What If We Had Just Waited for the Iraqis to Topple Hussein?
With protesters toppling dictators left and right in the Arab world, it turns out that Middle East experts were right in anticipating that the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings would lead to a "domino effect" in the region. Following a brief visit to Egypt on February 13, Russian envoy to the Middle East Alexander Saltanov said, "The contacts during our visit showed that at least some regional leaders do not expect a swift way out from this phase of development in the Middle East." Adding: "The leaders of these countries and some others believe the process will gain momentum."
And gain momentum it has. Ben Ali is gone in Tunisia, as is Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. In Bahrain, protesters continue to violently clash with Prime Minister Khalifa ibn Salman Al Khalifa, while in Libya, Muammar Gaddafi has taken to bombing his own citizens in an effort to squelch their revolt. Even people in Iran, who faced rampant arrests and death during post-election protests in 2009, are back on the streets, once again risking their lives to kick out the iron-fisted regime.
In other words, a world-changing, all encompassing uprising in the Middle East isn't only possible, it's happening right now—it's also going on mostly without American interference.
On March 19, 2003, then-President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, citing a need to secure Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction "in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat" and promote freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Since then, despite the fact that Bush declared combat operations in Iraq "ended" in May 2003, the troops still fighting there have called the war "unwinnable." Reports show the Bush administration had no real strategy for after Hussein fell, thus the country fell into chaos.
Insurgents killed hundreds at a time, and 500 American soldiers were dead by February 2004. Then, in March 2004, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix outright called America's war in Iraq "illegal."
More than 3,500 U.S. soldiers have now been killed in combat in Iraq, and that's not including the hundreds of troops who've killed themselves. On top of that, the human rights project Iraq Body Count estimates that nearly 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the start of the war.
Given what they've been through, it's no wonder Iraqi citizens, like their Arab neighbors, have taken to the streets in the past few weeks to protest their new, awfully corrupt government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But it's important to consider the increasingly relevant argument that Iraqis might very well have toppled Hussein themselves in time. Inspired by the notable coups of their nearby comrades, perhaps they would have risen up on their own until Hussein, his sons, and his henchmen fled for good.
Sure, it's almost certain that Hussein, like he had before, and like Gadaffi is doing now, would have responded by slaughtering his own citizens. But our government has presided over the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi innocents at this point—men, women, and children—and we've spent hundreds of billions of dollars in the process. A grassroots Iraqi revolution—even a bloody one—would almost certainly have been less costly.
We don't know what would be happening in Iraq if we hadn't invaded the country. That fact should haunt George W. Bush for the rest of his life.