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Believe It or Not, We’re Safer Now

Author: Meghan L. O'Sullivan, Adjunct Senior Fellow
March 19, 2013
New York Times


Most people, when debating if America is better or worse off now than it was when Saddam Hussein was in power, tend to frame the question in terms of whether they prefer the Middle East of today to that of early 2003, when the region was stable, if repressed and largely stagnant. This is the wrong point of reference. Had Saddam not been removed, it is almost certain that we would still be facing a volatile and potentially even more dangerous Middle East.

First, the Arab revolutions, which have dramatically increased regional instability, would have by most measures still occurred. The destruction of the Ba'ath regime in Iraq may have spurred some Arabs to consider different futures for themselves and, certainly, the protests in Egypt and elsewhere in response to the 2003 war, ironically, gave some Arabs their first lessons in mass mobilizations. But, overall, the main drivers of the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria were domestic.

Second, we should not assume that Iran and Iraq would have continued to balance and contain one another in something of a stable equilibrium -- just the opposite is likely. True, with Saddam still ruling Iraq and without the Shi'a empowerment, which came with his removal, Iran would be less active in the region. Tehran would pose fewer challenges to Saudi Arabia and might provide less support to Hezbollah and even Syria. But its nuclear ambitions would be even greater than they are today.

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