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Engel Op-Ed: Saddam Hussein's Legacy and American Leadership Today

Jul 6, 2016
In The News

Today in the Foreign Affairs Committee, we heard testimony about Palestinian terrorists collecting payments for attacks on the Israeli people.  The campaign of incitement and hatred waged by Palestinian leaders is bad enough, but the idea of authorities putting cash in the hands of cold-blooded killers is just disgusting.  We know that a peaceful two-state solution will never happen so long as this practice continues.

Listening to our witnesses, I was reminded of the worst precedent we’ve seen for this sort of blood money: Saddam Hussein. In the last years Saddam was in power in Iraq, he paid the relatives of suicide bombers thousands of dollars.  In the month after he increased payments from $10,000 to $25,000, a dozen suicide bombers blew themselves up in Israel, killing scores of innocent people.  This history is disturbing, but hardly out of character for Saddam. After all, this is the man who used chemical weapons in the mass murder of his own citizens.

So when I heard this morning that the presumptive Republican nominee for the Presidency of the United States praised—yet again—Saddam Hussein as some sort of tough-guy leader, I could hardly believe it.  The Iraq war was an unmitigated disaster and we were led into by false pretenses.  But one fact is absolutely certain: Saddam Hussein was one of the worst figures of the 20th century and the world is a better place without him in it. 

Anyone to whom that isn’t crystal clear is utterly unqualified to hold any position of responsibility, let alone to be Commander-in-Chief.

The eyes of the world are on the United States right now. Our economy, military, and influence are the strongest of any country in the world.  That strength comes with the responsibility of projecting peace and stability. So when a candidate for our highest office says that we should abandon our alliances; or suggests that more countries should have nuclear weapons; or muses that we should stay neutral in Israeli-Palestinian issues; or alienates entire groups because of their faith; or threatens a trade war; or praises leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, and—yes—Saddam Hussein, it casts doubt on America’s ability to be a global leader.

As Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I hear from world leaders and diplomats who are deeply concerned about what could happen if such reckless ideas were actually allowed to guide American foreign policy.  In their view, there are too many challenges around the world to risk turning power over to someone who obviously has no real grasp of the issues and seems not to have any interest in learning about them.  I couldn’t agree more.

In the years ahead, American leadership around the world may be more important than at any point in history.  From countering violent extremism to seizing new opportunities in Asia to supporting development in Africa to dealing with tyrannical leaders, the way the United States acts on the global stage will have tremendous repercussions.  We need steady, smart leadership, not people who look to Saddam Hussein as a good example.

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114th Congress