Over the holidays I received a number of e-mails from friends, family and some of our readers beating the "withdraw from Iraq, now!" drum. One persistent writer in particular subscribes to the "Iraq was better off without us" school of thought. This got me thinking, and so I played a little game that all historians secretly love: what if. What if we had never invaded Iraq? What would the situation there, in the ME and in America be like today? As much as possible I tried to stick with facts, or at least back up my speculations, you'll find no sci-fi here.
Let me state upfront that there is almost nothing I would not give to have the men and women we have lost back again, or those that have been injured made whole. My "what if" exercise attempts in some meager way to balance their sacrifices. The bottom line is: have we made a difference worth what it is costing us?
The Dept. of State published a fact sheet in 2003 breaking down the atrocities committed by the Hussein regime, which The Dead Hand researched further to arrive at over 730,000 people killed under Saddam, or 101 per day during the dictator's rule. We have been in Iraq 249 days as I type this. Iraq Body Count, which no one can accuse of being right-wing, estimates up to 17,000 civilians have died since the war began. That is a horrific number, but even many of those have been killed by their own countrymen and other "insurgent" homicide bombers. It is, however, 8,000 less than Saddam would have killed (249 days at 101 dead per day= 25,149), and every day brings us closer to the end of the war in Iraq. It is not inconceivable to me that Saddam could have ruled another 20 years (Castro, anyone?) That is another 737,000 more projected dead. Who was going to stop him, the UN? Under Saddam the people of Iraq faced torture, murder and anonymous burial in a mass grave. Now every person who he will not get to murder, and who is not murdered by homicide-bombers, and all their future generations have something they never had under before: hope.
This past year the Iraqi national soccer team stunned and charmed the world at the Olympics. This is the same team that Saddam's evil son Uday Hussein had threatened and tortured for performance he felt was poor, in his role as chair of the Iraqi Olympic committee. President Bush offended many when he ran a campaign add that referred to Afghanistan and Iraq by saying, "At this Olympics there will be two more free nations -- and two fewer terrorist regimes." Members of the Iraqi soccer team were among the offended, and they were quick to speak out- that must have been a glorious feeling in and of itself. They spoke out without fear. Welcome, my friends, the civilized world where if you feel wronged you may speak, and no one will cut out your tongue or murder you or your family.
Invading Iraq has also had a tremendous effect on the region. The most obvious result is the sudden sea change in Libyan lunatic Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qaddafi. Since the invasion he has announced that not only does he have WMD but also that he will allow inspectors in to verify the destruction of the same. Qaddafi flat out told Italian PM Berlusconi that seeing Saddam fall was the reason for his change of heart (click on his name above). Since this reversal Tony Blair has visited Libya, the Prime Minister of Canada has as well, and investors are looking towards the resource rich country with renewed interest. The Colonel even claimed he should share half of the credit for the President's re-election. (As an aside: how do you rule a country for 35 years and remain a Colonel?) Pakistan has become much more engaged on the global stage as a direct result of the invasion and peace with India is a real possibility. Al Qaeda has refocused it's anger back into the region (read this interesting piece and take note of the inclusion of Pakistan), spawning the seeds of what I believe will be it's ultimate destruction- and at least some analysts agree.
Now for the big question: are we safer at home without Saddam Hussein? I can only offer speculation to answer this. While concrete proof has yet to be offered that OBL and Saddam were in bed together I have very little doubt that such a development would have occurred over time. OBL has openly endorsed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi- does anyone think they might have had prior contact? With the fall of the Taliban and the world forced to look deep into the dark underbelly of Islam, al-Qaeda would need to develop new resources. Saddam was known to have WMD and had little compunction against using them. He had no love of America, no one can doubt that. If he could develop a nuclear weapon and OBL would plant it in New York, do you think he would have blinked? Finally, the war against al-Qaeda and islamofacism is now being fought in Iraq, instead of Indianapolis, as terrorists flock there to attempt to aid the Baathist murderers as they go through their death throws.
The answers to my "what if" exercise then are: without the invasion untold numbers of Iraqis would face torture, rape, disfigurement and death. A seriously unstable regime in Libya would be that much closer to nuclear weapons, and a rich market for OBL and his hate-mongering followers would still be in unchecked operation in Pakistan. This war has cost us much, but the potential costs are so much higher. Our men and women have not sacrificed in vain. It is up to us now to ensure that future historians can look back on these coming days and say "what if America had faltered, and not stayed the course?" as they examine the peaceful, prosperous history than now has a chance to occur in Iraq.