If Saddam was the cork bottling up all the chaos that later came rushing out, he was certainly a very leaky cork. Did Saddam “balance” Iran during the ’80s, or did he start a war that claimed more than half a million lives? When the Iraqi Kurds were fighting a civil war in the mid-’90s, were the Baathists offering their regional balancing services, or were they fueling the bloodshed? When Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, was blowing up embassies, hijacking planes, and killing U.S. servicemen, where were the Baathists and why weren’t they holding these Shia radicals in check?
Hussein was not a U.S. ally and he did nothing at all to shape the region in our favor. Nor could any sane assessment of his 24-year official reign conclude that he was in any imaginable way a stabilizing force in the region. Yet, the popular view today is that if President Bush had only left him alone, two of the Middle East’s biggest problems—Iran and Islamic extremism—would be solved.
Sen. Marco Rubio is correct when he says the world is better off for the United States’ removing Hussein from power. This should not be controversial. Given everything we know about the Baathist regime, we have every reason to believe the past 12 years would have been significantly worse with Saddam still in control of Iraq.
The Arab Spring almost certainly would have been a blood bath; there would be no promising seed of democracy growing in Tunisia, or potential reformer in Egypt; we would not be talking about a potential Kurdish state, but more likely of a Kurdish genocide; Iran would not even be pretending to negotiate an end to its nuclear program, but would be arming to the teeth to “balance” Saddam; Qaddafi would not have relinquished his weapons of mass destruction program, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb likely would be in possession of them today; terrorists with international reach would likely be benefitting from Saddam’s support; at the very least American counter-terror forces would find the Middle East a much more challenging environment to conduct their work. And without question Iraq would be in a far worse state than it is today.