From almost any viewpoint, including that of opponents of the war such as myself, the capture of Saddam Hussein, represents good news, made better by the ignominy of his surrender. When the Iraq war and its justifications , spurious and otherwise, are forgotten, the image of the great dictator being dug out of the hole in which he had hidden will remain, along with the inglorious ends of Mussolini, Hitler, Ceausescu, and others, as a warning to those who might plan to follow the same path.

18 thoughts on “Ozymandias

  1. Have you noticed the way so many opponents of the war in Iraq are falling over themselves to get their opposition to Saddam on record? What’s going on here?

    The pro-war lobby did such a good job convincing people that being anti-war was the same as being pro-Saddam that anyone who opposed the war feels they have something to prove. They shouldn’t.

    This shift in the burden of proof is an amazing achievement for the pro-war lobby given how little sense it makes. After all wasn’t it Donald Rumsfeld who, in 1983, thought that it might be useful to have a relationship with Saddam and went to Baghdad for a meeting? It’s funny how the pro-war crowd don’t hold that against him.

    And can we assume that the Bush administration is pro Kim Chong-il because they don’t support an invasion of North Korea? Or that they are pro Mugabe because they won’t invade Zimbabwe?

    As far as I can tell it’s pointless to draw any conclusions about a person’s attitudes to weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, human rights abuses, or Saddam Hussein based on their public stance on the war in Iraq. Diplomatically paving the way to provide material support to a known user of chemical weapons is another matter.

  2. Don

    Okay, you agree that Saddam being deposed is a good thing. Since you are opposed to the action that was taken to do so, what alternative means would you suggest have be taken? Or is just feeling that he’s a bad man a good enough morale position and no further action is necessary? Doesn’t evil flourish when good men do nothing?

    There is a cost and a benefit to what has occurred. I think the cost in lives and money (while not trivial) was, in retrospect, worth the benefit of ridding Iraq of Saddam’s regime and offering a hope for freedom and democracy. There are many other undeniable benefits to do with the situation in the Middle East, which I’m sure I don’t have to point out to you.

    Obviously, there comes a point where that cost is too high, and if the scenarios speculated on by the anti-war crowd (1m deaths, 10m refugees etc) had come to pass, I would have agreed that the war wasn’t worth it. But that’s not what happened.

    It seems to me you want the benefit of Saddam being deposed without having to pay the cost. This is a nice thought, but not a very realistic one.

    If you think the cost was too high, at what point isn’t it? Is one civilian life worth it? How about 100? A thousand? These are difficult questions, but ones that politicians have to decide upon.

    The North Korea and Zimbabwe issues are different scenarios. In North Korea, the cost would be much higher, because Seoul would almost certainly be devastated. Mugabe is a thug, but he’s not in Saddam’s league, so once again the cost probably isn’t worth it.

  3. “After all wasn’t it Donald Rumsfeld who, in 1983, thought that it might be useful to have a relationship with Saddam and went to Baghdad for a meeting? It’s funny how the pro-war crowd don’t hold that against him.”

    No funnier than the fact that Messrs Chirac, Schroeder and Putin were enthusiastic purveyors of the means of Saddam’s autocratic dominance. They too have been falling over themselves to congratulate Washington on it’s apprehension of the man whom they would not have had removed. I fear however that the pro-war crowd probably will hold that against them 🙂

  4. I recall that during the last Iraq – USA conflict, that the Iraqi’s captured and paraded some US soldiers in front of cameras. The US media went absolutely ballistic with claims that this was against the Geneva convention.

    Where are the same complaints now that Saddam is paraded across the media in circumstances that appear to me to be far worse.

    Both the US media and the current administration have a tendency of going for the moral high ground then failing those same tests at some later time

  5. I have to say I opposed the war mainly because I realised there was no way out of Iraq. They will still be there for years. The costs of the removal of Saddam can not be calculated yet as the violence (insurgency until the civil war starts) will go on for years. The US needed to establish a government-in-exile with a civil service, police and army to take over straight away.

    And there was other options of getting rid of Saddam, however, they just did not achieve the alternative goals of the US (getting rid of the mythical WMDs and stop them going to terrorists).

  6. actually alternative (you mean other) goals of the invasion, are control of the world’s second largest oil reserve, and keeping an iran/iraq power block from forming in the middle east…

    as for don’s post, i wouldnt have bothered to answer it as elonquently as PK, but what has being pro this war got to do with rumsfeld’s visit in the 80s. its perfectly rational to support the recent invasion and think backing iraq against iran was a mistake. (or backing both) don implies we have to continue with a current policy no matter how the world changes in 2 decades (like iraq invading kuwait)

    in fact, the whole US policy in the mid east has been to consistently keep from a large power base arising. this is why they backed iraq against iran, why we went to war with iraq because after kuwait, saudi was next, and why we couldnt just get rid of saddam now, lest a fundamentalist (or otherwise) government form a power bloc with other nations…

    the US isnt interested in another cold war…

  7. Actually, this “ignominy” is almost certainly spurious. Even if there isn’t the dignity in suffering implied by the Debka story at http://www.debka.com/article_print.php?aid=743, it’s SOP to misrepresent this sort of thing. I have a book describing how Gallieni misrepresented the way the French deposed the last Queen of Madagascar as “…at her request I have permitted her to retire to the island of Reunion, where she will enjoy the most generous hospitality of the French authorities.” Sooner or later, if he is tried, Saddam Hussein will rebuild the glamour that Goering did.

