Why we were right to remove Saddam

Yesterday was the twenty-second anniversary of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, an event that was the harbinger of a convulsion of events that culminated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and whose regional and global reverberations continue to unfold to this day. Much ink has been spilled debating the wisdom of all of our responses and policies since that fateful day, but through it all, I draw two very important conclusions: We were right to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and that much evil and suffering resulted from our failure to remove him a decade earlier.

In understanding why it was right to remove Saddam, it is first necessary to grasp that Saddam Hussein was not your average dictator. He had a thirty-year rap sheet crowded to suffocation with crime: oppression, lavish support for terrorism, genocide, territorial aggression, the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the actual use of chemical and biological weapons among other delectable pursuits. He was in fact the warden of a vast and dangerous prison. It is possible to see the sheer number of reasons for removing him from power rather like strands on a rope: if one strand breaks, the rope is still intact. Likewise, the case for Saddam’s removal.

After the end of the first Gulf war, we made the most serious of errors: we allowed an utterly defeated opponent to escape the full consequences of his defeat. The next twelve years would vindicate Machiavelli’s advice to his Prince that a defeated opponent should either be killed or ruined beyond all hope of recovery on the one hand, or treated generously on the other. Generosity, i.e. appeasement, was tried to no success: attempts by the Reagan and elder Bush administrations to court his favor in the late 80’s were brushed aside by him with contempt and merely led him to believe that he could invade and annex Kuwait without fear of consequences.

After the war a regime of sanctions and inspections was imposed on Iraq by the UN. Upon entering the country in April 1991, they soon found that, contrary to intelligence reports that had Saddam within several years of obtaining a nuclear weapon, he was actually within several months. (He came similarly close ten years earlier when the French gave him a nuclear reactor. The Israelis destroyed it, though). Numerous defectors of Saddam’s inner circle testify that his deepest regret was that he invadedKuwait without a nuclear weapon; if so, he said that he would not have been driven out. He was right.

After four and a half years of sanctions and inspections, UN inspectors declared that Iraq was clean of WMD’s and urged that the sanctions be dropped. A month later, in November of 1995, Saddam’s son in law defected to Jordan and spilled his guts to the CIA about a few family secrets: namely, Saddam’s hidden WMD arsenal.

(A few months later Saddam beckoned his runaway son in law to come back home; all would be forgiven, he promised. He returned home to a hero’s welcome and a lavish banquet hosted by Saddam in his honor; afterward, he was tortured and shot—a typical Saddam touch).

It turned out that despite several years of sanctions and tough inspections that Saddam had hidden WMD activities from the inspectors and was once again within range of developing a nuclear weapon. The Clinton administration fruitlessly continued the inspections for another three years until Saddam finally kicked them out for good in December of 1998, but the lesson was clear:Iraq could not be verifiably disarmed with sanctions and inspections unless Saddam complied. And he would not.

 Left leaning “peace” activists shilling for Saddam accused the Clinton Administration and the UN of harassing the Iraqis and supposedly withholding evidence of Saddam’s compliance from the public, but they had it backwards: the Clinton administration, indeed,  would have given anything to be able to declare Saddam in compliance, and have the whole Saddam/inspections headache disappear, for Clinton spent much of his presidency in mortal terror that he might actually have to live up to his responsibilities as Commander in Chief and go to war somewhere (e.g., Iraq, Bosnia), which of course would distract from his domestic agenda. (After winning the 1992 election, he told Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton that the American people “didn’t care” about foreign policy, and Hillary in 1994 insisted that Clinton not intervene in Bosnia or Rwanda, lest it derail her health care initiative)

Nothing better illustrates the folly and futility of the whole corrupt inspection regime, especially when conducted by a feckless, craven, and cowardly administration whose only objective was to avoid a confrontation that might disturb their domestic initiatives—not disarm a dangerous dictatorship. (Sound familiar?)

In the fall of 2002, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, which demanded Saddam’s unfettered compliance with the new inspection regime and gave him a “final” opportunity to verifiably disarm. In its advocacy of 1441, the Bush Administration attempted to strengthen the authority of the UN by having it say what it means and mean what it says. Words must mean something. For those who love peace and hate war, it is difficult to understand how the policy of failing to hold Saddam accountable strengthened the ability of the UN to deal seriously and credibly with the problems of the world, to punish unlawful acts of aggression, and promote peace—the very reasons for the founding of the institution in the first place.

