On Saddam Hussein, Donald Trump Is Dead Wrong
Given its length, the Chilcot report will address many subjects. One that will likely receive minimal attention will be the actual overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, a military success of stunning scope and effectiveness, achieved in just three weeks. By eliminating Saddam’s threat to Middle Eastern peace and security, the 2003 invasion fully justified itself. Leaving him in power would have all but guaranteed further conflict with other Arab states, and a resumed quest for weapons of mass destruction.
But rather than considering the alternative history of Saddam still pursuing WMD and threatening Israel and the region’s oil-producing monarchies, we will hear again about “dodgy dossiers” and US/UK intelligence failures regarding Iraq’s WMD capabilities. I will make only two points on intelligence issues.
First, intelligence can underestimate as well as overestimate a threat. UN inspectors in 1991 were stunned how close Iraq was to producing nuclear weapons before its programme was dismantled. Remember Eisenhower’s famous contingency note in case the D-Day invasion failed: “My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available.”
Second, as America’s Silberman-Robb Commission stressed (in March, 2005, no less), the critical error regarding chemical weapons was believing Saddam’s post-1991 declarations of extensive stockpiles. Iraq resisted repeated UN efforts to verify its claim of destroying its chemical weapons, leading everyone, from Hans Blix to Tony Blair to conclude in 2003 the opposite. In fact, Saddam lied about his capabilities and about trashing them. Had he stayed in power, he would today have even larger chemical stockpiles. His “nuclear mujahideen,” the 3,000 scientists and technicians he had retained, would have recreated his nuclear-weapons programme.
Since Chilcot will tediously prove yet again that hindsight is 20:20, let me strike pre-emptively: we should not have invaded Iraq in 2003. Instead, we should have finished the job in 1991 after ridding Kuwait of Iraqi aggressors. We were told then that Arab coalition members, especially Syria’s Assad dictatorship, would object to overthrowing Saddam. Perhaps they were seriously worried they were next. Too bad they weren’t. And there would have been no question of any Iraqi WMD after 1991.
In addition, some non-Arab allies might have balked at exceeding the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 678’s authorisation to use force. Here, the Chilcot report’s much-predicted criticism of Mr Blair for not obtaining a comparable resolution in 2003 will resonate among London’s High Minded.
Of course, these same High Minded opposed Brexit. What is it about self-government that troubles them so much? While an overgeneralisation, there is considerable truth to the observation that Europeans (or at least European lawyers) constantly ask whether states are authorised to take this action or that internationally. Americans ask rather whether anything forbids them from acting. Resolution 678 was politically useful in 1991, but hardly required. And once obtained, nothing further was necessary in 2003
Why did we expel Iraq from Kuwait in 1991 and overthrow Saddam in 2003? We did it because it was vital to America’s national security to protect our interests and our allies in the Persian Gulf and worldwide. Did we act because the Security Council let us? Would we have acted differently had the council voted against us? Certainly not. We do not play “Mother, may I?” with our security. Neither should you.
The war’s opponents point to today’s chaos in the region and ascribe it to Saddam’s overthrow. That conveniently ignores the tidal wave of radical Islamic ideology that was already rising in the twentieth century’s last decades, and now continues unabated, Saddam or no Saddam. It also misses the West’s devastating failure to stop Iran pursuing nuclear weapons. Bumbling diplomacy has legitimised terrorism’s bankers in Tehran, affording them a clear path to deliverable nuclear warheads on their own timetable.
Iraq today suffers not from the 2003 invasion, but from the 2011 withdrawal of all US combat forces. What strengthened Iran’s hand in Iraq was not the absence of Saddam, but the absence of coalition troops with a writ to crush efforts by the ayatollahs to support and arm Shi’ite militias. When US forces left, the last possibility of Iraq succeeding as a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional state left with them. Don’t blame Tony Blair and George W. Bush for that failure. Blame their successors.
John Bolton is a former US ambassador to the United Nations. This article was originally published by The Daily Telegraph.