The troops are almost home; the president has given a speech, and the final barbs are flying. Should we have done it? Many now say no, but studying some hypotheticals based on that pivotal decision point in 2003 might be worthwhile. So here goes....
Had we not gone in a lot of troops and civilians would still be alive today. Troops, most probably yes, civilians maybe--but it's hard to know how many the Butcher might have killed anyway. And the troops figure is assuming Saddam would have stayed in his box.
Had we not gone in Saddam would have probably stayed in his box. With help from the American no-fly zones and UN sanctions, perhaps. We also thought--knew--he had WMDs and/or know-how. The sanctions and no-fly zones were a major part of bin Laden's fatwa against America in 1998, by the way, since our planes were flying out of Saudi Arabia. So remaining status quo would have continued to piss off the guy who attacked us on 9/11.
The inspectors should have been allowed to do their jobs. The only way they got UN inspectors back into the country in 2003 was massing several hundred thousand troops on their regional doorstep. Saddam was also profiting handily from the UN's Oil for Food program, adding cash to his stash that presumably went into building more palaces, or other unknown bribery to eventually lower the sanctions. Had Bush backed down after massing the troops that triggered the inspectors then Saddam would have undoubtedly pushed to have the sanctions dropped or laxed. The Kay and Duelfer Reports both mentioned his ability to reconstitute. America would have been humiliated in the international community after coming near war only to have Saddam claim he didn't have weapons. The no-fly zones might have disappeared, leading to who knows what.
Saddam wasn't a threat to America or the Middle East. Well yes, except when he was cutting checks to the survivors of suicide bombers in the Palestinian territories or harboring various terrorists. It's true he was a "check" on Iran, but that's like saying Stalin was a check on Hitler. As to his threat, it was well established and not all based on Chalabi or Curveball, even before the WoT. Well before. And the dabblings his intelligence service had with AQ, also established, have never been fully explained. We killed Gaddafi for less.
Had we left things alone the Arab Spring would have eventually come along and displaced Saddam. Would the "Arab Spring" have occurred at all with Saddam still in power? Some folks took the fall of the statue as a seminal moment for persons under dictatorship; before the Arab Spring there was a Cedar Revolution in Lebanon. Iraq was different than the other Sunni-dominated Arab countries due to its mixed sects, and was more ripe for a civil war than a revolution. Besides, with Saddam still in power how would the Israelis have reacted to the ouster of Mubarak? Imagine a world where the Muslim Brotherhood, Saddam, Assad, HAMAS and Hizballah surrounded Israel.
Ironically, and sadly, one of the highest-profile writers in favor of taking out Saddam has passed from us--RIP to Christopher Hitchens. His wit, wisdom and insight will be missed, even if he missed the obvious signs of a universal creator. He had a way to make both left and right think he was their man, when not being hated alternatively by both. If only more of us could be as non-partisan.