"The first people totalitarians destroy or silence are men of ideas and free minds." ~ Isaiah Berlin
Saddam and the War Hawks
As an Austrian economist and market anarchist, much of what I write consists of non-falsifiable thought experiments. This is very convenient, since even when I screw up I won't be demonstrably wrong.
Nonetheless, in my last article I went out on a limb and made an actual prediction: '. . . I guarantee you the war hawks are going to gloat as if Saddam's capture somehow proves that they were right and the war critics were wrong.'
The day my article ran, I nervously tested my claim. At first I was tempted to go to Frontpagemag.com, but then I thought, 'No, that would be too easy.' So I first checked NationalReview.com.
I must confess, when I saw an article by Clifford D. May (whom I've had occasion to criticize elsewhere) I was sure he would rise to the occasion. But actually, although I disagreed with his analysis, May didn't really come out and write, 'Nana nana boo boo, we got the bastard, you peacenik traitors!'
So at this point I was a little nervous. Had I misjudged the war hawks?
No. What happened is that NRO had devoted a special box to the military's success, and I wasn't clicking on the lead articles. The article 'One Less Cheap Shot' by Jim Geraghty (with the subtitle 'Saddam's capture should cut back on some whining') was basically what I had expected: Geraghty thinks those who have been criticizing the so-called War on Terror because we couldn't even catch Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden now look foolish.
Of course, I sealed the deal by checking out Ann Coulter's analysis. Her opening sentence perfectly summed up what I was afraid the war hawks would say: 'Say, has anyone asked Dick Gephardt if this [Saddam's capture] falls under 'miserable failure'?' As usual, Ms. Coulter comes right out and says what many war hawks surely believe but are too responsible to write.
Now before I continue, let me clarify something: I certainly agree with Rush Limbaugh et al. that the Democrat presidential candidates are a bunch of hypocritical liars who will change their foreign policy stance at the drop of a hat if it will help them get elected. (This is really no different from George Bush's willingness to change his domestic policy stance at the drop of a hat if it will help him get elected.)
But that's not the point'like a stopped clock, even Democrats are occasionally on the right side of an issue. And when it comes to the War on Terror, much of their criticism has been perfectly sound. In particular, it was ridiculous that a coalition of the world's strongest governments couldn't even catch Saddam Hussein (and still haven't caught Osama), despite their armies, intelligence agencies, and a $25 million bounty, and yet still maintained that by blowing up foreigners they could protect us from future 9/11s.
Now I want to really stop and analyze this particular issue about Saddam and the time it took to capture him. In a sense it's irrelevant: People who were adamantly pro-war didn't care whether it took eight months or eight years, and people who were antiwar certainly wouldn't have changed their minds if Saddam had been arrested within weeks of the invasion.
However, the vast majority of Americans who could have gone either way on the issue'and whose tacit consent was necessary before the Administration could proceed with its splendid little invasion'certainly would have been bothered by the delay, had they known about it beforehand.
This is a tricky point, so let me elaborate. Right now, if you asked the average Joe, 'Is it worth it that we went in to take out Saddam, even though it took so long and over 450 U.S. troops have died?', he would probably say, 'Heck yeah, that guy was evil. USA ! USA !'
But this is because those troops are already dead, and the delay is in the past. The average American doesn't want to admit that our boys might have died 'in vain' or that our great country started a war that maybe it shouldn't have.
People have really short memories, so I don't think they recall how easy most Americans (many pacifists included) thought this was going to be, from a military point of view. Remember how on the first night the Administration was claiming that it may have killed Saddam and his sons with a surprise missile attack??
Suppose Bush had announced in his State of the Union Address: 'We are going to invade Iraq for the freedom of the Iraqi people and to protect our nation from weapons of mass destruction. But Americans should be prepared for the possibility that, eight months after the initial hostilities, Saddam will still be on the loose, over 400 of our troops will be dead, and we will still have only circumstantial evidence linking Iraq to WMDs or to 9/11.'
Do the war hawks seriously claim that the above performance would not have been interpreted as evidence of a 'miserable failure'?? If they can agree with me on that score'that initially, to be told it would take over eight months to catch Saddam would make many Americans skeptical about the whole war'then how can they object to war critics for harping on this fact up until Saddam's capture?
To take some of the crudest war hawk arguments, even if we hadn't caught Saddam in eight years you still wouldn't be allowed to 'attack' the U.S. on this point, because after all, Saddam might be caught the very next day, and boy would you look foolish (not to mention treasonous) then! Move to France , buddy.
In conclusion, I am happy to report that my prediction was verified: Many of the war hawks have indeed pounced on Saddam's capture as proof that those who opposed the war are out of touch with reality. On the contrary, the whole episode just proves (once again) that apologists for the government are good at justifying horrible policies by framing the debate and by lowering expectations once a given program'be it the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, or the War on Terror'is underway.