"Saddam has done nothing to us."
This line jumped out at me while I was reading a Philadelphia Enquirer article by Don Harrison entitled, "Capture still does not justify Iraq war," referring, of course, to the capture this weekend of Saddam Hussein. The article's author goes on to explain that while Saddam is "a vile monster" and that it is a good thing that he will be brought to justice, "his capture does not, in any way, justify our ill-advised, ill-timed, ill-planned act of aggression."
Well, obviously. If the second Iraq war was indeed a stupid act of aggression, what could possibly justify it?
But that phrase "the second Iraq war" should give us pause. For, if the second Iraq war was an act of aggression, can the same be said about the first Iraq war? Was it too an act of aggression on the part of the United States?
This is something that most liberal critics of the second Iraq war would like for us to forget -- that this war is part of a historical process that began with Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, and cannot be understood apart from it. Before they can condemn the second Iraq war as an act of aggression, they had best go back and reflect on the origins of the first Iraq war.
The first Iraq war began because one man, Saddam Hussein, wished to acquire the oil fields of his neighbor, and he used the army that he had built up with his country's own oil revenue in order to do this. Had he been permitted to succeed in this venture, it is certain that he would have used this new source of revenue in order to build up an even larger army that he could have then used to gobble up all the other militarily weak but oil rich Arab states in his vicinity, including Saudi Arabia, until the day arrived when he controlled all the oil fields of the middle East, at which time he could have commanded a virtually unlimited source of revenue that he could have directed to whatever aggressive purposes he thought best -- a rather large amount of power to put into the hands of "a vile monster."
There is nothing fanciful about this scenario at all. In fact, the pertinent question to ask is, Why didn't it happen? Certainly not because Saddam Hussein lacked the will or the ruthlessness to do such a thing; and certainly not because he didn't possess sufficient staying power -- his survival twelve years after the first Iraq war has demonstrated that he had plenty of that, plus a large dollop of sheer dumb luck. Nor is it conceivable that he would have been stopped by the united moral protest of the rest of the world or by a host of condemnatory resolutions offered by the UN.
There was only one way that Saddam Hussein could possibly have been kept from following this trajectory of aggression, and that was by the application of overwhelming force. And there was only one nation on our planet that had the means and the will to use this force, and that was the United States.
Now let us suppose that, back in 1991, the American President and the American public had said, "Saddam has done nothing to us. He has only invaded a far away insignificant little country -- what difference can this possibly make to our own well being?" What would have happened then? Is it remotely conceivable that the rest of the world would have lifted a finger to stop Saddam Hussein, if the United States had been itself unwilling to shoulder the bulk of the burden of defeating him?
Today we look back and we know how easily Saddam's forces were defeated in the first Iraqi war; but prior to the war, we did not know this; nor did France, or Germany, or the United Nations. At that time the phrase "the mother of all battles" had not been relegated to the realm of fabled nonsense, but invoked the specter of thousands and thousands of dead American soldiers -- and, quite possibly, dead by chemical or biological weapons.
Which leads us to something else we forget, namely, that unless America had acted then, no one would ever have known what a paper tiger Saddam Hussein's army really was, and today, rather than being a powerless old man held captive by the United States, Saddam Hussein would have been sitting on top of the world, his vast armies undefeated and his oil revenues sufficient to buy an arsenal of WMD's.
And, yes, all of this could have easily happened without Saddam Hussein having ever done a single thing to hurt a single American. For the only thing the United States would have needed to do in order to assure this result would have been to do nothing -- to simply let him have his way, absorbing one oil rich nation after another.
But the United States did stop him -- stopped him the only way it could, by sending our sons and daughters halfway across the world to be shot at and gassed and bombed -- and if, thank God, our dead was reckoned only in the hundreds, and not the thousands, it was certainly not because Saddam Hussein intended them no harm. Had it been within his power to do so, he would have annihilated every last American soldier.
That is why the statement "Saddam has done nothing to us" jumped out at me. For how could a man write such a line who had even the vaguest recollections of the first Iraq war? How was it possible that an event so recent could be so completely forgotten?
Then I realized that those who wish to see the second Iraq war as an act of aggression must force themselves to forget all about the first Iraq war, simply because, if they remembered it for even a split second, they would have to go back and question their own cherished assumptions. For, in truth, America fought the first Iraq war to keep the liberal world order envisioned by the United Nations charter from falling into utter ruin and chaos. If nations can simply begin to annex their weaker neighbors at will, merely to increase their own economic and military power, then the United Nations is reduced to the impotency of the League of Nations; and, after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, this is precisely what would have happened, had the United States not been prepared to act decisively.
By shouldering the burden of the first Iraq war, the United States exposed itself as a target of Saddam's revenge in a way that no other nation did. We became numero uno on his hit list -- not the United Nations, or France, or Germany, or Russia, though they had all been part of the first coalition, but us.
Saddam's eternal hatred was the price we paid for upholding the tenets of liberal internationalism, for refusing to allow him to set off on the path of conquest.
Did Saddam Hussein have anything to do with 9/11? Yes, he applauded it. He hailed it. He thought it was just the kind of thing that we had coming to us. He relished seeing American citizens killed because it had been American citizens who kept him from his path of aggression; and he knew that they would be willing to do this again, if the time came.
It is dangerous to have such an enemy. For no matter how weakened you may think he is, he always possesses some means of avenging himself on those he hates. And Saddam, or his sons, would have one day found such a way.