Resolution 1441 inventoried the catalogue of previously ignored and un-enforced two and one half dozen resolutions, and emphasized his responsibilities of cooperation with the new inspection regime. The forthright language of the resolution could hardly have been clearer: Saddam must comply with the inspections, or else. The resolution did not say that Saddam would receive another opportunity if he failed to cooperate, it said that he had a “final” opportunity. What comes after final? And what was meant by “serious consequences?” More inspections? More scoldings and paper resolutions? For shame. This dysfunctional farce was the League of Nations redux.

The drafting and passage of this resolution, in any event, was a colossal waste of time and effort. The US and Britian wanted Saddam removed, period, and did not believe that Saddam would consent and cooperate with inspections now any more than he did before, and they were right. They consented to the resolution only to give themselves the appropriate diplomatic cover when the time came to remove him for his customary non-compliance and obstructionism, which they fully expected, and which of course occurred.

 The French seem to have believed that 1441 would put an inspection regime into Iraq that would move about from here to there indefinitely, and that if weapons were found, they could be disposed of by the inspectors, and hence avoid war. The point of their support for 1441 was not to disarm Saddam, about which they had not been serious for at least a decade, but to posit a “necessary counter-weight to American dominance and hegemony” (led by guess who?), and deflect les Anglo-Saxons from going to war to remove Saddam.

Saddam, however, foiled this objective by his non-cooperation with the inspectors, which gave the Americans and others what they needed to declare him in breach of the new resolution. By this time France and co. had abandoned any semblance of impartiality, were forced to reveal that they had no intention of removing Saddam however much he was in breach of his obligations in 1441, and their efforts were now focused almost solely on thwarting the American led effort come what may.

As before with the 16 previous toothless resolutions (all of them Chapter VII Security Council resolutions with the full binding force of international law), the transparently deceptive foot-dragging and equivocating over 1441 by the French and co. makes an open question as to who was making more of a joke of international law: Saddam for his non- compliance with Resolution 1441, or the UN for its refusal to enforce it.

The irony of all of this is that 1441 gave Saddam a perfect opportunity to thwart the Bush administration’s efforts to remove him. As we now know, the inspectors would have traversedIraqfor months upside down and sideways without finding a single WMD, completely foiling any efforts to put him in breach. All he had to do was cooperate. Why didn’t he? It’s just a guess on my part, but along with the fact that the inspectors would have uncovered a lot of information (if not weapons) that Saddam would rather not have shared, I think Saddam viewed the inspectors in a manner not unlike that which Nasser viewed the presence of UN Emergency Force in the Sinai in 1967—as a foreign infringement upon his sovereignty and an insult to his prestige. And, like Nasser, he paid dearly for his hubris.

The French, it must be said, certainly did their best for their former nuclear reactor client.  The French foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin, anxious to keep up appearances, was also careful to inform the Iraqis that they

 “must cooperate actively. The country must comply immediately with the demands of Mr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei, in particular by:


– permitting meetings with Iraqi scientists without witnesses;


– agreeing to the use of U2 observer flights;


– adopting legislation to prohibit the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction;


– handing over to the inspectors immediately all relevant documents on unresolved disarmament questions, in particular in the biological and chemical domains; those handed over on January 20 do not constitute a step in the right direction. The 3000 pages of documents discovered at the home of a researcher show thatBaghdadmust do more. Absent documents,Iraqmust be able to present credible testimony.”

(I love that third recommendation: “adopting legislation to prohibit the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction”—as if any such law passed by Saddam’s rubber-stamp parliament would be anything but worthless)

De Villepin, now playing to the galleries of the anti-war, pro-Saddam audience at the UN—and turning 1441 on its head—was also clear on his prescribed cure for Saddam’s continued non-cooperation—more inspectors, apparently so that he could enlarge the crowd of them already camped outside buildings and scientists’ houses, waiting vainly for admittance, cooperation, and access to documents, Said De Villepin:

“Consistent with the logic of this resolution, we must therefore move on to a new stage and further strengthen the inspections. With the choice between military intervention and an inspections regime that is inadequate for lack of cooperation onIraq’s part, we must choose to strengthen decisively the means of inspection.


To do this, we must define with Mr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei the requisite tools for increasing their operational capabilities:


Let us double or triple the number of inspectors and open up more regional offices. Let us go further: Why not establish a specialized body to keep under surveillance the sites and areas already inspected?”

By gad, why not indeed?!

It does not seem to have occurred to De Villepin that his four-point plan for enlarging the inspection regime to compensate for Saddam’s non-cooperation would ultimately founder on Saddam’s non-cooperation. In any event, the conviction that Saddam was in material breach of 1441 and had WMD was shared not only by countries like France that opposed military action, but also shared all across the bipartisan spectrum in America.

