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December 16, 2003

So it's not a rhetorical

Daniel Radosh

So it's not a rhetorical question? I like James Taranto as a blogger, even as I loathe his politics, so it brings me no joy — by which I mean, busted, sucker! — to note that he got very sloppy today.

One of his recurring rubrics is "What Would We Do Without Experts?" in which he mocks headlines that are so self-evident as to be not newsworthy, as in: "Experts: Saddam Surrender a Sign of Cowardice"

Today's installment is "Capture of Saddam Will Have Little Impact on Hunt for bin Laden: Experts". I agree that that's a "duh" story, but earlier in today's Best of the Web, here's how Taranto mocks Howard Dean for saying that the capture of Saddam does not make us safer:

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the left-wing critique is correct: Iraq is a "distraction," diverting troops, resources and attention from the war against al Qaeda. If this is true, then the way to make America safer now that we're in Iraq is to finish the job so that we can free up the men and resources we're currently spending there and put them back to work in Afghanistan or wherever al Qaeda lurks. In other words, even people who thought liberating Iraq was a strategic mistake should be cheering every tactical victory there--if, that is, they really care about our national security.

True, Taranto's not saying he believes this necessarily, but he does find it a reasonable argument to make, and therefore, one would think, a claim by experts that this is not the case would in fact not be self-evident. Perhaps Taranto should actually read past the headline in this case.

On a political note, of course, Dean did cheer the capture of Saddam on both a tactical and moral level, something you probably don't know from the one soundbite that most of the press pulled out of his speech.

More substantively, the of-course-we're-safer-now argument fails on two counts. Here's how Taranto puts it: "If you believe, as we do, that liberating Iraq was vital to American national security, then obviously Saddam's capture has made America safer." Well, I don't, since it's now pretty clear that we could have kept him boxed in without a war (and, hopefully eliminated him through other means), but even if you do, Iraq was liberated back in April, so: mission accomplished. Saddam was hiding in a hole letting his beard grow. The claim isn't that liberating Iraq didn't make us safer, it's that capturing Saddam doesn't make us safer. Those are two separate issues.

Secondly, says Taranto, "Saddam's capture was a necessary step, arguably the most important step, toward final victory in Iraq. Does Dean really believe a victorious America will not be safer than a defeated one, or one stuck in a quagmire, would be?" I hope he's right. I hope that capturing Saddam does lead to a democratic Iraq that's not a puppet of US military and corporate interests, which is how I define "final victory". But I don't think it will, and neither does Dean. Argue with that if you want, but to pretend that saying "capturing Saddam does not make us safer" is the equivalent of saying, "it would be better if we lost the war" is just picking a fight.

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