Not only is this old news, but it’s old news I’ve written about multiple times. Why cover it again? Because: It can’t be stressed enough that as bad as the current nuclear standoff with Iran is, it could have been that much worse if a certain nutjob wild card was still part of the international deck.

Hussein’s fear of Iran, which he said he considered a greater threat than the United States, featured prominently in the discussion about weapons of mass destruction. Iran and Iraq had fought a grinding eight-year war in the 1980s, and Hussein said he was convinced that Iran was trying to annex southern Iraq — which is largely Shiite. “Hussein viewed the other countries in the Middle East as weak and could not defend themselves or Iraq from an attack from Iran,” Piro recounted in his summary of a June 11, 2004, conversation.

“The threat from Iran was the major factor as to why he did not allow the return of UN inspectors,” Piro wrote. “Hussein stated he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions of the United States for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq.”

Hussein noted that Iran’s weapons capabilities had increased dramatically while Iraq’s weapons “had been eliminated by the UN sanctions,” and that eventually Iraq would have to reconstitute its weapons to deal with that threat if it could not reach a security agreement with the United States.

I’ve never seen a what-if counterfactual about what the state of nuclear weapons in the Middle East would be right now if Saddam was still in charge in Iraq. Would there be international sanctions on him and Iran or would there be an international split between western nations over whom to support? Would Iran have scaled down its program for fear of another war with Saddam or as a concession to the west to get it to side with Tehran against Baghdad? Or would it have ramped up the program further in an out-and-out arms race with Iraq? Considering that the Iranian nuclear program was discovered in 2002, how much longer would Saddam have waited before restarting his own program? Once he did restart it, would that have reduced his pariah status in the region as neighboring Sunni nations rallied to his side against the Shiites? Or would it have set off mass nuclear proliferation across the region as Sunni leaders confronted the prospect of being threatened by Iran or the guy who tried to annex Kuwait? It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario in which the region would be in better shape with a nuclear-armed Saddam lurking, but if any lefties want to try to convince me, have at it.

Elsewhere in WaPo, John Bolton says it’s time for the IAF to attack Iran’s nuclear sites. I’d wait a bit longer in case Mousavi and the green revolution find their second wind and somehow knock out the mullahs, but his point about attacking at a moment when the public has never been more disaffected with the regime is well taken. The fear that striking Iran would drive Iranians back into the arms of the government has always been a deterrent, but in light of the schism over the past two weeks, it’s hard to imagine that happening. There’s no longer a relationship between the people and their rulers; such is the hatred, in fact, that I wonder how many of them would secretly thrill to seeing the Revolutionary Guard’s nose bloodied. It’s a gamble, but the odds really never have been better.

Tags: Middle East