    As for “From almost any viewpoint, including that of opponents of the war such as myself, the capture of Saddam Hussein, represents good news…”, no, I can’t agree with that either. Not so much from any especial merit of Saddam Hussein’s as from the chance that the alternative might be worse. That might arise either in itself from a worse replacement, or from the replacement being much of a muchness only fresher and hungrier (the Saddam Hussein clan were well on the way to co-evolving to be less virulent to their hosts). The worse replacement idea is borne out by what most of the British press reported when Obote was squeezed out of Uganda; most took the JQ view, and only one I saw pointed out that in Africa things could always get worse. Later on we learned more about Idi Amin.

    In my Machiavellian view, the best thing to do with him is the method used since antiquity: keep him an honoured guest, so that his very presence threatens his replacements with his return if they in their turn don’t suit. But if the USA can or will learn nothing from Old Europe, how much less likely is it to learn anything from the middle ages and antiquity.

  8. i think thats a very bad idea. some iraqis at least are worried about his return, especially in the south where they got persecuted when the americans didnt go all the way to baghdad in gulf war one.

    furthermore, keeping him imprisoned, may lead to continual terrorist strikes by baathists who want their leader released. im not sure about the likelihood of this but its not worth risking.

    the other side of the coin is that executing him will martyr him. but i think the chance of this is minimal, considering hes not muslim. also, if we let the iraqis execute him, then there wont really be a problem, since his own people simply punished him for crimes against the home population.

    thus, i think the best bet would be to let the iraqis execute him. you just have to make sure you give him to the right iraqis, and maybe advise against a public stoning. we are trying to get the region out of the dark ages.

  9. Interesting idea PM…

    PK – you talk about costs and benefits, but at the same time you deride the idea of not acting given that there is a benefit in getting rid of Saddam. You don’t seem to have listened to yourself. Just because there is a benefit from getting rid of Saddam doesn’t mean it should be done because (drum-roll) there are also costs!

    You go on to say that you think the benefits exceed the costs – but have you actually attempted to analyse this issue quantitatively? I would note that the burden of proof really does lie with you – because you are the one that supports a multi-billion dollar government spending program. So far, no decent analysis has been forthcoming from the war crowd – which is reason enough not to act.

    But I’ve gone further, and I’ve done the analysis for you. Some of it can be found in my essay for the Ross Parish Essay contest, hosted by the Centre for Independent Studies (http://www.cis.org.au) and it basically shows that the cost of the war in dollar terms (only for the US and excluding some things) is about $440 billion. The highest potential expected benefit from reducing terror was about $40 billion. Now – for those in the peanut gallary – which number is higher?

    But hell… it doesn’t matter. I’ve been saying this for a while and nobody actually cares about benefits and costs. They only seem to care about justifying their position. The art of constructive argument is lost (if it ever existed).

  10. John

    Thank you for this analysis. You say : “Just because there is a benefit from getting rid of Saddam doesn’t mean it should be done because (drum-roll) there are also costs!”

    But there are also costs to not acting. And these have more to do with just terrorism.

    The costs of not acting include:

    – the monetary costs of overseeing Saddam’s containment. He refused to let weapons inspectors back in until he had over 100,000 troops on his border. What’s the cost of that?

    – the cost to Western credibility of allowing Iraq to continually defy them. If say North Korea takes a lesson from this, then the cost skyrockets. What are the potential costs of allowing armed regimes such as Iraq’s continually defy us? Very high in my view.

    – the obvious cost to the Iraqi people.

    – the cost to the Middle East peace process as Saddam continues to support terrorist groups.

    – the risk cost of Saddam developing WMDs to threaten his strategically important neighbours. This idea is derided now, but virtually no government disagreed at the time. Saddam clearly wanted WMDs and who’s to say in ten years he wouldn’t have developed nuclear weapons?

    – the risk cost of a disruption to the oil flow for the Middle East.

    – bin Laden’s key demand was the removal of troops from Saudi Arabia. They were there largely because of Iraq. In many ways, the situation in Iraq played a key role in the build-up to 9/11. What’s the cost of that?

    – the cost of there being virtually no chance that the region will ever change. A democratic Iraq, of which there is a now much bigger hope, may have a dramatic effect on the whole region.

