Donald Trump said on Meet the Press yesterday that the Middle East would be a more stable place if Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi were still in power. For once, Trump answered a question about the Middle East more or less correctly. The Middle East would be more stable if Saddam and Qaddafi held true power in Iraq and Libya.
But the question is whether, absent foreign intervention, Saddam and Qaddafi would hold true power. Qaddafi might. The evidence is that the war against him was petering out until NATO joined the fight.
In Iraq’s case, it seems unlikely that Saddam would have made it through the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the continued rise of Iran still governing a stable, intact Iraq. In a time of turbulence, Saddam’s position was probably untenable because Sunnis are a minority in Iraq.
Most likely, in the absence of our intervention the situation in Iraq would resemble that in Syria. Assad has been unable to hold his country together even with the help of Iran and Russia. Why assume that Saddam would have accomplished this in Iraq?
And make no mistake, the situation in Syria, where the U.S. has not intervened, is the biggest driver of instability in the Middle East. ISIS, its predecessor having been largely defeated in Iraq, arose out of Syria. Its capital city is in Syria. A majority of the territory it holds is in Syria. The current refugee crisis stems mostly from Syria. The death toll in Syria is said to be around 250,000.
If the U.S. had taken out Assad years ago, one can almost hear Trump saying now that the Middle East would be a more stable place if Assad were still in power. The fallacy of such a statement — the assumption that Syria wouldn’t have deteriorated under the one-time strong man — mirrors the fallacy of his comment on Meet the Press.
Rick Moran at PJ Media says that “arguing counterfactual outcomes to history is an exercise in futility” because “no one knows what would have happened if we didn’t fight a war with either Libya or Iraq.” There’s some truth in that.
We do know, however, that having fought a war in Iraq that nation was relatively stable six years ago. Instability returned after President Obama pulled U.S. forces out. The purveyor of the instability was a force that swept in from Syria where we did not intervene.
Trump fails to make a persuasive case that U.S. intervention has produced instability in the Middle East.