Via Mediaite, an easy lay-up here for a guy who (a) warned the world about Saddam’s WMD threat more than once as president, (b) cautiously declined to take a firm position against the war at the time, and (c) is of course married to someone who cast a vote in the Senate to invade.
But never mind that. This is an interesting counterfactual: What would have happened to Iraq during the Arab Spring and Syrian uprising if Saddam had endured? Clinton implicitly assumes that ISIS advancing on Baghdad is the worst possible outcome of the past 10 years, which is the smart play politically when your wife’s desperate to appease the anti-war left en route to her party’s nomination. Is it true, though? Assume that Egyptians had toppled Mubarak in 2011 with Saddam watching from Baghdad. At a minimum, he would have cracked down hard on Iraq’s Shiites to suppress an insurrection before it caught fire, and if you know anything about the 1991 Shiite uprising, you know how much blood a Saddam “crackdown” could draw. Meanwhile, maybe the Sunnis across the border in Syria, inspired by Mubarak’s ouster, still would have revolted against Assad. What would have been Saddam’s move then? He could have come to Assad’s rescue, one Baathist defending another from a rebellion in the name of protecting autocracy, but his relations with Assad were poor so he may well have stood pat — in which case Iran might have moved to defend Assad, fearing that the Sunnis in Syria would overrun the Shiite regime just as Saddam was crushing the Shiites in Iraq. That would have put Iranian forces on two of Iraq’s borders, an encirclement Saddam couldn’t tolerate. In which case, maybe he’d throw in with Syria’s Sunnis in the name of bleeding Iran. He wasn’t above cooperating with terrorists when it served his interests; in fact, one of his chief henchmen is rumored to be working with ISIS right now against Maliki. Would a long proxy war in Syria, with Saddam and Sunni jihadis on one side and Iran, Hezbollah, and Assad on the other, have been better or worse for the region? The virtue of it, such as it is, is that it would have kept a gigantic mess of degenerates fighting with each other instead of thinking about America. What the death toll would have looked like, though, heaven only knows. That’s the thing about the Middle East — there’s really no such thing as a good outcome. That’s the point Clinton should have made vis-a-vis the hubris of the U.S. invasion, not raising a counterfactual that relies on Saddam Hussein as some sort of moderating force.
Exit question: How would Saddam have reacted over the past 10 years to his archenemies in Iran bringing thousands of new uranium centrifuges online?