Devil's Advocate: Invading Iraq Was Justified
Saddam Hussein was not only a brutal dictator, but a threat to the regional order and to world peace. He was certainly not "in a box."
"Invading Iraq didn't make us safer."
It's a line that's been repeated a thousand times in recent years. From a counterterrorism perspective, that's true. Al Qaeda has thrived like never before, and Shiite militias patrol around Iraq with impunity. Furthermore, American policy in post-Saddam Iraq destroyed central governance and civil society. Paul Bremer's de-Ba'athification process resulted in unemployment for thousands of Iraqis who joined the Ba'ath party to further their careers. Teachers, diplomats, soldiers, doctors, and civil administrators; party members were rendered unemployable. Coupled with the disbandment of the army, Iraqi society was fully degraded. Had the United States had a coherent strategy for post-war Iraq, including awareness and mitigation of domestic Iraqi agitators, the country would be in a much more stable position. The blunder of the Iraq War is not the invasion, but the abysmal administration after the initial victory against Saddam's forces.
As for the larger political situation of the region, it's much better for regional stability without Saddam Hussein. Iraq's sectarian civil war has spilled over into the Syrian conflict, but both wars were caused both independently from and in conjunction with each other. Jihadists operating in Assad's Syria were consequential in the post-2003 Iraqi environment. Jihadists operating in Iraq, particularly Al Qaeda in Iraq, took advantage of the Syrian rebellion and later thrived there in the form of the Islamic State. Even before the overthrow of Saddam, jihadist groups found the Syrian-Iraqi border to be porous.
But Iraq is no longer an aggressive or expansionist state in the region. Iran is safe from Iraqi aggression. Kuwait is no longer afraid of annexation. Let's not forget that Saddam Hussein himself said that his only mistake was not waiting to acquire nuclear capability before invading and annexing Kuwait, erasing the existence of an Arab League member state. This was a man who understood the value of a nuclear deterrent.
So while we are very clearly more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, the greater region is far more stable without the aggressive and expansionist tactics of Saddam Hussein, the man who sought to redraw the borders of the region. No one can forget the devastating effects of the Iran-Iraq war, his previous attempt at expanding his Ba'athist state in the name of Arab nationalism. More than a million people died during the decade of war. Chemical warfare ravaged battlefields and their occupants, reminiscent of the horrors of the First World War.
This was a man who ran his state unquestioned. Who can forget the story of his English translator, the homosexual Kurd who served him for years. When ambassadors arrived in Baghdad in 1990 to denounce Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, the translator's previously-well-known sins suddenly became deserving of a death sentence upon deliverance of the criticisms. This was a man who had a pattern of behaviour. A man who had no qualms about sending men to kill and be killed. A man who subjugated his own people, committed genocide against the Kurds of the North, and sought wider regional domination.
The line is always repeated in reference to the explosion of terrorism in the region (pun intended), but it would be more appropriately uttered in reference to Iranian regional dominance since the fall of Saddam's Iraq. The most dangerous product of the Iraq War has been the shift in the Saudi-Iranian balance of power in the region, rather than the safe haven for terror that Iraq has become. With the Shiite majority now ruling Iraq, Gulf-funded jihadist groups are fueled by perceived persecution, especially in territories once ruled by ISIS.
I'd be the first to point out the safe haven for terrorism that Iraq has become. These violent sectarian groups, both Sunni and Shia, have thrived in the post-war environment, but regional stability is no longer threatened by military conflicts initiated by the former Iraqi dictator and his armies.
You may think it's a tedious distinction to make, but realistic analysis of regional security must be kept in historical perspective. ISIS, or any other terror group in Iraq or the region, has never and will never control a military as large or as technologically advanced as Saddam Hussein's state apparatus. Inshallah.