Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Were We Right to Take Out Saddam?

Public opinion veers with every change in current conditions in Iraq.

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online
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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

22 Thoughts on “Were We Right to Take Out Saddam?

  1. The real error was the post-war appointment of a Civil US Governor.
    Successful rebuilding of Iraq should have been a Four Star General who was Middle East oriented and widely respected. The United States was successful in both Germany and Japan creating strong democratic governments, over time using this model.

  2. Rich on May 20, 2015 at 6:35 am said:

    As always, you summarize wonderfully the ups & downs of how our perceptions toward Iraq have changed repeatedly over the years, except for your final comment of our President’s “foolhardily” pulling out all our troops in 2011. If my memory serves me correctly, he was told by Nouri al-Maliki to pull them all out; and besides, with the Iranians next door with their 1,000,000 man Army ready to take us on at a moment’s notice (should the Israel’s attack their nuclear facilities), I’m not so sure that was such a bad thing to do.

    Anyway, the Iraqi’s are a very, very proud people who don’t want any foreign troops on their soil which is to their credit—just like us, I might add. And with our troops in a highly vulnerable place like Iraq especially, it didn’t seem to me for us to get the HELL out of there while we had the chance.

  3. Rocco Pirro on May 20, 2015 at 7:28 am said:

    Saddam would of had to of been taken out sooner or later. Can you imagine if Saddam had be left for Obama to deal with? Saddam would have a field day slapping Obama around, and, of course, the press would be blaming Bush for not taking him out.

    In my humble opinion, one of the big problems in waging the war in Iraq (and Afghanistan) were the politically correct Rules of Engagement. The RoE’s alone are responsible for many of the US casualties. If WWII were fought in a PC way, the scenario in the novel, ‘Man in the High Castle’ would be a reality. Anyway, right now, ISIS, is the reality They don’t know what PC is and they have no rules of engagement. While we debate wether or not Saddam should have been taken out, they are burning people at the stake and whacking off heads with impunity. In the meantime, Obama and his regime seem to have adopted the strategy of Alfred E. Newman…” What? Me Worry!”

  4. Friends of mine who served in the military did not approve of the war or the way it was prosecuted. However, on balance, I agree with VDH’s assessment because we cannot accurately know the landscape or Iraq had Saddam remained in power.
    A greater unavoidable problem was that we turned the governance of Iraq over to members of the human race and the government subsequent to Saddam was inept.
    Had Iraq produced men of the same caliber as our founding fathers, the middle East would be a different place today.
    We won our war of 1812. They failed their first big test.

  5. This is an excellent review, which allows the facts to speak for themselves. Two further things might be added: though the invasion of Iraq was overall popular, the noisy anti-Bush campaign began immediately, with highly exaggerated reports of destruction of irreplaceable antiques, pounding the failure to produce WMDs, and severe criticism of the US invaders for failing to immediately find the vast supplies of conventional military hardware that Saddam had stashed in various hiding places. Poison gas became, as it still is, a weapon of mass destruction or not depending on one’s politics at the moment.

  6. p. s. That seems to be three things rather than two. One should remember to proofread before posting!

  7. linnea on May 20, 2015 at 7:59 am said:

    It’s sad seeing so many people on the right begin to implode due to the relentless pressure placed on them by the Left regarding the invasion of Iraq. 99% of the Senate voted to approve the removal of Saddam fulfilling the Clinton mandate the 1998 Iraqi Liberation Act.

    Saddam ignited two brutal wars, committed three separate genocides ( the Kurds, Marsh Arabs and the Shia of the south ) and was directly culpable for three of the largest and most destructive eco-terrorist attacks the world has even known. Those being the 600 plus oil wells he set on fire during the Gulf War which burned for seven months spewing poison into the environment on a cataclysmic scale, the total destruction of the central marshlands of Iraq in his attempt to efface the Marsh Arab population. Over 7,500 square miles of marshland was wiped out and Saddam keeping his threat to spill crude oil from Kuwait’s reserves into the Persian Gulf. He followed through on that promise in late January 1991 by spilling between 4,000,000 to 6,000,000 barrels into the Persian Gulf. All three acts of eco-terror were conducted without any protest from environmental movements.

