Commenter Karen left this comment on an Iraq post from last week.
I'm curious why you would have supported the war knowing what you know now. Apparently the sanctions were working - what WMD capabilities they had left in 1991 had deteriorated to not being recoverable. Despite Saddam's self-indulgence, we appear to have bankrupted the capabilities of the country.What we saw in the Duelfer report was that Iraq was laying low until they got a clean bill of health from the UN, keeping the intellectual infrastructure in place while getting rid of non-dual-use WMD stuff. The plan was to get back into the WMD business once the coast was clear. The nuclear infrastructure wasn't all that good with disuse, but the chemical and biological infrastructure was months away from becoming usable one given the high sign.
The other area that the Duelfer report was that the regime was far from bankrupted; they were able to smuggle a lot of oil out and redirect oil-for-food money toward military purposes.
Let me reprise a piece from just before the war last March-
Why are we doing this? There are multiple reasons, but the first reason is to remove from power a ruthless junta with access to oil wealth to spread his ambitions and to acquire more weapons.That still holds. Granted, the amount of WMD stuff was very limited, leftovers from the 80s, but biological and chemical weapons would have been right around the corner once the sanctions were lifted and inspectors out of their hair.
Is Saddam the worst dictator around? No, there are a lot of worse places to live. Zimbabwe, North Korea and Turkmenistan come to mind for dictators who can go ego-for-ego with Saddam. However, they don't pose as much of a long-term threat as Iraq under Baathist rule does.
Does he have the nastiest set of WMDs? No, I think the North Koreans have him beat there. We can assume the North Korean have a few nukes as well as more mundane WMDs to pull out as well. However, North Korea has largely limited itself to low-grade terrorism for the last half-century, while Iraq has invaded three of its neighbors and fired missiles at a fourth within the last quarter-century.
Iraq has the most pernicious combination of ruthlessness, current malicious capabilities (and the willingness to use them) and the resources to acquire more of the same. That makes Saddam Bad Guy #1. Note that it isn't just Saddam; the upper echelons of his Baathist regime will need to go as well and a democratic government installed.
Democracies can do some stupid things, but invading their neighbors isn't usually one of them. That's the second reason for an invasion, to set up a democratic government. We're unlikely to get a stable and peaceful Iraq by merely letting Saddam get a Mediterranean villa and left Henchman X take over. A quick and clean war will be in the Iraqi people's best long-term interest, for currently, their oil wealth is being wasted in propping up the Baathist regime and buying an army of conquest and terror.
Let's go back to the winter of 2003. What would a President Kerry (or President Gore) have done? Kept the sanctions on and kept the inspectors going. The inspectors find next to nothing, leading the UN leaders to assume that they have nothing to hide even if they're acting guilty as all get out.
By the fall of 2003 or so, Saddam gets a clean bill of health. Hans Blix tells the world that there's no significant violations of UN WMD proscriptions. The hawks grumble that Saddam's up to something, but have nothing concrete to go on. Sanctions go bye-bye.
[Update 6PM-Karen asks-"What makes you think the UN would give them a clean bill of health? Especially with us on their backs?"
(1) Blix would find about what Duelfer found in the way of physical evidence; no significant WMD program still going.
(2) They wouldn't get the juicy details on what Saddam would do once the coast was clear; that came from the willingness to talk about what they would have done if still in power rather than what they plan to do.
(3) The assumption here is that we wouldn't have the Wolfowitzes nipping at their heels and a more tame, Colin Powell-style diplomacy (or even more concensus-seeking that that) prevailing tone of the administration in question.
Given those assumptions, the world mood would shift towards giving Iraq a clean bill of health, and a concensus-seeking American administration would be hard-pressed not to go along.]
By the fall of 2004, with full access to oil money, Saddam gets back into the WMD business. His chemical and biological labs are back in operation and they're making strides in getting a nuke program back up and running, either by getting their own program rolling or picking the brains of renegade (or not so renegade) Pakistani scientists.
By the fall of 2005, Hamas has Sarinaded office buildings and nightclubs in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, killing hundreds, courtesy of their Baghdad benefactors. Whether al Qaeda has gotten some remains to be seen; Saddam might not want to pick a fight with the US directly, but is always willing to take pot shots at Israel. The hawks are telling people "I told you so."
Well, we never got to the point of "I told you so," since we kicked the Baathists out last spring. We can't prove that the above scenario would have played out had the UN folks prevailed, but given the Duelfer report, I'd figure that something like it would have been likely; it might not have been exactly September 2005 before we had nerve-gas equipped autoboomers, but Saddam would want to try out his new toys sooner or later.
The big down-side of the invasion is that we've had a lot of civilian casualties in the US-led occupation/transition. That would be the main reason to not go in. However, someday, the Baathists would need to be replaced; the power vacuum would have been messy if the change had come internally. A pro-democratic general's coup would have faced hard-case Baathists, jihadists and Sadrites in their struggle to establish control, as would some sort of popular democratic uprising. We're having the 10,000+ civilian death mess in 2003-2004; a similar mess would have been likely when Saddam fell by internal means some time out in the future, or by a late-'00s invasion after Saddam pressed his luck with WMD a notch too far even by UN standards.
To review-Saddam didn't have any WMD, but would have had we let him alone. Reason to go in.
The Baathists were a nasty sort that needed to be replaced. Reason to go in.
What about the post-invasion bloodbath? Probably would have happened whenever Saddam fell; given the lack of a coherent alternative, a power vacuum would have created multiple armed camps jockeying for power. You also have to factor in the deaths that the Baathists would inflict on their own people before getting removed.
I'm open to rationales to argue for a peaceful de-Baathization of Iraq down the line, but I'm skeptical.