Saddam '07: Steady Leadership in Times of Change


Jonathan Chait made a shameless, Matt Welch-ian play for attention with this column, and it's succeeding. His thesis: Why we should give up in Iraq and re-install Saddam already.

Restoring the expectation of order in Iraq will take some kind of large-scale psychological shock. The Iraqi elections were expected to offer that shock, but they didn't. The return of Saddam Hussein–a man every Iraqi knows, and whom many of them fear–would do the trick.

The disadvantages of reinstalling Hussein are obvious, but consider some of the upside. He would not allow the country to be dominated by Iran, which is the United States' major regional enemy, a sponsor of terrorism, and an instigator of warfare between Lebanon and Israel. Hussein was extremely difficult to deal with before the war, in large part because he apparently believed that he could defeat any U.S. invasion if it came to that. Now he knows he can't. And he'd probably be amenable because his alternative is death by hanging.

I humbly submit that this is the most TNR article ever. It makes a counterintuitive argument that had debuted as neoconservative satire two years ago. And it treats the dominant moral and political issue of our time like a game of Civilization IV. Really, what we need in Iraq is a "psychological shock"? That worked for Adrian Veidt, but a shock that would re-enslave a majority of Iraqs is a bit off a shock that would terrify all of them. Putting Saddam in charge to mollify angry Sunnis makes as much sense as installing George Wallace as mayor of Boston to stop those Southies from stabbing black folks already.

Having said all that, it's possible – even likely – that Chait is baiting people like me and making a point about the coming overthrow of Maliki. If so, great. It's past time to acknowledge that the idiots who are still hawkish on Iraq have a habit of cheering the arrival of new strongmen (Allawi, al-Jafari, Maliki) and then grumbling for a new, improved strongman when the leader doesn't live up to his hype. The natural conclusion of this thinking is, indeed, that we need to install a new dictator in Iraq, and that conclusion negates, oh, just about 99 percent of what the hawk brigade has argued about the country's role in the future Middle East. That's actually 100 percent of what TNR has argued, which makes Chait's column seem a bit less like wit and a bit more like smug avoidance of responsibility.