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Let the Bloviating Begin

The global jubilation at capture of Saddam Hussein has brought out the predictable party crashers: no sooner had the cheers died down than the bloviating from triumphalist Right-wing pundits began. David Frum, for example, opines that what the capture shows us is that — and I quote:

… it’s becoming increasingy difficult to doubt that God wants President Bush re-elected.

Turning from theodicy to more mundane politics, Jim Geraghty argues that Saddam Hussein’s capture may finally succed in shutting up the whining of the antiwar Left, by proving the war a success and knocking down their last argument to the contrary:

Since about April 2003, this question has been the cheapest, easiest way to take a shot at the Bush administration:

So why haven’t we captured or killed Saddam Hussein?

You see, once that question is asked, the issue is no longer the broad goals of the war on terror, or bringing new ideas and human rights to the Arab world, or confronting evil head-on instead of coming up with excuses not to. The question confuses the difference between a goal not yet accomplished and a failure. It declares the efforts of the United States and its allies a failure. And it’s about painting President Bush as, to use Richard Gephardt’s favorite words, a miserable failure.

(Our sources, incidentally, offer no word on whether it will shut up the antiwar Right or Libertarians.)

One of the common conceits behind all of these is that the capture of Saddam Hussein proves, after these long months in the wilderness of despair, that the war really was righteous after all, that the neo-cons had it right all along and the whiny peaceniks just refused to see how evil could be defeated. Part and parcel of this is a stirring little moral fable, which goes something like this: the United States went into Iraq to bring peace and prosperity to the whole world by rooting out the terrorists and tyrants who hate our freedom. First we threw Saddam out of Baghdad and liberated Iraq from is ghastly Ba’athist regime; then we worked to build democracy and defend it against terrorist remnants that long for the old order; and finally, now that we’ve got our hands on the old snake himself, the Iraqi people will be able to bring their tormentor to justice. God Bless America.

The conceit behind all discussions of this sort — whether in the rarefied air of know-it-all punditry or in the popular cant of Getting Saddam — is that the ends of the State can be carried out without any particular means: as if there were some trap door that the CIA installed underneath Saddam Hussein, so that all the President needed to do was “take action” by pressing a button somewhere, and then evil would be vanquished. In reality, of course, very few people other than the Ba’athists themselves thought that Saddam Hussein ought to remain in power; the question was one of means – a question that the War Party systematically likes to blank out. Ludwig von Mises skewered this fallacy in the realm of domestic legislation when he wrote, in Human Action:

It is important to remember that government interference always means either violent action or the threat of such action. The funds that a government spends for whatever purposes are levied by taxation. And taxes are paid because the taxpayers are afraid of offering resistance to the tax gatherers. They know that any disobedience or resistance is hopeless. As long as this is the state of affairs, the government is able to collect the money that it wants to spend. Government is in the last resort the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen. The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.

An updated version of von Mises’s formulation is called for, since the 20th and early 21st century have seen this fallacy brought into service, for a gruesome series of “humanitarian” wars. In a nice bit of synchronicity, an article from Publio delievered just such an updated version to my mailbox today:

It is needless to say that a move towards open and pluralistic democracy is a welcome change by any rational citizen, but if change means invasion, occupation by foreign forces, tragic deaths of innocents by the thousands (called “collateral damage” in the American lexicon), burning national libraries, looting museums, pillaging government buildings, destroying documents and national records, sending the army and police officers home packing, leaving scores of civilians defenseless against robbery, crime and rape, losing electricity and running water, threatening territorial integrity, installing a puppet ruling council with mandate from the occupation force, coping with daily car bombs, and in short, single-handedly canceling one’s country only to invite large foreign corporations to rebuild it later, then it is not evident what kind of a rational citizen would want to bring this calamity on herself.

I agree whole-heartedly with Jim Geraghty that we need to look at the whole context of the war, rather than just insipidly focusing on Saddam Hussien. I recommend this course of action to the Right as well as to the Left; and I only wish that Jim Geraghty would look up from his neo-con talking points and consider the real costs that Mr. Bush’s crusade has inflicted on the people he claimed to be liberating — costs that were collected, not in dollars or dinars, but in pounds of flesh.

Oh, by the way, some dude in Pakistan was almost killed and the Taliban is back in Afghanistan. Congratulations to President Bush on his stirring progress in the war on terror.

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