Better Than Saddam, Again

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I didn’t even get through the first page of this Weekly Standard article, so let me know if there’s anything I missed, but Christopher Hitchens takes to the ramparts defending the Iraq war, and the conduct of those who tortured prisoners, by noting… that at least things aren’t as bad as under Saddam Hussein! Yes, that old thing. By this standard, our soldiers could stick half as many people in human shredders as Saddam once did and still declare the mission a moral victory. By this standard, Saddam himself turned into a saint for murdering fewer people in 2003 than he did in, say, the mid-1990s. By this standard…

I could go on, but I won’t, because this is stupid. Human progress always relies on holding up some ideal—Americans don’t torture people; bombing cities into the ground is wrong—rather than saying “At least we’re better than our ancestors who brained each other with rocks and clubs.” Why anyone still takes Christopher Hitchens seriously is beyond me. At any rate, he’s probably wrong on the “better off” bit too: no, Iraq is not better off than it was four years ago, on account of all the dead people and torture squads, and it certainly won’t be better off if it descends into full-blown civil war. And yes, I’ve seen the news stories about all the painted schools.

UPDATE: Okay, so I read the whole thing. It gets worse: “As [the war opponents] cannot and do not deny, there was going to be another round with Saddam Hussein no matter what.” What? Incidentally, it’s not even clear that the United States needed to go a first round with Iraq back in 1991. Saddam wasn’t justified in invading Kuwait, but it wasn’t at all clear that the U.S. would actually intervene—even many within the administration, including Colin Powell, were shocked that Bush I went to war. It’s hard to rewrite history, but better deterrence might have prevented the whole thing. Whether that would have been positive or negative depends on other factors—what would have happened if Iraq went nuclear?—but wars are hardly as inevitable as Hitchens supposes.

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