The 13-year anniversary of 9/11 is coming up, and I will definitely have something to say on that. But for today, let’s take a look at Iraq and contemplate how U.S. intervention affected the Middle East dynamics which, regardless of what anyone does, appear to always default to gross dysfunction, violence and death.
Men a lot smarter than me, scholars with advanced degrees, military experts with decades of real-world experience and knowledge, have pontificated on Middle East goings on and been dead wrong. So frankly, I could be way off the mark today. But that certainly will not stop me from bloviating!
My takeaway from the past several months of alarming developments in Iraq is that our intervention there was not worth the approximately 4,500 American lives lost, the thousands of physically maimed and psychologically scarred warriors, and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent. Iraq remains a basket case, rife with jihadists, loose cannon militias and the most vile form of Islamofascism known to 21st century man: ISIS (recently renamed the Islamic State).
The unspeakable cruelty of this hateful group is a topic for another blog. Suffice it to say that not only does the Islamic State behead perceived enemies, it even crucifies them. And the torture is not restricted to adults. Even children have been raped and beheaded by these human vermin. Again, for those who believe in God, it begs the question: Why didn't the creator put some kind of regulator -- a "floor" if you will - on the depths to which human depravity can sink? A troubling question, but obviously, a can of worms for another day.
As usual, I digress. With regard to Iraq, here’s how things appear on the surface: What’s happening there now probably would not be occurring if A) Saddam’s sadistic secular Baathists had been left in power; or B) We didn’t cut-and-run in 2011.
Perhaps if we had a competent commander-in-chief who'd negotiated a status of forces agreement with the equally incompetent former Iraqi president, Nouri al-Maliki, and the U.S. kept its stabilizing troops in place for many years, this might have paid off. Perhaps.
But I am going to confine my speculation to a hypothetical past, rather than a hypothetical future. First, for the record, I believed the intelligence in 2003 about Saddam having WMD and being close to developing nuclear weapons. I supported the war, as did millions of other Americans. The CIA, military intelligence and foreign intelligence agencies including Israel, France, England and Russia, all believed Saddam had WMD. We also knew he had used WMD on the Kurds and Iranians in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Clearly, Saddam was a destabilizing force, as he sent money to families of Palestinian suicide bombers, had his forces shoot at American and British planes in the “No-Fly Zone,” ran roughshod over Kuwait in 1990, set Kuwaiti oil fields ablaze, and attempted to assassinate President George H.W. Bush in 1993.
Saddam also tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens to keep them fearful and in line. By some estimates, he killed at least 1 million people. But his brutal dictatorship, including a labyrinth of secret police agencies and horrible dungeons sometimes disguised as innocuous enterprises such as hotels or health clubs, did keep Sunnis and Shias from cutting each other up, stifled suicide bombers, protected Christians’ religious liberties much more than is presently the case, and held Iran in check.
So… What if we had never invaded Iraq in 2003, and the Butcher of Baghdad, plus his two twisted sons, had continued sadistically imprisoning, raping, torturing, disfiguring and murdering their fellow Iraqis, all the while violating 16 or 17 United Nations resolutions and threatening their neighbors?
Well, Syria comes to mind. The revolution in that tortured nation began in early 2011, several months before the vaunted “Arab Spring” caused CNN’s Christiane Amanpour to unwittingly embarrass herself with an overdose of gushing and mindless, idealistic prattle. Syria was a festering sore, a cauldron kept from boiling over by a brutal dictatorship similar to Saddam’s. Many thousands of its citizens had had enough of the Assads, the late Hafez and his son Bashar, who have ruled Syria with an iron fist for more than four decades.
People who have been oppressed and brutalized all their lives, and have seen their family members, relatives and friends abducted and never heard from again, who are familiar with torture, terror and threats of imprisonment, in many cases figure they have nothing to lose by going for broke to destroy the yoke. Someone who is hungry, depressed, fearful and utterly without hope may regard death as a welcome relief. In many cases, the thought of inflicting some damage on his oppressor before shedding his mortal coil inspires a man to fight back.
With the tumult of 2011 engulfing the Middle East, and the irrepressible images, news stories and battle cries spreading like wildfire via Twitter and other social media, methinks it would have been difficult for Saddam to continue keeping a lid on his seething nation. Iraq could have descended into a prolonged, bloody revolution, spilling over into neighboring countries as is happening in Syra today.
It is difficult to say what alliances would have sprung up to oppose Saddam, but there certainly would have been some strange bedfellows as we are seeing now throughout the region. First it was Saudi Arabia and Egypt working with Israel to oppose Hamas. Now it is the United States fighting on the same side of the Bashar al-Assad regime it formerly opposed against the Islamic State, joined by Iran and numerous Sunni militias and armies.
One of the challenges to analyzing Middle East goings on is the constantly fluid, morphing nature of Islamic militias and terrorists. They often form temporary, tentative alliances with others (the enemy of my enemy is my friend), and call themselves by different names. As with the religion of Islam itself, there is no central authority in each nation or branch of Islam. But there are plenty of deranged loose cannons anxious to wreak havoc.
The scary thing is that in the not too distant future, Iran will join Pakistan as an Islamic nation with nuclear weapons. And meantime, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons remain vulnerable due to a severely compromised military and intelligence service. The Islamic State butchery, Assad’s barrel bombs, the Taliban’s endless supply of suicide bombers – all of these will pale in comparison to the hatred and rage carried out with nuclear weapons.
No, I do not think everything would have been hunky-dory with Saddam left to his own devices. That seems pretty naive. And Bush/Cheney have been out of office for 5 ½ years, so we can stop beating that dead horse.
The fact is, the Middle East is a sad, bloody mess. At this point, prayer might be the best we can do to help heal the sickness of a godforsaken region. Augmented by generous portions of faith and hope, of course.