I know it’s a terrible thing to say, but sometimes I miss Saddam Hussein.
Yes, he was a cruel despot. Between September 1980 and July 1988 he pursued an eight-year war against Iran that killed an estimated combined million troops on both sides and achieved nothing. He had ruled from 1979 until 2003 when George W. Bush decided to remove him by invading Iraq, believing as other nations did that he had weapons of mass destruction. Had he not posed a constant threat to neighboring nations, he might still be in charge. He was hanged in 2006, but the U.S. would stay on until our troops were withdrawn by Barack Obama in 2011.
In places where troops have remained like Germany, Japan and South Korea, a long state of peace has existed. At their invitation we have military installations in 130 nations around the world.
“The Great Big Book of Horrible Things” by Matthew White provides a brief review of Saddam’s dictatorship, noting that “Iraq is an artificial country with borders that were drawn to suit the European colonial powers rather than to reflect local allegiances.” He could say the same thing of Syria what owes its borders to decisions made following World War One by the British and French.
Saddam maintained control by propagandizing himself as a great hero and by killing or imprisoning anyone who disagreed. There was no end to the barbarism he imposed. The Kurds were blamed for the loss of the war with Iran and it is estimated he killed anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 Kurds between February and September 1988; some of them with poison gas. In 1991, after an American-led coalition drove Saddam out of Kuwait, the Shiite Arabs of the southern marshes rose in revolt and some 50,000 were massacred. The Kurds were driven into the mountains of the north and American air cover helped them establish an autonomous zone.
Libya experienced a similar dictatorship by Muammar Gaddafi who took power in 1969 until overthrown during the “Arab Spring” in 2011, a revolt that has left a barely functioning nation. Like Saddam he exercised the same repression to control the nation’s tribes.
Not a classic dictator like Saddam and Gaddafi, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, a former air force general, kept tight control there from 1981 to 2001 thanks to the support of the military. He was a major U.S. ally. After Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was deposed in the wake of Mubarak’s removal, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, another general was elected to the office of president.
An ongoing civil war in Syria has killed an estimated 160,000 to date and Bashar al-Assad is the son of its previous dictator, Hafiz, who had seized power in 1970 and was elected president a year later, never to relinquish the office until he died in 2000. Al-Assad presently controls about forty percent of the nation, supported by his tribe, the Alawites and military aid from Iran.
What these dictators had in common was a Middle East that did not directly challenge the United States or the West. They were more interested in selling oil.