Political dialogue in our country these days, such as it is, just baffles me. After Saddam Hussein was caught cowering in a hole, everyone celebrated the good news. The guy was a prick and the world will now have a historical chance to hold a dictator/butcher accountable for his crimes, while he is present at the proceedings to hear from his victims. There will be much to learn (not only about Saddam’s crimes, but about the best way to conduct such trials) and much resolution and healing, one hopes, for the Iraqis.
But. A few days after the capture Howard Dean gave a major foreign policy speech asserting, among many other things, that we in the U.S. are “no safer” now than we were before Saddam was captured.
This is, on the face of it, quite obviously true.
Also in the days following the capture, many hawks crowed that it justified and sanctified Bush’s Iraq policy, and that it should finally silence war critics.
This is, on the face of it, quite obviously false.
Nonetheless, Dean has been the subject of relentless attacks for his statement, and the latter sentiment has rapidly become conventional wisdom. Up is down. Black is white.
The first first:
1. Saddam had been driven from power and his power structure (even his entire army) completely dismantled. He was on the run, hunted by a substantial percentage of the U.S. Army. He had an enormous reward on his head. He was finally caught, disheveled, filthy, and dazed, in a hole. _In a hole_. It’s pretty clear that he was not in any substantial way directing the insurgency in Iraq. Nobody is even trying to claim he was. Some analysts speculate that he was serving as a kind of inspiration to the insurgents; others speculate that the insurgency will now grow, since it can be unabashedly nationalistic now, with no taint of loyalty to the discredited Baath party. Since we don’t even yet know who the damn insurgents are, it’s kind of hard to say.
But one thing is obvious: Saddam, the man, was no threat to anyone any more.
In sum: there’s a very, very small chance that his capture will deprive the insurgency of some of its vigor. If this turns out to be true, it might make our soldiers in Iraq slightly safer. This doesn’t seem to be playing out, but who knows, it might.
The point is, though, that on no plausible interpretation are U.S. citizens any safer for this. It’s become obvious since the war that Saddam was no threat to us when he was in power; it’s certainly obvious that he’s no threat to us from a fucking hole in Tikrit.
It is thus true, almost trivially true, that, as Dean claimed, we are no safer since Saddam’s capture. Why, in today’s political discussion, are people not allowed to say things that are trivially true?
2. The capture of Saddam was alleged to have vindicated Bush’s Iraq strategy. WTF? Nobody ever doubted that we could get Saddam if we invaded the damn country. Was the wisdom of attacking Iraq predicated on our chances of bagging Saddam himself? No. Does bagging him then demonstrate the wisdom of the invasion? No. I don’t even see how Saddam’s capture does anything to show that Bush is succeeding in Iraq. All the same problems obtain there today that obtained there before his capture. The capture itself is not an argument; it shows nothing. It proves nothing. Whether we should have invaded Iraq is an open question.
The irony is, Dean’s speech actually described in some detail a strong, sensible, moderate foreign policy, the kind of muscular internationalism that he shares with most of the other Dem nominees, and most pre-2000 non-insane moderate Republicans. In the course of the speech he made the point, which I agree with, that going after Al Queda and insuring our success in Afghanistan would have been highly preferable to distracting ourselves from both goals to invade a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack on us. It’s at the very least an open question, and one worth debating.
Instead, Dean gets savaged and labeled a traitor for stating an obvious truth, and the media, as usual, bends over and takes it passively. Feh. Political dialogue in this country has become a joke.