Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Sic Semper Tyrannis?

Sully, InstaPundit, and the rest of the Bush propaganda machine (no, I'm not asserting they're in the administration's employ) have been busy, ever since it became obvious that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, trying to spin the war in a way that shows it was justified after all. The tactic that seems to have had the most traction for them is "thus always to tyrants": Hussein was a horrible tyrant guilty of horrendous crimes on a massive scale against his own people. It is right to topple tyrants. Therefore it was right to go to war against Saddam. It's a neat little syllogism. (The first premise -- Saddam was evil -- is irrefutable, and many on the left have committed egregious political error (and even sin) in attempting to down play the horror that was Saddam). And it plays in Peoria. We Americans like to see ourselves as defenders of human rights around the world, and we can lay claim to a strong, albeit not unblemished, record of being just that.

But the syllogism has its problems. The most obvious one (not the real subject of this post) is that toppling a tyrant does not necessarily imply war as a strategy. The real problem with the syllogism is the second premise -- it is right to topple tyrants. First, there is no logical stopping point to it. Here's a partial list of tyrants guilty of sins at least as egregious as those of Saddam: The murderous monarchs of Saudi Arabia; The Mad Mullahs of Iran; Bashar Assad of Syria; Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng, and the rest of Mao's filthy heirs in China; Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe; Kim Jong Il of North Korea. For a more complete list, just read State Department country reports here. That's proof enough that sic semper tyrannis, while stirring rhetoric, and lofty aspiration, is at best an incomplete rationale for policy. The current crowd of pro-war cheerleaders have admitted as much. See, for instance, if you can find among today's pro-war crowd any record of opposition to the Nixon and ReaganBush policies of the 70s, 80's and early 90's supporting murderous tyrants in Central and South America. I'll gladly print a correction to my thesis if someone can show me that Sully, Reynolds and the rest have been consistent in their anti-tyrannical ardor.

No, in order to prevent the anti-tyranny argument from leading to perpetual war, there must be some constraints. No war should be fought against a tyrant unless there is something more than tyranny alone to justify it. Alternatively, tyranny can be excused, or condoned, if there is some greater policy goal served by excusing or condoning it. Thus, Sully et al. would surely argue that condoning (or even supporting) the awful tyrants of South and Central America was necessary in the 70s, 80s and early 90s because those tyrants were bulwarks against Communism, which represented even a greater evil. For the sake of this argument, I'll accept that explanation at face value (although strong arguments can be made, and probably carry the day, that, for example, Pinochet was not necessary to stop Chile, which had a long history of stable democracy, from going Communist under Allende.)

But is not Islamofascism today's Communism? Sully consistently, and rightly, makes exactly that argument. So if Saddam's tyrannical regime were one that was a key support for Islamofascism, then the war was surely right -- the combination of Saddam's tyranny and his support for Islamofascist movements outside Iraq would make this war a slam dunk. But the supposed link between Saddam and al Qaeda or any other terrorist movement remains as ethereal as his WMD program. His famous payments of blood money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers don't cut it. That was great propaganda for Saddam in the Arab world, and cost him next to nothing. Compared to the overall cost of the Islamofascist assault on the West, those payments were but a raindrop on the ocean. They hardly justify a war. The pro-Bush forces have yet, in my view, to establish a solid case for the "something else" that turns tyranny simpliciter into a cause for war.

The three or four of you who read this blog will no doubt notice that this post is a sea change in my views compared to what I was writing before the war. What can I say? I believed the WMD claims. Had they been true, I still think this war would have been justified (I'm still a BIG fan of Israel's bombing of the Osirak reactor twenty years ago). They weren't true. I was lied to -- regardless of the spin Sully and the rest are trying to put on it now -- and I fell for it. "Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks
in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson.