- - Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sen. Rand Paul’s general opposition to interventionism is underscored by Iraq’s sectarian and tribal convulsions 11 years after the U.S. invasion.

The senator would have refrained from initiating war in March 2003 without the justification of self-defense. (No other justification is lawful under the definition of crimes against peace enshrined by the post-World War II Nuremberg Military Tribunals.) Mr. Paul would have desisted from “going abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” to echo the wisdom of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams’ July 4, 1821, address to Congress.

By refusing to initiate the war against IraqMr. Paul would have saved the lives of approximately 5,000 American soldiers. He would have prevented injuries to hundreds of thousands of American military personnel. He would have saved the United States $3 trillion to $4 trillion — vastly more than President Bush’s TARP and President Obama’s trillion-dollar stimulus extravaganzas that impaired the nation’s economy.

There would have been no Abu Ghraib disgrace to inflame Muslim hostility toward the United States. Shiite Iran would not have become the regional hegemon with the replacement of Sunni and secular Saddam Hussein with Shiite and sectarian Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Also, al Qaeda would have been contained more effectively.

At no cost to the United States, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a reliable bulwark against Iranian adventurism. He was obsessed by fear of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which gave birth to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Shiite theocracy. In 1980, Saddam commenced war against Iran. He resorted to chemical warfare and rocket attacks on civilian populations. The United States provided intelligence to fortify Saddam with the goal of isolating Iran’s mullahs. After his capture by the United States, Saddam explained that he had resisted weapons inspections by the United Nations because he “was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions of the United States for his refusal to allow U.N. inspectors back into Iraq.” Saddam declined to collaborate with al Qaeda and denounced Osama bin Laden as a “zealot.”

In sum, by refraining from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Paul’s foreign policy would have deflected Iran’s attentions away from the United States and Israel and toward Iraq. His foreign policy would have diminished the al Qaeda threat by declining to kill its archenemy. In addition, Mr. Paul would have avoided a precedent that legitimized war without the justification of self-defense. That precedent invited Russian aggression against Crimea and China’s belligerency in the East China and South China seas against Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

None of what has been said is to praise Saddam Hussein. He was a heartless dictator complicit in crimes against Iraq’s Kurds, Shiites and political opponents. But we are foolish to believe we can summon into being a superior political dispensation to succeed an acknowledged dictator. Post-Saddam, Iraq is moving rapidly toward sectarian or ethnic partition featuring autocrats presiding over Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite statelets. Libya after the overthrow and killing of Col. Moammar Gadhafi is more strife-ridden and lawless than before, exemplified by the tragic Benghazi killings. And think of the surprise O Henry ending of post-Saddam Iraq witnessing U.S. forces collaborating with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to prevent jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant from climbing to power.

We need to learn humility from the retort of Shakespeare’s Hotspur to the boast of Glendower that he could call ghosts from the vasty deep: “Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?”

Rand Paul’s unique, long-headed foreign policy is built on resisting Glendower-type hallucinations that father calamities.

Bruce Fein was associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan and author of “American Empire Before the Fall.” He is chairman of the National Commission on Intelligence and Foreign Wars.