By Kira Zalan |
In Iraq, the United States led an international coalition that removed a murderous tyrant from power, eliminated a threat to international security, countered a horrific insurgency, and gave the Iraqi people the opportunity to build their own future. Certainly, the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqis paid a high price to liberate the country. But it is likely that the cost of allowing Saddam Hussein to remain in power would have been far greater over the long-term.
As Charles Duelfer, the head of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group, noted, Saddam sought to shake off the United Nations sanctions and inspections regimes, and rebuild his WMD capabilities once he was free from their yoke. With international sanctions on the verge of collapse due to corruption and faltering political support, Saddam likely would have reconstituted Iraq's weapons programs and re-emerged as a regional menace—just as the Iranians and North Koreans have in his wake. Indeed, the example of their nuclear programs reinforces the imperative of preventing rogue regimes from obtaining weapons of mass destruction.
However, the Iraqi people would have borne the greatest cost for allowing Saddam to remain in power. He had already killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shia and Kurds during his barbaric reign, imprisoned many tens of thousands of political prisoners, and forced four million refugees to flee the country. Once rearmed, Saddam would have suppressed any Arab Spring-style protest against him with wanton slaughter, as he did before. As U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said before the war began, "Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane."
Despite the horrendous loss of life during the insurgency, post-Saddam Iraq, however imperfect it may be, is at least free from his barbaric rule. It is now up to the Iraqi people to ensure that the country truly emerges, in the words of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, as a "multi-sectarian, multi-ethnic society in the Arab world that shows that democracy can work." While the public knows how many people have died, what mistakes were made, and the great struggles of Iraqi democracy over the past decade, it is time to balance this knowledge against the likely alternative: another decade of Saddam's ruthless repression, mass slaughter, and growing regional threats.
Freeing Iraq from Saddam's dictatorship came at a grave cost, but it was worth it.
About Evan Moore Senior Policy Analyst for the Foreign Policy Initiative
Peter Juul Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress
Jessica Stern Fellow at the FXB Center for Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health
Michael O'Hanlon Senior Fellow and Director of Research for the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution