Are We Really Better Off Without Saddam?

Memo To: Sen. Trent Lott [R MS] From: Jude Wanniski Re: All Things Considered, Maybe Not

Dear Trent…. I caught you on “Meet the Press” this morning and of course agree with you completely that your Republican colleague, Bill Frist, betrayed you back in 2002 when he announced he would run for Majority Leader at a point when you might have survived in that post. You may disagree, but I still think it was the White House that pulled the plug on you. It was not the President, but the neo-cons in the Vice President’s office. It was exactly at the time when they were planning to take the country to war in Iraq, to get rid of Saddam Hussein so they could play their imperial game. You should remember the memo I sent you on July 31 of ’02, “ Richard Perle’s Puppet Show.” I’m sure you received it, but here is how it opened:

I’m still expecting that you will be true to your word, Trent, and dissent from any plans to make war on Iraq unless you have a "smoking gun" that persuades you Saddam Hussein is a real threat to our national security. Please note Senator Biden announced BEFORE his Foreign Relations hearings this week that Saddam must be removed from power in Baghdad. It is of some comfort that the top brass at the Pentagon is telling the defense reporter of the Washington Post that Saddam is no threat and can be contained, as he has been since the Gulf War. But I am afraid President Bush still does not understand that he has become a marionette in Richard Perle’s continuing puppet show in the Middle East. It really is up to you to do everything you can to break those strings as I do not see anyone else around who can do it. It had been my hope that Colin Powell as Secretary of State could outmaneuver Perle, who chairs the Defense Policy Board, and his gunslingers – Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condi Rice and their minions at the Pentagon and the National Security Council. Not so far.

In a sense, I may have been part of the reason you were jettisoned, because I do know Perle and his gang monitored these memos and the margin, and would have been rattled by your promise to me that you would need a smoking gun to lead the charge in the Senate to go to war. You may also recall that I personally briefed you a number of times in your office that critical issues on your mind about the nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime were pure propaganda – his alleged gassing of the Kurds, for example. I’m sure you were shaky as far as the neo-cons were concerned because you told me how our mutual ally in the supply-side wars, Jack Kemp, had also weighed in with you about things being said about Saddam Hussein that he knew were not true. Bill Frist, who you considered your protégé, without any doubt got the green light from the White House to undercut you, because they need a rubberstamp in that spot and Frist has been exactly that.

In your “Meet the Press” interview this morning, I noticed you made the obligatory remark that “Of course we are all better off without Saddam Hussein.” Practically every politico in every party makes that exact statement on all the talk shows in recent weeks and months. Maybe if I were a politician I would also include it in my litany. Which may be why I’ve rejected every suggestion that I should be a politician. It is dismaying to me, even disgusting, to see your congressional colleagues prattle on about how Iraqis are better off without Saddam, when more than 100,000 of their sons and daughters would still be alive if we had not gone to war. Are the dead "better off"? Are their families?

It would have been refreshing, Trent, if you had realized by now that after your wings were clipped by the neo-cons, you were a zero in the Senate discussions in the first months of 2003, when your questioning could have made a difference. In your heart, I think you know that all things considered, we are not “better off” without Saddam Hussein. If we could roll back the clock and do it all over again and accepted his invitation to prowl Iraq in perpetuity in search of weapons of mass destruction, we would be a lot better off. I noticed this morning that you again cited Saddam’s “rewards” to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers as evidence of his evil nature, as if that is the best reason you can come up with for the war.

Sorry again, Trent, but the Palestinian leaders themselves have vehemently argued that Americans who made that charge against Saddam were “racist,” a term I know you abhor. What they meant was that Muslim fathers and mothers are not so inhuman as to encourage their sons and daughters to blow themselves up in order to get a $25,000 check from Baghdad. That’s how you characterized Saddam’s gesture, which in any case was commonplace in countries we consider our Arab allies. The Saudi royal family also encouraged gifts to the families of those who were bereft, having not only lost their children forever, but also the financial support they would have had from them in their old age. In recent months, I noticed that you have supported increased financial benefits to the families of our fighting men and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As I noted, you are not alone in using the fig-leaf phrase, “We are all better off without Saddam Hussein.” Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat who supported the war unconditionally against Saddam when he was ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, never fails to mouth that rationale for the war. He’s running for President in 2008 by criticizing Republicans for not prosecuting the war effectively enough, practically promising more American fighting men and women into the maw if he had his way. When last seen, Hillary Clinton has been parroting the same line. Her political counselors have been “positioning her” for a presidential run, I guess. Disappointing to me, as I have been coming to admire her progress since she came to the Senate.

Remember, Trent, more than 2000 Americans have died in Iraq, including the private contractors. Another 25,000 have been wounded, with a high percentage losing arms or legs or both. If it is to be “all things considered,” I’d hope you would shed a tear for the 100,000+ Iraqi dead, military and civilian, who would still be alive if not for the war. There are probably another 200,000 at least who have been mutilated in the combat, or in the insurgency, and you can’t chalk their suffering up to the insurgents if you are honest, because if it were not for the war, there would have been no insurgents.

To be honest, Trent, if I were you I would take stock of the situation and instead of throwing good money and blood after bad. I’m not saying “bad blood” to demean our armed forces, of course. I’m with Cindy Sheehan, who still doesn’t understand why we continue to send young men and women into the Iraqi meat grinder. She suspects it is because President Bush and his team simply think because our government has invested so much in Iraq that we might as well throw a few thousand more into the maw and hope it all turns out right in the end.