    Eventually, it was almost inevitable that the West would have to go to war with Iraq. Do you think this really could have gone on for another 50 years?

    By postponing, you’re adding these costs to the already substantial costs of going to war.

    Besides, most of the anti-war crowd aren’t opposed to the war because of the monetary cost. It’s the cost in human lives they measure it with.

  11. JH I didn’t know there was any relationship between the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq.

    PK your big problem is that the probability in most cases is very low thus reducing the potential overall cost.

    As I recall it for example NO country asked the US for help because they feared Iraq, their army was not distinguished at the time.

    Moreover developing a nuclear power industry let alone a nuclear weapons facility takes resources Iraq did not have which is why the people in those programs lied to him all the time.

  12. Homer. I suppose the probability you’re talking about is to do with WMDs. You haven’t addressed the other points. Even without the WMD issue, there were still good reasons to go to war.

    Iraq did have the resources to develop a nuclear program long term. They had developed an advanced one previously (much to the West’s surprise), so certainly had the expertise. They also had the financial resources and the motivation. Does anyone believe Saddam wouldn’t have done so given the opportunity?

    It seems to me the probability of Iraq successfully developing a nuclear bomb over the next decade was quite high. Especially if Saddam believed he could do so with impunity, which to many observers it was becoming increasingly obvious that he could.

    In further response to John’s cost estimates: the Marshall Plan also cost a huge amount, does anyone now believe it wasn’t money well spent?

  13. “i think thats a very bad idea. some iraqis at least are worried about his return, especially in the south where they got persecuted when the americans didnt go all the way to baghdad in gulf war one.”

    That’s the point – they are worried. It’s also the method in the book, for the very reason that it works; in extremis you can kill him anyway (see what happened to Hannibal in the end).

  14. Hawks always ignore the defensive element in any militaristic country’s arms build-up and rhetoric – the line that weakness on Iraq would encourage NKorea ignores the defensive element in NKorea’s posture – they thought they were next in line for invasion

    Compared to the situation around the time of the Gulf War, by 2003 Iraq was an enfeebled country, and getting weaker all the time – WMDs if ever developed would not have been used to support an aggressive territorial war.

    The fact that Saddam only allowed inspectors in after 100000 troops were massed on his borders is standard behaviour for a military dictator – keep upping the ante to boost the strong man posture.

    As for the line about Saddam supporting terrorists, none of that can be proved. The terrorists hated his secular dictatorship, and nothing he would have done will be as effective as the alliance forged now.

    The US are kidding themselves if they think this artificial country is going to survive as a democracy without a massive ongoing military presence.

  15. PK, no I was talking using probability on aal outcomes as that it the only way of doing a cost/benefit analysis.(WMDs was only an example)

    I beg to differ on nuclear threat. It certainly appears the main nuclear ‘czars’ in Iraq lied to Hussein when they realised the cost of maintaining a program.

    Just remember to make WMDs a threat they must be ‘weaponised’ to use that ghastly US expression.

    ICBMs wouls be the most likey weapon given that Israel. UK and the US were the main ‘targets’.

    To a country with extremely limited resources after the Gulf War it would be unlikely that this could eventuate.

  16. PK

    The Marshall Plan didn’t cost a ‘huge amount’. One of its notable features was the great benefits it achieved at such a relatively small cost. The total cost was around US$10 billion at a time when the US was running an annual trade surplus of over US$10 billion.

  17. Tyler

    It was $11b in 1947 dollars and up to 5 times the percentage of US GNP for four years. If that isn’t a huge amount, I don’t know what is.

    Paul, Saddam paid every Palestinian suicide-bomber’s family a $25,000 bounty. Isn’t that supporting terrorism?

    The US parking 100,000 troops on Iraq’s border on a hair trigger for war while Saddam screws around UN weapons inspectors for the nth time is not a sustainable solution. Continuing with the containment/sanctions situation wasn’t going to work either, as Saddam was gradually worming his way out of it. How long would you be prepared to put up with a continuation of that situation? 10 years, 20, 50? War was inevitable and postponing it just increased the other costs outlined above.

    Iraq had plenty of money gained from oil. Those UN sanctions weren’t too effective. By one estimate, Saddam had a personal fortune of $8b. Plenty enough to build a bomb. He had billions more from oil money as well. If Pakistan can do it, so can Iraq.

    The idea that North Korea would be well behaved if we’d just stop “threatening” them is pure delusion.

    I love the “Iraqis aren’t ready for democracy” and “long-term large military presence will be required” lines. For supposed humanists, large chunks of the left has a pretty low opinion of humanity. The savages will never be as good and responsible as us, will they?

  18. Cowering in the hole
    JOHN Quiggin has some of the best words I’ve read on the capture of the tyrant: From almost any viewpoint, including that of opponents of the war such as myself, the capture of Saddam Hussein, represents good news, made better by the ignominy of his su…

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