Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy. His next book, Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians, is due out on June 26 from Simon & Schuster.
There’s one mantra that is thoroughly embedded in all the debates surrounding the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Everyone seems to agree that, whatever one might think about that military adventure, at least it got rid of Saddam Hussein. This is embraced equally by proponents of the invasion, bent on bolstering their argument that the invasion was a good idea; and by opponents, seeking to counter suggestions that they are heartless and can’t see a tyrant when one is staring them in the face.
But the fundamental question isn’t whether Saddam’s fall and death was a positive good (the answer is obviously yes) but whether getting rid of him was worth the price that came due once that invasion was unfurled. Here, the answer is no. The world is a messy place, and one messy reality that emanates from it is that the positive benefit of Saddam’s demise is far outweighed by the negative costs inherent in destroying him. This is clearly true for the United States and the surrounding Middle East, and probably true for the Iraqi people as well.
To understand the U.S. interest involved, it helps to cast our attention back to the period immediately after the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks on America and the celebration that ensued in various quarters of the Middle East. Those events made clear that America was at war with Islamic fundamentalism, which was bent on destroying American interests and American lives wherever possible. It was, in the words of the late Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington, a “clash of civilizations.”..