Overthrowing Saddam Hussein Was Worth the Price
The Iraq war freed the world of a dangerous, determined, and irrational leader
November 11, 2011
The war in Iraq has been costly, though most of the cost was avoidable. Taking sovereign power in Iraq to convert it into the first genuine Arab democracy was unnecessary and unwise. We must avoid making the cost of securing our future against potentially ruinous dangers unaffordable.
But the war was worth the cost, for one reason above all: It freed the world of a dangerous, determined, and irrational leader who had the means and inclination to continue inflicting massive destruction and suffering on the Iraqi people, neighboring states, and the international community.
Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz supported the invasion after reciting the litany of Saddam's many crimes, in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and elsewhere. He wrote: "No other dictator matches his record of war, oppression, use of weapons of mass destruction, and continuing contemptuous violation of international law, as set out by unanimous actions of the UN Security Council."
The United States and others were wrong in concluding that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in 2002. Saddam wanted to give the impression that he had WMD, and he succeeded. But we were also wrong after the Gulf War in concluding that Saddam's WMD programs had been identified and closed down. His son-in-law's revelations led to the discovery of an advanced biological weapons program. Had Saddam not been overthrown, he would likely have attempted again to become a nuclear power, so as he could expand his control and influence among the Gulf States with impunity.
One can never know with certainty that a depraved leader will continue to do depraved things. But Henry Kissinger explained why it is necessary sometimes to act when the record is strong, despite the uncertainties:
"In retrospect, it is easy to ridicule the fatuousness of the assessment of Hitler's motives by his contemporaries. But his ambitions, not to mention his criminality, were not all that apparent at the outset. ...Statesmen always face the dilemma that, when their scope for action is greatest, they have a minimum of knowledge. By the time they have garnered sufficient knowledge, the scope for decisive action is likely to have vanished."