In perhaps an accidental moment of lucid foreign policy insight over the weekend, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump stated the Middle East would be better off today if Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi were still in power. The statement came during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press and was reiterated during a rally in Franklin, Tennessee, where 1,500 people listened to Trump sound off on the United States’ strategy of arming rebels in Libya prior to the overthrow of its dictator in 2011.
Trump likened the scenario to what is currently happening in Syria, where he says the terror group ISIS emerged from a power vacuum left after Saddam Hussein was deposed in Iraq. This is a refrain from his statements during the second GOP debate, during which he said the world would be safer if the long-time dictator had remained in power.
Trump thinks the same of President Bashar Assad of Syria. Though he is“probably a bad guy,” the Middle East is safer with him, Trump apparently believes.
“You can make the case, if you look at Libya, look at what we did there — it’s a mess — if you look at Saddam Hussein with Iraq, look what we did there — it’s a mess — it’s [Syria] going to be same thing,” he said.
During the Franklin rally, Trump pointed out the relative lack of terrorist activity in Iraq during Hussein’s reign.
“You know what he used to do to terrorists?” Trump asked the crowd.“A one day trial and shoot him…and the one day trial usually lasted five minutes, right? There was no terrorism then.”
While there is no disputing the terrible and widespread violence these dictators perpetrated on their own people, are Trump’s statements accurate?
Is the Middle East less safe without Hussein and Gadhafi? Many analysts say Saddam’s ruthless police state kept sectarian divisions under relative control. Similarly, Gaddafi’s repressive regime kept warlords from Africa —many of whom had strong links to Islamic terrorists — from allowing groups like ISIS to take root.
Secretary of State John Kerry has vigorously denied the claim that military actions by the United States are responsible for more bloodshed in these countries. “This is about ISIL’s terrorist designs on the state of Iraq. And no-one should mistake what is happening or why,” said Kerry.
It should also be noted that in both cases, any modicum of stabilization was the direct result of brutal domestic state terrorism. In Iraq, this included Hussein, a minority Sunni who ruled Iraq for 24 years, utilizing chemical weapons in 1988 to kill thousands of Kurds and brutally murdering a large number of Shi’ites in 1991 and 1998.
In Libya, Gaddafi murdered thousands of political opponents and committed countless brutal crimes abroad.
Assad is guilty of his own unacceptable atrocities in Syria and, to once again echo Trump’s inane truthism, is “probably a bad guy.”
The question, of course, is not whether to rhetorically defend the bloodshed of brutal dictators who are guilty of countless war crimes, but rather, whether their actions warrant United States military intervention.
Further, since it can be shown that the global war on terror continues to destabilize the region, Donald Trump’s point is well taken, even if he is right for the wrong reasons. America’s economic imperialism, masquerading as national security interests in the Middle East, allows ISIS to gain power. As we continue our decades-old practice of arming dangerous rebels to destabilize the Middle East, a real estate mogul/reality TV star has accidentally stated a truth few other GOP candidates will acknowledge.