Monday, January 22, 2007

Toppling Saddam

While I'm thinking about, here are my thoughts on the stupid question supporters of the Bush regime throw at those critical of the war in Iraq, the old, "Do you wish Saddam was still in power?" saw.

It's a bullshit question. The person asking it doesn't care what the answer is, the point is in the asking. It frames the debate in a false dichotomy that either you're for Saddam being in power or you aren't, as if that is the only issue and you must be pro-Saddam in order to be critical of the war.

Here's the thing. Saddam was a bad, evil guy, and it was a terrible thing that he was in power in Iraq and able to inflict untold suffering on his people. But, as Calvin of "Calvin & Hobbes" fame once said, "Things are never so bad they can't get worse." Removing Saddam from power is not, in and of itself, a good thing, if you don't have a plan to replace him with something better. Don't break it if you can't fix it.

By focusing on Saddam and whether he is in power or not, those asking the "Do you want Saddam back in power?" question are missing the forest for the trees. The reason Saddam being in power was bad is because of the suffering he caused his people. Removing him from power is only a good thing if that suffering is going to be reduced (or at the very least, stay the same). Removing him from power is a bad thing if the people of Iraq are going to suffer more for it, and they have.

On NPR a while ago, I heard an Iraqi guy talking about the change from Saddam to now. He said, "Before, with Saddam, at least you knew what to do and what not to do to keep from getting killed. Now, you don't. Your shop can just blow up all of a sudden and you didn't even do anything. Things are worse now."

So, let's tally this up. In a purely selfish, US-centric view, has the Iraq war been a success? No. The US is not safer, and is, in fact, much less safe. The principal danger used to sell the war, WMD, didn't exist and were never a threat, and in addition, the country has now become a breeding ground for extremists and terrorists just the way Afghanistan was when fighting Soviet occupation, which spawned Osama and Al-Qaeda. Oil prices have not stabilized and our energy security is worse now than before the invasion. The US is now using up vast resources fighting a losing effort in Iraq which has emboldened countries like North Korea and Iran, one of whom now has nuclear weapons as a result and one which soon will. In no conceivable sense has the Iraq war been a success for US goals in the region.

And, on top of that, it hasn't even been a success in the altruistic, "we're going to liberate the Iraqis" sense, because while we liberated them from one form of terror and oppression, it's been replaced with a worse one. Fewer Iraqis have electricity and other services than before the war. The average Iraqi is far worse off now than before. We haven't done them any favors.

All toppling Saddam did was punish Saddam. It wasn't good for us and it wasn't good for the Iraqis. While trying to correct wrongs is a noble endeavor, replacing one evil with a worse evil does not make you a hero. Before you interfere, you better be sure you have a plan for making things better. And, full of hubris, that's exactly what Rumsfeld and the Bush regime didn't do. It's not enough, in international affairs, to be the white-hatted cowboy and shoot down the bad guy before riding off into the sunset. Things are a lot messier than that, and if you aren't ready to clean up the mess you made, don't make it.

"Do you wish Saddam was back in power? Huh? Do you?"

I don't accept the premise of the question. Neither should you. How would I answer it, then? I would say something like, "No. I wish the US, the Iraqis, and the world were safer now than before we invaded."

The argument implicit in that question is like if someone has a mosquito on their arm, so you cut their arm off, and then, when he or she sues you, you say indignantly, "Do you wish you still had the mosquito on your arm? Huh? Do you?"

By the way, just in case anyone tries to paint me as a non-interventionist, I'm not. I'm not one of those liberals who thinks the US has no right to interfere in the affairs of other nations or anything like that. But you have to pick and choose and intervene not only where there's a grave injustice being committed, but where intervention has a significant chance of improving the situation, or at least not making it worse. In cases like Darfur or the genocide in Rwanda, where there's a genocide going on, I believe the US has a duty to intervene, not in the least because our involvement can only make things better, because there's nowhere to go but up from genocide. Or, at least, we really can't make things any worse than what's already happening.

But Iraq wasn't like that. Iraq was stable. It was in the grip of a brutal dictator, but the nation wasn't on the verge of collapse into brutal sectarian strife and terrorism. We not only had the luxury of the time to be deliberate in our actions to improve things there, but the duty to be sure we only intervened if we could improve things. But it was plainly clear even before the invasion of Iraq that the invasion was not, in fact, going to improve anything either in Iraq or here. It was the worst sort of imcompetence and hubris to intervene where we could only make things worse for ideological reasons, as the neocons and Bush regime did. But that's not an indictment of US action in general, but of this foolish endeavor in particular.


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