Commentary produced for the Defense Media Review.
According to a survey conducted by the University of Washington in Seattle and an international research team, approximately 500,000 Iraqis died during the U.S.-led invasion and occupation between 2003 and 2011.
The military advances by ISIS forces have been facilitated by the power vacuum created by the end of Saddam Hussein’s reign and the failure to establish a strong Iraqi national government. Many leaders are now privately asking themselves whether the cost has been worth the resulting chaos.
The “He may be a bastard, but at least he’s our bastard” line of thought was a central tenant to US foreign policy during the Cold War, as displayed in our support of corrupt so-called “democratic” governments, such as those in South Vietnam or various Central and South American nations. This polarized America politically, with conservatives supporting such an approach to foreign policy, and the countercultural left who opposed it.
I freely admit, opposition to the “He’s our bastard” approach to foreign policy formed a basis of my personal political philosophy for much of my life; however, the events since 9/11 have caused many to reconsider their positions — including myself.
First, I hasten to point out that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Iraq wasn’t involved, nor did it harbor or train any of the terrorists. In fact, the invasion was actually an expression of decades long liberal desires to move the US away from the “At least he’s our bastard” approach to one where we plant the seeds of democracy and use the military to fight tyranny, not support it — so, the invasion was ultimately given birth by both factions of American politics.
However, in the nearly 15 years following 9/11, after the excesses of the terrorist actions against civilians by Al Qaida, the Taliban, and now ISIS, we must ask ourselves the question, “Would this have happened if Saddam had remained in power?” It's the sort of question that must be asked, but at the same time leaves us a little queasy.
I propose that in these bleeding border regions between violently opposing cultural, political, and religious groups, sometimes bastards are needed.
The Arab Spring brought mixed results. There are chances for real democratic successes in some of those nations, but others, Syria in particular, have resulted in a civil war that has led the way to the rise of ISIS, which also rose to power due to the political chaos of what is at least an incompetent and at worst a corrupt government in the now liberated Iraq.
What the Arab Spring experience has shown us is that true democratic reforms can only come from the people themselves, it cannot be thrust upon them by force of arms, no matter how sincere our intentions.
However, this also begs the question, “Are a few thousand deaths a year in Iraq under Saddam Hussein worth the over half a million deaths that resulted because of the invasion?”
The simple fact of the matter may be that democracy sometimes needs a bastard.
Recall the 15th Century prince of legend, Vlad Dracula who traded the Ottoman’s atrocity for atrocity in a desperate attempt to hold the land-hungry Muslim empire at bay. Was he a bastard? Yes, and while he did not halt their advance for long, Dracula bought Europe time to unite by keeping the Muslim Ottoman Army away from Central Europe at a time when they were divided.
Western Civilization actually owes some measure of debt to the Impaler Prince for keeping the wolf at bay, so to speak, when we were quite vulnerable. In retrospect, considering all the chaos and death that followed our attempt to rewrite Middle Eastern politics by invading Iraq, we must now consider for ourselves the same cold calculus our leaders must make — was the invasion of Iraq worth the chaos and death that followed?
I don’t mean to sound as though I am condoning Saddam Hussein or his regime — I’m not — but is a war without end worth the price to stand on top the pedestal of democracy and proclaim our moral superiority?
Ultimately, it’s not about one person’s conservative or liberal political beliefs. It’s about how many people are worth dying for what we believe as nation.
In the end, we may find democracy needs a few bastards in the bleeding border regions between East and West — the alternative is sometimes a price too high to pay.
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