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Objectively pro-truth

December 14th, 2002

Glenn Reynolds and other warbloggers are desperately unwilling to give up the phrase ‘objectively pro-Saddam’ to describe their opponents even after it’s been pointed out to them that George Orwell, from whom they took it, later repudiated it as dishonest.

In a series of thoughtful posts, Sasha Volokh and Josh Chafetz attempt to find an alternative formulation that doesn’t carry the dishonest imputation that opponents of a war with Iraq actually support Saddam, but end up reaching the conclusion that there isn’t one. Along the way, they try out ‘plays into the hands of”, another locution that Orwell exposed as a pretext for dishonesty, and then ‘pro-Saddam in effect, if not in intent’.

Volokh settles on:

How about just “anti-war protesters help Saddam”? “Pro-X,” no matter how you qualify it, still connotes that you agree with X’s agenda.

I think this is fair enough, but once we have reached this point, the obvious question is “So What?”. Harming (or not helping) Saddam might be a good thing, but as a ground for war it’s pretty thin. In any case, it has been specifically rejected by the Administration, which has not only repudiated the International Criminal Court, but intimated that it would not look too hard for Saddam if he left office of his own volition. We should be assessing policies on the basis of whether they are good or bad for us and the world, not whether they are good or bad for Saddam.

The basic point of most opponents of war with Iraq is that the costs are likely to outweigh the benefits. Reynolds and most other warbloggers hold exactly this opinion in relation to North Korea, yet refuse to accept the parallel even when it’s pointed out to them. In fact, Reynolds and others have been at pains to play up the dangers of an attack on North Korea so as to rebut claims of inconsistency in the Administration’s policy. Their arguments that North Korea is too tough a nut to crack are obviously helpful to Kim Jong-Il in exactly the way as warnings about body bags and the possibility of chaos in the Middle East are helpful to Saddam.

Coming back to Orwell, it’s reasonable to ask why this kind of phrase is being used now. I suggest it’s because it is becoming increasingly necessary to ignore inconvenient facts in order to maintain an unequivocally pro-war position. The dossiers of satellite photos that were being displayed a few months ago gave a pretty clear impression that the US government knew that Saddam was building weapons of mass destruction and where he was building them. Moreover, the information coming out of the Administration strongly implied that Saddam was well on the way to getting nuclear weapons.

It now seems pretty clear that this was a misleading picture. Saddam may well have some stocks of botulin toxin and nerve gas stashed away, and perhaps even a carefully hidden lab or two, but it’s becoming evident that there is no nuclear weapons program currently in operation and probably no large-scale chemical or biological program. The sites that were displayed in the satellite photos have already been inspected and have turned up nothing. Some mustard gas shells have been found and more may show up, but if we knew six months ago what we know now, it’s doubtful that weapons of mass destruction would have formed the basis of a plausible casus belli.

In these circumstances, phrases like ‘objectively pro-Saddam’ are being used pre-emptively in exactly the way described by Orwell, to silence those who might question the truthfulness of the core elements of the case for war.

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