October 30, 2003
Taking Stock of Post-Saddam Iraq
These are interesting times for those of us who supported President Bush's decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Not only have no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) been found, but it appears that Bush exaggerated the evidence of WMDs to gain congressional and popular support. Not only did we underestimate post-"victory" Iraqi resistance, but tapes of Saddam calling for revenge keep popping up. Not only has democracy not swiftly taken root in Iraq, but Syria and Iran still sponsor terrorism, refusing to behave like proper dominoes.
And the cost in American blood and money continues to mount.
Nevertheless, this is not an opportunity to admit that we were wrong (character building though that would be). The Iraq war was a good idea and remains so for a simple reason: more good than harm has come of it.
Iraq was a vast slaughterhouse. No one was safe from the blood-soaked grasp of the tyrant. Tongues were cut out for telling jokes about Saddam. Infants were tortured and killed to elicit confessions from their parents. Meat grinders, vats of acid and starved dogs were reported methods of execution. Thousands of prisoners were killed just to make room for new prisoners.
All this has stopped. The torture chambers are silent and empty. Iraqis are uncovering mass graves (more than 60 so far), identifying the victims and giving them religious burials. The war's opponents never seemed to take to heart the grotesque agony of the Iraqi people under Saddam.
Bush's claim of a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda has not been proved. But that isn't very important, because Osama bin Laden isn't the only fish in the sea. There is insufficient appreciation of the intertwined web that is Islamist terrorism. Hamas, Hezbolla, Islamic Jihad, al-Aksa Brigade, and Al Qaeda all communicate and cooperate. Saddam's direct connections with Palestinian terrorists are well-documented, from sheltering Achille Lauro killer Abu Abbas to paying thousands of dollars to the families of suicide murderers. There is no doubt that the destruction of Saddam's regime was a blow to international terrorism.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Saddam certainly had WMDs in the 1980s -- for example, he used poison gas to murder thousands of people in Halabja and other Kurdish villages. And let's not forget Osirak and how close Saddam came to acquiring nuclear weapons. But perhaps it's true that by this year his WMD capacity had decayed. Postwar interviews with Iraqi scientists reveal a picture of technicians unable to manage the tricky business of weaponizing germs, but too afraid of the dictator to tell him. This fear of speaking the truth is familiar from other totalitarian regimes.
Perhaps Saddam, who ruled through violence and intimidation, feared Shia or Kurdish revolts if he admitted that he had no WMDs. Or it may just be that in a country the size of California, the WMDs remain concealed, still to be found.
What is beyond doubt is Saddam's obsession with WMDs, and his willingness to use them. It never made sense to wait until Saddam became fearsomely dangerous -- perhaps undeterable -- before trying to overthrow him.
Iraqi resistance continues. It has come into focus that the Sunni minority, which dominated Iraq for generations, does not wholly welcome a new democratic order that means the end of its privileged status. Some Iraqis are conflicted: happy to be liberated, angry at being occupied. Some would prefer theocracy to democracy.
America now must be cool and steady. Saddam will be captured and resistance will fade. Democracy will take root, if it is nurtured and its enemies are dealt with firmly. Syria and Iran will draw conclusions. The mere possibility of an Arab democracy holds out the chance of radical betterment for the Iraqis, for the whole Middle East (not least Israel), and the world, and is worth taking risks for.
The picture painted by Bush has not been fully confirmed. As a Democrat, I'm happy to pummel Bush about the discrepancies (and don't get me started on the budget deficit). But we have to be honest. In Jewish law, sometimes an action that would not be permitted initially (l'chatchila) may be ratified retrospectively (b'dieved). Similarly, even if Bush's various justifications for war didn't all hit their mark, Iraq, the Middle East and the United States are better off with Saddam gone.
If you do the right thing for the wrong reason, it's still right.
Paul Kujawsky is the president of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles (DFI-LA). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of DFI-LA.