarak, Gadaffi, Assad, Pinochet..etc. Lets not do as though US foreign policy ever had anything to do with morals or values.

    • Chezwick

      Typical left wing fallacy. The US DID NOT"fund and arm Saddam for decades"….his arsenal was almost exclusively Soviet-made, excepting some squadrons of French Mirages. What we DID do was to open up a re-supply network for his Soviet arms during the second half of his 8-year war with Iran (1980-88)….and we supplied him with satellite photos of Iranian troop concentrations over the same period.

      • crackerjack

        Saddam was a usefull idiot. As long as he danced to the US tune, he could murder, slaughter whoever he wished. So lets not do as though the US got rid of him to free the people of Iraq.

        • Chezwick

          We supported Saddam ONLY in the mid to late 80s, when his war with Iran started going badly. This idea that he was a US puppet is standard left-wing boiler-plate and patently false. The proof is in the pudding: While US clients in the region (Egypt, Gulf states, etc) were armed with US weaponry, Saddam's arsenal was almost exclusively Soviet-made….(again, the exception being fighter-squadrons of French Mirage.

          So once again, you get it wrong Crackerbox.

        • fiddler

          I heard of people being fed feet first into plastic shredders. Who do you think the US should answer to? The world court of human opinion? I myself have invisioned putting "bubble" over the entire Middle East (except for Israel) so they can keep all their little skirmishes to themselves. Then there would be no "useful idots" right? What do YOU do with mass murderers? What about Polpat? Better to arm-chair quarterback and diss your country. I guess that makes you morally superior. But the "useful idiot was finally caught". I remember tha the late Peter Jennings seemed to almost lament the way Saddam's statue was torn down and looked for ways to criticize the US military while this was going on. Once a liberal…

    • Mary Sue

      ….um, yeah, because he was locked in a war with a power that the US did NOT WANT to prevail:

      Nutbar cleric-run Iran.

  • Ben Cohen

    The Iraq war led weakened the Republicans and led to the triumph of the left within the democratic party and outside it.

  • Ben Cohen

    I should clarify that while I'm sympathetic to Iraqis, I care more about Americans. I can't stand seeing Americans on T.V missing legs, arms, etc.

  • marios

    What is difference between Pearl Harbor attack and 9/11? We lost 500,000 in WWII in respond to Pearl Harbor attack which was declaration of war. Islamists unleash war on us by attacking us in our own country on 9/11. They did it because Clinton did nothing in responds of Islamo-fascists terroristic acts between 1994 & 2000. It is horrible that leftists/Dem's did utmost to prevent our country win in Iraq first of all. It is terrible thought for them that hateful by them Bush/our country could win war. As result of Saddam toppling Libya's dictator stopped his nuclear bomb creation program. If leftists/Dem's did not betrayed our country….

    • Asher

      Remaining passive is never the answer…give them an inch and they will take a mile just like they did on 911!

    • Jim_C

      So you think invading Iraq was the appropriate response to 9/11? If you think "leftist/dems" prevented us from "winning" in Iraq, you are way, way too stupid to vote.

  • marios

    Nowadays WH politic is disastrous for us in all aspects as this administration embolden our enemies Islamo-fascists. Obama Cairo speech triggered ME radicalization and brought to Power Muslim Brothers, etc. Bush was blamed for "false basis" Iraq war. It is Big Leftists lie. Saddam had WDM : chemical weapons as well some nuclear bomb program in action. Russian ambassador who removed it on many tracks to Syria was awarded by Medal by Pres.Putin. Intelligence of all countries proved before war that Saddam had WMD. MSM don't mention that Obama support our country enemies (Egypt MB and not only) but smeared and stigmatized Pres. Bush. So much remind how MSM in Germany (and in many "civilized" countries) supported Hitler in 1930th…

  • Drakken

    What the middle and far east wars have taught us infidels in the west is, that when you go to war, you go in hot and heavy and destroy everything in your path, and then get out with a reminder that if they get a little jihadist fever, to remember we can help them on their way to paradise. The days of nation building and worrying about muslims civilian casualties is over. As where ole Saddam was concerned, we should have hung him in front of the crowds and put his generals in charge with the understanding that we can hang them too, we would have had the added benefit of them taking care of that sub-assatollah Sadr dealt with and Iraq firmly in the sunni sphere of influence. The Kurds would have had total control of the kurdish areas and be a nice pain in the azz to Turkey,Iran and Syria who would have the pleasure of dealing with them instead making insurgent nonsense with us.

    • Jim_C

      You're still really talking about nation-building and regime policing. All you would be doing is staving off the inevitable uprisings, crackdowns and religious sectarianism that would flare up the minute you turned your back. Is it really our purpose to depose one jerk and think we can make everything better by calling the shots in a country that is really an arbitrary territory held together by those general's oppressive regime? Do we want to be aligned with that?

      I'm OK with them fighting each other, but these days that usually ends with Islamists in power.

      The good thing about the war with Iraq is that it was, at one point, a war with Iraq. I like having a country–a political entity–to war against. It lets you know which people to kill and which things to break. I happen to agree with your first two sentences.

      • Drakken

        I put no moral equivilancy between us in the western world or the muslim world. By putting in oppresive secular generals in place against a muslim theocracy is well worth the effort, the bloody muslims hate us no matter what we do, so better for the little savages fear us, then they will respect us. As long as the generals keep the muslims at bay, I'm good with it and support it.

