TCS Daily

Bring Back Saddam?

By Duane D. Freese - June 6, 2003 12:00 AM

OK. Let's find Saddam Hussein - if he's alive - and put him back in power.

Just kidding. But that would appear the preferred course for some of those still grousing about the Iraq war. If it isn't about the failure of allied forces thus far to find weapons of mass destruction, critics pick at the Bush and Blair administrations for supposedly botching Iraq's reconstruction.

There is room, of course, to grumble. As a USA Today editorial pointed out Wednesday, the world needs a full accounting of what happened to Saddam's WMDs and material for making them. And an investigation into intelligence about such weapons also might prove worthwhile. The United States cannot rely on the honesty of its enemies to guarantee security.

But the claim by some opponents to the war that failure to find WMD means they "were right" about the war should be weighed against the grief of those Iraqis pouring over mass graves to find shreds and shards of loved ones murdered by Saddam's regime.

Paul Krugman of The New York Times can call President Bush a liar all he wants because WMDs hasn't been found, but that doesn't change the fact that Saddam had a get-out-of-war, get-sanctions-lifted card in his hands - full, total complete cooperation with Gulf allies and the United Nations. He chose not to use it. And that was the basis - violation of U.N. resolution 1441 - for U.S. action.

By burying equipment in the sand, importing banned materials, keeping scientists from talking and a host of other actions, Saddam played a deadly game of chicken with the United States. And as long as he was unwilling to come clean, regime change as called for by President Clinton remained the best option to reducing his threat to regional peace.

Would Ariel Sharon feel more willing to negotiate with a new Palestinian authority if Saddam, with his financing of terror, were still in place? Would Arab leaders at a summit this week with Bush denounce violence if Saddam were around? Would Bush be as free to pursue a Middle East peace as he now is doing?

Indeed, with apologies to Dean Acheson, we may well be present at the creation of another turning point in world affairs. Though, as with any such turning point, it won't be smooth or easy.

News reports from Iraq daily provide evidence of that. If on one day Shiite clerics aren't demanding the U.S. leave, the next day Saddam's opposition in the Iraqi National Congress is demanding democracy now. If Saddam's soldiers threaten violence if they don't receive compensation, regular Iraqi citizens are upset about shortages of food and fuel and disruptions in electricity and sewage. There is looting and lawlessness and a host of other difficulties.

It is noteworthy that this short war with its precision bombing didn't create all of these difficulties. Saddam's decision to put his money in palaces and military and dreams of power instead of maintaining and improving Iraq's infrastructure lies at the heart of Iraq's problems today.

As U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer has noted, "It is hard to overstate the chronic underinvestment in Iraq's infrastructure over the past 30 years. In almost every sector we look at, from oil to electricity to water to sewage, we are finding technology and machinery that dates back to the 1960s and, in some cases, to the 1950s."

Truman and Reconstruction

Two months after the end of significant military action is hardly enough time to assess the Bush administration's handling of developments there, as some Democratic presidential candidates have done. By today's standards, the Truman administration's handling of reconstruction after World War II was a flop. Consider:

More than a year after the end of the war both in Europe and Japan - the winter of 1946-47 - bread lines were everywhere and people were starving.

As former Clinton undersecretary of the Treasury J. Bradford DeLong, an economic historian at the University of California-Berkeley, wrote, "During the cold winter of 1946-47 coal earmarked for industrial uses had to be diverted to heating. Coal shortages led to the shutdown of perhaps a fifth of Britain's coal-burning and electricity-using industry in February 1947.Western European industrial production in 1946 was only 60 percent, and in 1947 only 70 percent, of the pre-World War II norm. Western Europe in 1946-47 had four-fifths its 1938 supply of food."

Things got so bad in Britain that rations for butter, margarine and cooking at were cut from eight to seven ounces a week, and the Ministry of Food circulated a recipe for squirrel pie, according to the Illustrated News of London.

The situation was hardly any better in Japan, where the U.S. occupying forces under Gen. Douglas McArthur were attempting to create a non-militaristic democratic government. In 1946, there were still nine million homeless Japanese, chronic food shortages, and thousands of deaths attributable to malnutrition.

The occupied people weren't all that happy with forces present, either. The Seventh Army civilian chief reported in late 1946, "The general opinion of the Germans is that American soldiers are men who drink to excess; have no respect for the uniform they wear; are prone to rowdyism and to beat civilians with no regard for human rights; and benefit themselves through the black market."

Truman went to the American people in a radio address on April 19, 1946, asking them to cutback on their own eating to help feed the rest of the world:
"We cannot remain healthy and happy in the same world where millions of human beings are starving. A sound world order can never be built upon a foundation of human misery. I am glad here and now to renew an appeal which I made the other day. I said then that we would all be better off, physically and spiritually, if we ate less. And then on two days a week let us reduce our food consumption to that of the average person in the hungry lands. Once again I appeal to all Americans to sacrifice so that others may live. Millions will surely die unless we eat less. Again I strongly urge all Americans to save bread and to conserve oils and fats. These are the most essential weapons at our disposal to fight famine abroad. Every slice of bread, every ounce of fat and oil saved by your voluntary sacrifice, will help keep starving people alive. By our combined effort, we will reduce starvation and, with God's help, we will avert the worst of this plague of famine that follows in the wake of war. I ask every American now to pledge himself to share."

But Truman also gained the help of Republicans to deal with the aftermath of the war and develop a bipartisan anti-communist foreign policy. He enlisted Herbert Hoover, the Republican predecessor to Franklin D. Roosevelt, to head up a commission to battle world famine.

He also enlisted the support of such Republican leaders and Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois, and Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, an isolationist before World War II who helped forge a bipartisan foreign policy with Truman to stand against Soviet aggression.

Both supported Truman's then unprecedented $13.2 billion (which as a percentage of today's GDP would amount to almost $500 billion) Marshall Plan in 1947, with the tightfisted Dirksen uttering the immortal lines: "My formula, Mr. Chairman, is very, very brief. Do it - do it now - and do it right."

Still, it wasn't until 1950 that the fuel rationing ended in Britain, 1951 that Western European economic figures matched pre-war levels and 1952 that the U.S. signed a final peace treaty with Japan and ended its occupation there.

In the interim, Mao Tse-tung led a communist takeover of China; the Soviet Union erected an Iron Curtain around Eastern Europe, and, finally, there was the Korean War.

Problems, problems, problems. Bring back Hitler.

Just kidding. Even the greatest anti-war advocate would hardly have decided better the Austrian corporal still in charge in Europe than the resulting difficulties that followed the war ousting him. So the world today, despite the qualms of the war critics, is better off without Saddam Hussein. It would be nice, though, if like the isolationists back after World War II, the Bush critics would at least admit that and seek to build on this opportunity for a broader peace. Wouldn't it?

And remember, except for God, most creations take not weeks but years.

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