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December 12, 2002

THIS POST OF MINE has upset some of the antiwar folks because I said that the peace movement is playing into Saddam's hands and is thus "objectively pro-Saddam." (Jim Henley has been all over this -- scroll up and down from this post -- and it rates a mention in Tapped, which calls the statement "uncharacteristically simple-minded").

Well, Saddam says -- in a passage quoted in that very post -- that he's stalling because he thinks that if he waits long enough American public opinion (which I interpret, reasonably enough, I think, to mean "the antiwar movement") will force Bush not to invade. And there's nothing new about that strategy - it's been the strategy of every U.S. adversary since Vietnam. (What's more, the "antiwar movement" that they've relied on has been pretty much the same people, using the same slogans, regardless of the actual circumstances involved.)

But regardless of whether members of the anti-war movement subjectively support Saddam (many of them, as David Corn has reported, are more accurately described as anti-American than pro-Saddam, but there are plenty of thoughtful folks like Henley who don't fit that mold) the fact is that their opposition to the war is a key element in his strategy. That doesn't make it necessarily wrong, of course: what's best for Saddam could conceivably also be what's best for America, though that's not much of a slogan. I'd take the misreport of Charlie Wilson's statement about General Motors over that one any day.

But when your movement is the key tool of a nasty dictator, well, it should give you pause, shouldn't it? Jim Henley's response is that he regards war as sufficiently undesirable that "the fate of some tinpot tyrant on the other side of the globe" doesn't matter to him. That's fine, and it's a reasonable argument even if it's one that I disagree with. But don't pretend that such an approach isn't, in fact, beneficial to Saddam, and that while it may not matter to you, it does matter to him and he's basing his strategy on it. What moral obligations flow from that fact -- and I think there are some -- is perhaps another topic, but don't deny the fact itself. Personally, it's not Saddam's fate that concerns me, but ours. I just think that Saddam's fate has a lot to do with our own.

Okay, that's the reasonable argument. Here are the not-so-reasonable ones. Hesiod emailed me that by supporting war on Iraq I was "objectively pro-Al Qaeda, pro-Arab," etc. This is just dumb. People who oppose war on Iraq want to cover themselves by setting up a false dichotomy: war on Al Qaeda or war on Iraq. But, since there's no reason that one conflicts with the other, that won't wash. Indeed, I think it's more likely that the two reinforce each other.

Meanwhile Tapped asks if George Bush is "objectively pro-Kim Jong Il" because he's not in favor of invading North Korea. Well, actually, I think Bush would be in favor of invading North Korea if we could. (And I'd be interested to hear what Tapped would say in that event. I doubt it would be anything along the lines of "at last!" But be careful what you wish for. . . .)

The reason why we aren't invading North Korea is that it would be too hard, not least because North Korea has managed to pull off what Saddam Hussein is still trying to accomplish: a military position that makes invasion prohibitively expensive. Since North Korea achieved that position largely under the umbrella of Chinese and Russian protection during the Cold War, there's not much we can do about that -- though Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton's "nonproliferation" efforts there look pretty lame now -- but that's hardly an argument for giving Saddam Hussein the same opportunity, and certainly an argument against the inspections-and-blather approach taken with North Korea. In retrospect, it's clear that if we could have prevented North Korea from acquiring the weapons it has, we would have been better off doing so. I think that's the lesson we should take from this, and I think the antiwar movement needs to be awake to the possibility that Saddam is playing it for a sucker. Because I think that's what's happening.

Saddam will do what he can get away with. The question is, what are you willing to let him get away with?

UPDATE: Boy, it doesn't get much clearer than the headline on this article: "Saddam banks on protesters to quash effort to strike Iraq" -- does it?

"The demonstrations in the Arab and Western world include hundreds of thousands of peace-loving people who are protesting the war and aggression on Iraq," he said, apparently referring to protests in the United States and around the world last month. . . .

Most of Saddam's statements were standard Iraqi rhetoric -- he blamed "Zionist schemes" for Iraq's troubles and said invading Iraq would not be "a picnic" for American and British forces.

But his references to anti-war demonstrations in the West were the first signal he believed protests could undermine President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the chief advocates of attacking Iraq.

And I don't think it's any answer to say, as Micah Holmquist does, that: "This is exactly why nuclear weapons are going to be a sought after commodity by countries around the world for the forseeable future. They provide protection, something many countries are trying to obtain in light of the White House's imperial ambitions."

That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. And here's what Zach Barbera wrote when the Saddam interview came out: "Don't let the anti-war folks, as well as the French and Russians, tell you they are not on Saddam's side. He knows they are."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Eugene Volokh suggests that something like "pro-Saddam in effect" is better. Okay, I can live with that -- since it's what I was saying anyway. I don't think that these people (well, most of 'em) really like Saddam. But I think that he's counting on their efforts, and that they ought to be troubled by that.

LAST UPDATE: Hesiod seems to think I misrepresented his email above. He offers an edited version of it at this link. I don't have the original handy, but I really don't see that my paraphrase above departs significantly from what he quotes. But my perceptions differ from Hesiod's in a number of ways.

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