    As Mr. Hanson mentioned above Saddam’s refusal to follow the agreements for the cease fire in 1991 for Saddam to remain in power were long ago trashed by his regime. The UN also has a mandate in its own charter to stop genocide (CPPCG ) which gave the UN every right to remove Saddam from power. But lets investigate deeper as to the true nature of the regime under Saddam. Was it really a secular entity crushing Islamist movements?

    Saddam’s Iraq was secular for a few decades, but as time passed and his regime became more sadistic and unstable he began to caress radical Islam into his own structure of power. In 1991 Saddam placed “Allahu Akbar” on the national flag and began a campaign to encourage his high ranking officers and other aspects of his regime to embrace Islam. This was a very onerous turn and something many overlook today as to the leadership of ISIS who’s military arm is run by former Saddam generals and officers. Saddam began to openly finance suicide bombers against Israel, reached out to al Qaeda figures in the Sudan and allowed Ansar al Islam to operate in Iraq murdering the Kurdish leadership. When Ansar al Islam terrorists were arrested after the 2003 invasion, we discovered their passports were all stamped with Iraqi visas! Not only did Saddam know they were in Iraq, but he made it legal as well. Of course Saddam also allowed al-Qaeda’s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to operate in Iraq long before Bush invaded in 2003. The U.S. 2006 Senate Report on Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq reported that Al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad from May until late November 2002. By March 2003 according to British intelligence, Zarqawi’s network had set up sleeper cells in Baghdad to resist an expected U.S. occupation of Iraq. See a connection yet? I sure do….Some of the earliest truck bomb attacks by the “insurgents” in Baghdad were traced back to Iraqi intelligence vehicles.

    Saddam also cultivated his own terrorist army known as the Fedayeen Saddam which was created in 1995 under the leadership of his raping sadist son Uday. These men were to carry out suicide raids and terror bombings at Saddam’s will. Overwhelmingly these were the main force behind the insurgency after the 2003 invasion along with about 5000 to 10,000 plus foreign fighters of which 60% did the dirty work. We see this today with ISIS who make most of the foreign fighters do the fighting and dying not the Iraqi members of ISIS. See a pattern yet? In 2007 25,000 inmates were in American detention centers in Iraq. Of those, only about 290, or some 1.2 percent, were foreigners. Which means they were mostly being killed on the battlefield or fleeing the country.

    The Fedayeen Saddam man power stood between 30,000 to 40,000 members and foreign fighters were no more a little more than 5000. The Iraqi insurgency at its max had about 30,000 fighters. Remember, several thousand Fedayeen Saddam fighters were most likely killed during the initial invasion or some just ran. They were replaced with outsiders. By the end of the surge we killed almost 20,000 insurgents in total.
    Al-Qaeda in Iraq ( along with the insurgency ) was decimated.

    In the end removing our forces from Iraq in 2012 will go down as the reason alone Iraq fell to the barbarians at the gate. As we collectively are about the witness the sacking of Baghdad, lets never forget Iraq was a great success by 2012. A nation was moved from the sadistic leadership of a genocidal mass murderer to a new democracy. But I think Obama in the end understood that only aided the camp of his political enemies. I’m sure he saw it to his political advantage to allow Iraq to fall to the wolves and point the finger at 2003.

    • Excellent comment with useful facts; and I’m glad that someone is highlighting the eco terrorism angle for once. Islamic societies have an appalling record in preserving the natural environment of the countries they conquer, and yet, a lot of the so-called ‘Green’ people, are the first to rush to the defence of Islam. Do they have any sense of history? It seems not.

    • Thanks for the additional background on that period in history. One is supposed to believe today that our actions back then were a knee jerk reaction to WMD.

  8. Empress Trudy on May 20, 2015 at 8:34 am said:

    My response would be decidedly un-PC. To whit – “It’s never an entirely bad idea to topple and kill one of these genocidal fascist maniacs”. Now one can argue how the ‘peace’ unraveled but the short blunt certainty of kicking over the murderous Baath regime shouldn’t be something anyone considers a bad thing. Do we, after all, worry about how the Vietnamese managed the post Khmer Rouge era after they stormed into Cambodia and toppled Pol Pot? No of course not. Was it chaotic? Yes but compared to the Khmer Rouge anything, objectively, factually anything, anything you could do or think of would have been an improvement.

