The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Tuesday, October 01, 2002
WAR BULL: Remember the Cold War? There was a debate back then about whether the Soviets were an aggressive superpower bent on dominating the entire world or a conservative empire more interested in protecting its sphere of influence. The hawks generally acknowledged that the Russians had a national interest in defending themselves, and the doves generally acknowledged that the Russians were capable of causing a lot of damage. In other words, the debate as a whole, if not all the debaters, was sane.

Contrast that with the arguments for attacking Iraq. Saddam Hussein is a local tyrant with no more than regional ambitions, not a global player with grander designs. Yet he is discussed as though he had both Brezhnev's arsenal and bin Laden's agility. Even the doves talk about "containing" and "deterring" him, terms borrowed from a conflict that simply isn't comparable to this one. His hatred for the United States is tied entirely to America's presence in his part of the world, and the easiest way to make sure he never targets us is to stop making an enemy of him. Yet to hear this administration and its defenders tell it, Saddam is not merely a Stalin on the domestic front, but casts Stalin's shadow over the world.

Part of the problem is that Americans have grown used to the notion that the country has "vital interests" that require us to either support or oppose virtually every government on the planet. In the 1980s, the U.S. coddled Saddam; in the '90s and since, it has abused him. (From the Iraqi people's point of view, of course, both approaches constitute abuse.) The notion of staying on the sidelines -- of telling Saddam that our one vital interest as far as Iraq is concerned is that it not give aid to those who would kill Americans, and otherwise regarding him as merely one more tinpot thug of the developing world -- seems (forgive the word) foreign. It shouldn't.

In the October 14 edition of National Review, Ramesh Ponurru surveys libertarian opinion on the war. For the most part, the piece is objective and well-reported, but Ponurru's biases flare up from time to time -- for example, when he encounters Harry Browne's suggestion that the U.S. should emulate Switzerland. "This might even make sense," Ramesh writes, "if America were somehow able to stop being the most powerful country on earth." As the old saying goes, What the hell? If you're that powerful, it means you have less to fear from not sticking your thumb in every pie around the globe. Most people won't want to fight an opponent so tough, unless you've gone out of your way to aggravate them.

Such aggravation -- or intervention, to use a more neutral term -- is the only conceivable reason why Saddam would ever want to use nukes, or any other weapons of mass destruction, against the U.S. If he does have a good chance of acquiring such weapons (which I doubt, but I accept the possibility), then bombing or invading his country would not be self-defense; it would be waving a red flag at an angry horned bovine.

A bull, in other words. But not the fiercest bull in the world. Saddam has neither Stalin's weight nor Osama's speed, let alone either man's ambition. To speak as though he does is to insult your audience's intelligence.


posted by Jesse 6:52 PM
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