As hard as it is to find anyone defending the U.S. war in Iraq these days, Saddam Hussein was a danger to us. This tyrant-in-chief had murdered 300,000 fellow Iraqis, killed tens of thousands of others when he invaded neighbors, had developed chemical and biological weapons, had once pursued nukes, had financed terrorists murdering Israelis and had undeniable links with al-Qaida even if he did not collaborate on 9/11.
Despite sanctions and UN resolutions, he was doing deals with European countries and Russia enabling him to begin developing such weapons as long-range missiles, and acknowledged after being captured that he had planned to revive his nuclear armament program. The threat was stopped by a quick U.S. victory followed by an insurgency, then our own surge and finally relative peace and hope.
Peace is gone and the hope is tattered, too, thanks in part to a president whose foreign policy consists of embarrassment about much of our past, lack of tough-mindedness about the future and sometimes growls intermingled with public relations folderol as things go wrong.
What's lately emerged in Iraq is something akin to a new Saddam -- ultra-militant Islamic radicals both home-grown and from Syria who have been eating up the countryside as if there were no opposition at all. Obviously, President Barack Obama's mistakes -- including a total troop pullout after the war -- were not solely responsible for the jihadists wreaking horror in a country we sacrificed American lives to change. The alienating, tyrannical, blundering prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Malik, has done his bit, and there are forever forces in this world that even the most brilliant and realistic of policies could not slap aside.
But leaving 10,000 or more U.S. troops on hand could have helped the cause of Iraqi leadership decency and safety from aggression, even if they would have been no absolute guarantee of deterring what we are now witnessing. And don't listen to those who say Obama was left with no option but to pull out entirely. Intense students of the question note negotiating possibilities he quite easily could have grabbed hold of and didn't.
It would also have helped thwart the atrocities and perils of the moment if the United States had long ago given needed weapons to the moderate forces opposing Syria's malevolent dictator in the fighting going on there. We didn't. The proffered reason was that terrorist groups would have gotten them instead. Not so, says Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria under Obama and one of the few officials in recent times who has had integrity and courage enough to depart a malfunctioning administration and speak out. His informed view is that we could have made sure the good guys got the weapons.
Some believe such policies could have helped avert the training and financing of the bloodthirsty Syrian jihadists who have joined up with Iraqi counterparts to form something called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This is the ambitious group that happily advertised -- photos and all -- that it had mercilessly executed Iraqi soldiers caught after the fall of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city.
No one wants large numbers of U.S. troops back in Iraq at this point, but maybe, possibly, something in the administration's reaction to what's going on will do some good, and it may be that the Iraq government itself will somehow rise to the occasion. But possibly not, and the threat to us is summed up by the ISIS leaders in Iraq who say they plan vengeance on the United States.
President George W. Bush, vilified as Obama has never been, did earn some of the criticism, but he left us more protected than it looks like we might be in a host of ways by the time Obama is through.
(Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune.)