The rise of ISIS has shattered America’s hopes for a pro-Western, stable, and democratic Middle East. The Bush administration’s hubris in thinking this can be accomplished by supporting “the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world” is partly to blame. The blowback from the Iraq war has reached a new magnitude with the rise of ISIS, democracy in most parts of the Middle East seems impossible.
Had the U.S. not supported overthrowing a corrupt but stable secular dictator in favor of an unstable and corrupt democracy, ISIS could never have blossomed. Saddam Hussein would have been one of the strongest opponents of ISIS.
Saddam Hussein was an evil man. However, through the support of his military he was able to bring some sense of order to Iraq. With his overthrow, we exchanged one evil we knew for a million evils we did not.
Even with all his wickedness, Saddam never forced the Yazidis to starve on a mountain, traded their daughters as sex slaves, made it illegal to be Christian, or allowed a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites. He also never allowed radical Islam’s presence in Iraq.
He hated the Islamists; he would often execute their religious leaders. Saddam never allowed Al Qaeda’s presence in Iraq. America may be the “great Satan” but radical Islam posed the greatest threat to Saddam, and he knew it.
As the New York Times put it right before the 2003 invasion, “Mr. Hussein has remained true to the unwritten rules of state sponsorship of terror: never get involved with a group that cannot be controlled.”
His death was the end of Iraq. National identity was wrapped in Saddam. Allawi, his successors, and democracy have not filled the void. Common culture and national identity are vital to keeping a nation together. When Iraq’s army folded against ISIS last June it showed the Iraqis have no will to defend the new nation that was forced upon them. After Saddam all that’s left are artificial borders, rising tension between Sunnis and Shiites, and the oil-rich Kurds seeking independence.
Former Iraqi, Saif Al-Azzawi despised Saddam but believes extremist group like the Islamic State would exist under his rule.
Only Saddam could have stopped ISIS’ advance into Mosul. Just as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers laid down their lives against their fellow Shiites in the Iran-Iraq War, thousands more would die fighting their fellow Sunnis who fill ISIS’s ranks.
The strength and size of ISIS is due to Saddam’s absence, which fueled ISIS’s growth. Baath Party members have helped militarize the Islamic State during their invasion of northwest Iraq. Sunni militants also worked with ISIS in Mosul, rounding up as many as 60 senior ex-military officers.
Without reinforcements from former Baath Party members, ISIS wouldn’t have been able to take Mosul. Saddam’s armies would have smashed ISIS and aided his ally in Syria bringing an end to the bloody civil war.
American leaders are still committed to the foreign policy blunder of worshipping democracy at all cost, even as the heirs to secular dictatorships are far worse for regional security and tribal cohesion. Both America and her allies could benefit by accepting certain realistic truths about democracy’s shortcomings, people’s tribal nature, and learn to deal with the devils we know.