For the past couple of weeks, TV anchors have focused on an important question – Knowing what you know now, what do you say about President Bush’s 2003 intervention in Iraq? This is an emotional question for many and a polarizing one in today’s politics. But it is a critical question for America because the wrong answer to this question can seriously misguide US policy. It is also an important question because it highlights a critical facet of human thinking, wrong human thinking.
That element is extrapolation. The vast majority of people think in a continuous fashion, meaning along an unbroken deductive line of thinking. When they come to a gap, they simply extend their line of thinking across that gap. It is a fact that Saddam had managed the different ethnic, religious fissures of Iraq through his personality and brutal force. So extrapolative thinking argues that had Saddam not been removed by President Bush, he would have continued to manage Iraqi fissures effectively and Iraq would be an ISIS-free zone today.
Such extrapolative thinking is natural, simple, and works most of the time. It is, in essence, backward intelligence. That is why it invariably fails at important turning points of history.
The Arab Spring of 2011 was such an event. Everything in today’s Middle East derives from that event. Like the French Revolution, like the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s, the Sunni Arab uprising began with good objectives of well meaning people. But under that picturesque democratic cover, it became a Sunni revolution against “secular” rule that had delivered nothing to the people, especially to young men who were unemployed or severely underemployed. Like the French revolution or the Iranian revolution, the Arab Spring was almost guaranteed to go bad. And it did so very quickly by turning into a fervently religious Sunni trans-border movement that would soon spread to similarly ruled regimes.
That old order in the Arab world was rule of non-religious dictators. It’s first loss was in Libya. The overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime and the killing of Gaddafi assisted/managed by USA-Europe was pivotal. That success opened the floodgates of Sunni religious uprising. Next came the violent uprising of Sunnis against Assad of Syria which has now become nn unbelievably horrific murderous war of survival.
Assad is and has been a dictator, a non-religious dictator who controlled Syria like his father had with the brute force of his military and money. He had managed the various religious & ethnic fissures of Syria just as Gaddafi had managed them in Libya and just as Saddam had managed them in Iraq. Gaddafi, Assad & Saddam were three of a kind.
Neither President Bush nor anyone before him had invaded Libya or Syria. Gaddafi had given up his fledgling nuclear program and America had befriended Gaddafi. Secretary Hillary Clinton had praised him in her visit to Libya. But when protests began against Gaddafi, Western Europe turned on Gaddafi. Instead, of controlling Europe, the Obama Administration followed Europe and joined the European war against Gaddafi. European special forces assisted the rebels against Gaddafi’s military and a no-fly zone neutralized Gaddafi’s strengths. It was NATO that pointed the rebels to Gaddafi and they killed him. To use the famous Colin Powell expression, we “broke” Libya under our humanitarian mandate. Today’s Libya is a horrible mess.
Then came the bigger brother, Assad. The violent Sunni uprising against Assad was led by people who might be much worse than Assad’s people. It was evident from the beginning that Sunni Jihadists & Al Qaida were prominent in this war against a non-religious Baathist tyrant. The Obama Administration did not care because replacing Assad was seen as a “humanitarian” act. Intervening in Syria against Assad was difficult because the American people were leery of another invasion in the Middle East and because the American people hardly knew Assad. Even then, the “humanitarian” pressure for removing Assad was so strong that it made Secretary Kerry into an anti-Assad zealot. America was poised to attack Assad. It was Putin’s alacrity that saved us from that invasion and, for the first time, the US Congress became grateful to Putin.
Assad is a kid compared to Saddam. How would Saddam have reacted to the Arab Spring in his land? How brutal would his oppression had been? How many thousands of Sunni rebels would he have killed? How many Kurds would he have massacred for supporting the rebels against him? How many Shias would he have killed? Is there any doubt he would have used chemical weapons against his enemies?
How intense would have been the outrage within both “humanitarian” NeoLibs and activist NeoCons in America? And the American people had known since 1990 that Saddam was a real bad guy, a neo-Hitler. The Obama Administration could not have resisted this massive bipartisan pressure. The result would have been an invasion of Iraq by President Obama in 2012-2013. And that would have turned Iraq into something far worse than today’s Syria.
Even without an invasion of US troops, Iraq under Saddam Hussein would have become far far worse than Syria. Saddam would have invented excuses to massacre Kurds & Shias as he had done through out his rule. He probably would have attacked Iran to deflect the Sunni rage against him and to get support from Saudi Arabia. Iraq under Saddam Hussein would have become an utter hell for today’s Middle East, the mother of all religious and ethnic disasters. And America would have been dragged into that cauldron under noble humanitarian objectives.
Today’s Iraq is a far better place. About 75% of Iraq is stable & run by its people – Kurds in the Northern Kurdish areas and Shias in the Southern Shia areas. Even the Sunni leaders in the Sunni Anbar province would welcome a greater military role by the US. Try asking Libyans & Syrians whether they would welcome US troops in their lands. This stability and majority rule in Iraq keeps Saudi Arabia & Iran at arms length and acts as a buffer zone.
So knowing what we know now, knowing what we know what has happened in Libya, knowing what we know what is happening in Syria, knowing what we know about a massive Sunni religious invasive revival called ISIS, we feel grateful that Saddam Hussein is not running today’s Iraq and we thank President Bush for removing him from Iraq and this world.
President Bush took a big jump into the unknown by invading Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. No deductive reasoning could have led him to that decision. He had no foresight that an Arab Spring would engulf Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia in a violent invasive Sunni revival. He jumped into what seemed like an impetuous decision and created a mini-explosion of insurgency in Iraq. But he solved it in 2006 and when he left in 2008, Iraq had a stable government. What he gave Iraq was a rule of the majority, the rule of 60% Shia population of Iraq with a semi-autonomous rule of Kurds in their part of Iraq. It is this rule of Shia-Kurds in Iraq that keeps two thirds of Iraq safe from ISIS and prevents a direct Sunni-Shia war between Arabs & Iran.
In contrast, President Obama thought about the Arab Spring in a classically extrapolative fashion by extending his own beliefs about popular protests by people. He completely misread the nature of the Sunni revival and missed a very important turning point in the Middle East. You cannot fault him for thinking conventionally while you can blame President Bush for taking a non-deductive leap. But his leap turned out to be beneficial while President Obama’s careful analytical extrapolation turned out to be a big mistake. We know that today.
So, knowing what we know now, we say thank you President Bush for getting rid of Saddam Hussein.
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