Watching what had happened in Iraq, I felt “shock” and “awe”—not at the military campaign, but at what Saddam has done to his own people during his reign of terror. At the end of a new Pentagon-produced documentary, I had become more desensitized by the 20 minutes of graphic footage than by 20 years’ worth of violent movies and television programs.
My first reaction was exactly what the Pentagon intended: I knew that the war commenced later that evening was not simply just, but necessary. My second thought, however, was likely not what the Pentagon intended: The horrors captured by the camera were the handiwork of a man the U.S. once supported. And it was not a matter of Saddam going bad after he was our enemy, but well before. Our government backed him despite a growing recognition of his ruthlessness. But an ally he remained. Not until he went into Kuwait did he cross over into an enemy.
Iraq was an enemy of our enemy—Iran—and thus, an ally. Saddam was becoming increasingly sadistic—culminating in the gassing of the Kurds—but he was our sadist. He kept Iran occupied, serving the only function we cared about. We didn’t want to know about the human meat grinders and rape rooms because, frankly, we didn’t care. Despite earning his title as the Butcher of Baghdad, we “rewarded” him with chemical and biological agents. Some in the Reagan administration saw Saddam as a looming threat, but an ally he remained.
Foreign policy should not be dictated by morality, but it should not exist in a moral vacuum, either. Not because we should be the world’s morality police, but because our national security depends on the spread of the only societies that can be counted as true long-term allies: free-market democracies. Truly free people pose the greatest threat to terror, both in terms of fighting terrorists and undermining them.
Self-governed populations are our most enthusiastic partners in the war on terror—and they will remain that way by their very nature. They are less susceptible to turning, like Saudi Arabia did a quarter-century ago. After the debacle at Mecca, the House of Saud saved itself by cutting a Faustian deal with the Wahabbists—and has been funding the people we are now fighting ever since. Governments responsible to people who are not dependent on them cannot do as the House of Saud did—free people would not allow it.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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