Monday, January 3, 2005

While the elections to be held this month will be a definitive moment in Iraq’s history, unimaginable four years ago, the worsening situation has led some to speculate whether the war has been worth the cost. And while reasonable people may differ on this question, Washington Post columnist William Raspberry crossed a line yesterday when he wrote: “We can argue all day that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant whose defeat and humiliation should evoke no sympathy from us. But he did have a functioning country. There was a government in place. People went to work and to the market and to school in relative safety. Can anyone really believe that the U.S.-spawned anarchy has left the Iraqi people better off? We broke it.”

On both a historical and moral level, this is pure rubbish. Can Mr. Raspberry honestly tell his readers to compare present-day Iraq to Saddam’s totalitarian state? To understand his moral obtuseness, consider a similar example. In Hitler’s Germany citizens had a “government in place.” They “went to work and to the market and to school.” Arguably, post-war Germany two years after the fall of the Third Reich was a far worse place to live for the average German than under Hitler’s rule. By Mr. Raspberry’s logic, then, the Allies “broke” Germany when they invaded. We will not take the space here to list all the torture chambers, mass graves or the Iraqis’ personal accounts to argue that the average Iraqi was not living “in relative safety” under Saddam. As in all totalitarian states, Iraqis were subject at any given moment to arrest, torture and execution. They were at the whim of a maniacal despot whose death would have seen two even more maniacal sons vie for power. This is what the United States and coalition allies “broke” when they deposed Saddam and hunted down his regime.

Unfortunately, with Americans and Iraqis still dying, Mr. Raspberry’s comparison is sure to gain ground, especially if the elections fail to diminish the widespread violence. Those who align themselves to his idea will have fallen for tyranny’s great temptation. For thousands of years security has been the tyrant’s raison d’etre. When the edifices of society begin to crumble a tyrant will surface to offer subservience in the guise of security. He will promise peaceful order. And as the bodies mount, he will use security as his justification. Such was the “relative safety” Saddam provided the Iraqi people.

This is not to endorse every part of Iraq’s post war planning and tactics. Things have gone wrong and need to be fixed. But the evil of a brutal police state is never morally justified. For all we know the trains may run on time in Hell. But it is still no place for a human soul.

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