I have always believed that it was a terrible mistake for the Bush administration to focus its entire case for war on WMD. Even if Saddam had possessed the WMD we thought he had, was there any certainty that they would even be found in a country that size? Did it not occur to anyone what would happen when we invaded a country on that ostensible purpose and they were not found? In any case, WMD alone did not justify Saddam’s removal. It was not just the weapons, but the technology and capabilities to produce them at any time, and the unstable, unpredictable megalomaniac sitting on the world’s second largest oil reserves who would sooner or later use them when he judged the moment propitious, that was a concern. And yet, even that was just one reason among many. And even if he were to die of natural causes, what then? We (and the Iraqi people) would have got the succession of his two sicker, even more psychotic sons—a duel dictatorship of Caligula and Fredo Corleone that would have promised even more instability, repression, and danger to the region.

That is my view. Certainly, people can honestly and reasonably disagree on the matter. For myself, I can only say this: I wish the world were not a dangerous place. But it is.

I believe in the primacy and beneficence of American power in this dangerous world, and would shudder to contemplate its absence. The UN ultimately fails in its stead because nations do not sacrifice their core interests for a collective foreign policy, do not sacrifice for others’ interests, and often misbehave in pursuing them. The best that can be got is that nations who share similar values and objectives can combine together for their common purposes: America, Britian, and Israel to defend law, freedom, and stability, the Russians and the Chinese to thwart them. American leadership is now more crucial than ever, and it cannot be said that we have presently got it.

The US, in my view, cannot escape responsibility for the breathtaking incompetence of its post-war administration and lack of foresight, and their failure to protect the Iraqi people from both the chaos that ensued following the military operation, and the murderous depredations of Al-Zarqawi and his like. Nor should they. But there is a moral distinction between trying and failing to protect, and deliberately planning and executing acts of indiscriminate mass-murder in the tens of thousands, and the attempts, aided and abetted by Iran, Syria and Al-Qaeda, to openly and unabashedly foment wholesale sectarian civil war and an even greater orgy of mass slaughter.

Said Bin-Laden in 2005: “Anyone who participates in these elections…has committed apostasy against Allah…their blood is permitted. They are apostates whose deaths should not be prayed over.”

Said Al-Zarqawi of the Sh’ia: “They are the lurking snakes and the crafty scorpions, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom, the most evil of mankind.”

The worst follies of the Americans and the coalition simply have nothing to compare with the nakedness of this nihilistic and unearthly evil.

Saddam was removed 12 years too late, but better late than never. The whole idea of allowing his regime to survive the first Gulf War was an unpardonable act of folly that brought unconscionable and unnecessary suffering to the people of Iraq, and would have continued to even if there was no invasion in 2003. After having invaded two countries in 10 years, we should have decided there and then that the existence of this regime was a catalyst for instability in an unstable and strategically vital region that could simply not be tolerated. At the very least we should have weakened him in 1991 to the extent that he could be overthrown, aided the resistance of the Sh’ia and the Kurds, and to have done everything possible to facilitate his overthrow. Instead, we granted Saddam a shameful cease-fire when we had him cornered, and betrayed the Sh’ia and the Kurds to his mass-murder. 20 years has not been nearly long enough to wipe away the shame and cowardice of that betrayal.

Saddam himself was reportedly amazed that the coalition gave him a ceasefire after ejecting him from Kuwait and eviscerating his forces in Southern Iraq, and hence allowed him to survive and re-assert his power. He surely knew all too well what he would have done were he in their place.

His survival showed strength and cunning, and our decision to allow it was weakness. He must have smelled that weakness from the first ceasefire in 1991. Dictators-terrorists like Saddam, Arafat, and Assad senior could always smell weakness a continent away, and once they get the scent, they know what to do with it. Once he gauged that weakness, and realized that we would not remove him, it was all over. The future would consist of futile attempts by the UN, UNSCOM, and others to court his compliance on this and that, all to no avail. Inspections, Oil for Food, fawning diplomats and gullible “human rights” groups coming to Baghdad to kiss his ring, he played them all like a virtuoso fiddler to considerable global applause, support, and profit, and to the eternal shame of the civilized world.

Yet, when all is said and done, who can blame him for getting away with so much when we, in fact, were the ones who let him? When did anyone teach him different? Again, is it any wonder that Bin Laden could view our risible appeasement of this ungovernable psychotic with all our wealth and power, and conclude that we were the “weak horse?”

No, it is not.


About the Author
Robert Werdine lives in Michigan City, Indiana, USA. He studied at Indiana University, Purdue University, and Christ Church College at Oxford and is self-employed. He is currently pursuing advanced degrees in education and in Middle Eastern Studies.