  • ganymede

    The delusions of Mr. Horowitz know no bounds. We destroyed a country, killed hundreds of thousands of mostly innocent people, made conditions in the Middle East even worse, for what Mr Horowitz? For oil, power, based on a bunch of lies. If there is any justice left in the world, and I think there is, Bush, Cheney and the bunch of psychopathic neo-cons who concocted this disastrous war will someday be hauled into court. If there were any justice for those whose schtick is bad propaganda, then you, too, Mr Horowitz, would join them

    • Feist Hayseed

      The depth of hatred of the Leftists never ceases to amaze me! Another thing that amazes me is their utter refusal to let go of the old tired accusations made before anyone knew any better that turned out to be totally irrational and contrived (e.g. Bush went to war for Big Oil). You people are pathetic. Clinging to your fantasy of a Socialist Utopia and a Baked planet caused by Man-made Global Warming (there has been NO warming of the planet for 18-19 years or 23 years as reported by two separate UN affiliated scientific bodies). Good grief! Reality, facts, what I like to call "what happens in the real world" does not phase you progressive loons in the slightest. If you really want to know who "made conditions in the Middle East even worse" the evidence is all in and it is overwhelming – President Obama by illegally overthrowing Ghaddafi by providing advanced weapons and funding to Islamic Jihadists has thrown open the doors of Islamic terrorism hell in North Africa and throughout the Middle East. Aiding and abetting the Muslim Brotherhood's overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt didn't help Israel or the future of the Middle East any either.

    • Drakken

      What's the matter lib/progressive? Get your precious feelings hurt that muslims were dealt with accordingly?

    • fiddler

      It started with nearly 3,000 people being burned, or crushed to death in a tall hight-rise one day at work from a missle containing several of their countrymen. This arose from a open society where Middler Easterners could get flight training without having to learn to land. HOW TERRIBLE it would have been to DENY these Middle-Easterners the opportunity to fly our airliners. What a lesson we GULLIBLE Americans have to learn from our own openness! Dare I say our own MORALITY! While you orbit around Jupiter, ask yourself where it all began and where it all ends. It seems to me that the 3,000 some odd "Eikmans" as Ward Churchill called them were — to you — collateral damage to the evil country you love to hate!

      • fiddler

        Sorry for the misspellings folks! It's hard not to tremble with anger over insensitive rants from people so entrenched in university indoctrination. Those who seem to venerate the likes of Bill Ayers.

  • Mike in VA

    I still think Christopher Hitchens had it right – as Saddam's penchant for invading his neighbors and myriad violations of the Gulf War I ceasefire made painfully clear, another war with Baathist Iraq was inevitable. It was just a matter of whether we fought that war on our terms or we fought it on Saddam's terms. Furthermore, the attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York and Washington by Sunni Arab terrorists only added more urgency to this question. There were no easy choices to be made here, and I give President Bush credit for making the difficult and unenviable choice of addressing this situation before it became exponentially worse for everyone.

    • Chezwick

      Except that by invading Iraq, getting bogged down and preoccupied in a counter-insurgency there, and in the process, turning American public opinion against military intervention, we crippled our own ability to check Iran's nuclear ambitions.

      • Mike in VA

        I'm not so certain about that, Chezwick.

        If anything is going to cripple our ability to check Iran's nuclear ambitions, it's the Obama Administration.

    • Jim_C

      I give President Bush credit for action. I truly think he did what he thought best; and I think the resignation of Rumsfeld, the marginalization of Cheney, and the change in strategy in his second term proves he understood he had a couple of really bad apples.

  • Maxie

    No that precedent was set by BJ Clinton who bombed Bosnia to get his impeachment off the front pages. The concept of this military-style "police work" was the so-called Clinton-Blair Doctrine of 'Human Rights" superceding national sovereignties. Thus any nation perceived to be brutalizing segment(s) of their populations could/should be attacked/invaded in the name of stopping 'human rights' rights violations. Use the key words above and google it. It may still linger in some archive.

  • Jim_C

    This is a decent article, pointing out a few of the positive outcomes of the Iraq War. But its sneering headline says a lot about the editorial staff's maturity level. Read Chezwick's post above: the price in blood and treasure was too high. The price in national unity was too high. The people who opposed it were routinely called "traitors." Now many of those who sneered agree with many of the opposition's arguments.

    If getting rid of Saddam Hussein were really the mission and the justification, let's face it: it could have been done in a much more efficient manner. And I think we should look long and hard at an administration who used the feeling we all had after 9/11 to pursue nation-building in Iraq.

    Unlike Hitchens, I don't know that war with Saddam was inevitable. But I do think the Iraq War, despite its overall failings, had many positive outcomes both for those under Saddam's yoke and for the West in terms of understanding what we're dealing with over there. I think it's brought our armed forces to a level unmatched in history. I think it's been a boon for our intelligence operations in the ME. But I can't reconcile the price.

    • Drakken

      That is why we should have put saddams generals in charge, they would have got the army and intelligence folks back online and brought stability and control of the country, we could have had a few troops to oversee things and got out within 6 months of the first shot being fired, too bad when I told that idiot Bremmer this, he thought that the muslims of the country would love us, he was dead wrong and we paid too a high of price for it, especially considering that we tied the hands our our troops in the proccess. so we took 3 times as many casulties than we should have.

    • fiddler

      Agreed. The outcome was very messy while the motive was good. We basically had pretty much blow-by-blow sugical strikes were mosques were shown not to be damaged. The military (at least in the beginning) was extremely careful not to offend. I will never forget our illustrious Senator Reid saying, "The War is lost!" (UUUUGGGGGHHHH). One only wonders how Iran will be handled. I don't think we can take Amadinijad's threats lightly. Certainly Israel can't.

  • Asher

    You bet it was the right thing to do..Sadam was a tyrant and so were his sons, Hussay and Cussay. They committed genocide against their own people, just like Assad of Syria, and Bashir of Sudan! The chemical weapon labs were found, and they would have been using biological weapons if they hadn't bee stopped!