  9. Pingback: Hold your punches and let the other guy have a chance!

  10. Joe D'Agostino on May 20, 2015 at 10:59 am said:

    The question were we right to take out Saddam is complicated by the difference between means and ends. As documented there was a consensus that a world with Saddam in control of Iraq was a better world. The war was such a success in the short term that the long term failures and unintended side effects seem inevitable, yet there were many foreign policy experts that recognized the power vacuum in Irag that would result was the central problem and it was our decision to intervene without a proper policy in place that is the main reason I think we were wrong to take out Saddam in the way we did.

    • Joe D'Agostino on May 20, 2015 at 7:40 pm said:

      “a world with Saddam in control of Iraq was a better world.” should read
      a world with Saddam not in control of Iraq was a better world.”

  11. Eric on May 20, 2015 at 11:50 am said:

    It was not preordained to end this way. Rumsfeld’s arrogance played a major part in the descent into chaos. Had we stuck with CENTCOM’s plan, planned for and resourced stability operations, and perhaps most significantly, had Paul Bremer not disbanded the Baath party ad the Iraqi army…..

  12. As it has always been for the last 60 to 70 years, the true blunder of the Iraq War was the media. Every terrorist insurgency aims to attack unarmed civilians in the hope that the media will blame their opponent. For political reasons the media was all too eager to comply.

    Our strategy and tactical implementation was not flawless, but our society is way too unsophisticated to understand the difficulty caused by such an unethical insurgency. To add insult to injury, its violence is justified through the manipulation of the media and “democratic” activists (No Justice, No Peace).

    We should start blaming our enemies for our troubles when they behave so barbarically. At this rate we will never be able to fight an effective war again unless we ally ourselves to a totalitarian Communist government…

  13. Rufus T Firefly on May 20, 2015 at 12:54 pm said:

    Kill 1.3 million people, bankrupt the economy, destroy countless antiquities, leave the country in a shambles. Only a fool like Hanson would even begin to argue it was a good thing

  14. Movie Dialogue – Ben Hur, 1959

    Pontius Pilate to Ben Hur, regarding Messala…

    “What he did had its way with him. Where there is greatness, great government or power, even great feeling or compassion; error also is great. We progress and mature by fault.”

    Allies who lost limb or life or suffered in this and other Western causes… suffered not in vain. We in the West, learn from mistakes and grow… (if we kick out mental Progtards who never learn but replicate all stupidity.)

  15. LBascom on May 20, 2015 at 5:26 pm said:

    Jeb should have replied “you mean knowing Obama would pull all American forces out and hand the country over to ISIS? Then no. If America had a competent president now that would have followed through in Americas interests, then yes”

  16. David Park on May 21, 2015 at 9:28 am said:

    Always wondering about two points. Was Saddam a threat to Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, with all the possibilities that would have had for certain economies if he controlled them? Were there really any nuclear weapon supplies or devices that were moved out of Iraq (to where?) before the invasion?

  17. linnea on May 22, 2015 at 3:44 pm said:

    I should also add that John Burns who was the New York Times chief in Baghdad during the war wrote an article in then Times around 2008 or 2009 that Saddam had a close and active relationship with insurgents long before Bush was even elected. Inluding terror organizations.

    I don’t think it was a mistake removing Saddam, even Bush did make some major mistakes during the occupation. Leaving Iraq in 2012 without keeping a a strong force behind will be seen as a tragic error.

    After America defeated Japan in 1945 communists began running wild through Japan causing great political unrest from strikes to riots. They got close to taking Japan in to the red camp. It was General McArthur who put an end to the instability. If we just up and ran in 45 46 Japan could have been lost to Stalin. Imagine that! After all the blood and treasure to take Japan if America up and ran itwwould have only benefited Stalin. This is what happened to Iraq.

    Baghdad is going to fall, there’s no hope now under the administration.

  18. Pingback: Catching Up With Victor Davis Hanson | American Elephants

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