Better Than Saddam, Again

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

I didn’t even get through the first page of this Weekly Standard article, so let me know if there’s anything I missed, but Christopher Hitchens takes to the ramparts defending the Iraq war, and the conduct of those who tortured prisoners, by noting… that at least things aren’t as bad as under Saddam Hussein! Yes, that old thing. By this standard, our soldiers could stick half as many people in human shredders as Saddam once did and still declare the mission a moral victory. By this standard, Saddam himself turned into a saint for murdering fewer people in 2003 than he did in, say, the mid-1990s. By this standard…

I could go on, but I won’t, because this is stupid. Human progress always relies on holding up some ideal—Americans don’t torture people; bombing cities into the ground is wrong—rather than saying “At least we’re better than our ancestors who brained each other with rocks and clubs.” Why anyone still takes Christopher Hitchens seriously is beyond me. At any rate, he’s probably wrong on the “better off” bit too: no, Iraq is not better off than it was four years ago, on account of all the dead people and torture squads, and it certainly won’t be better off if it descends into full-blown civil war. And yes, I’ve seen the news stories about all the painted schools.

UPDATE: Okay, so I read the whole thing. It gets worse: “As [the war opponents] cannot and do not deny, there was going to be another round with Saddam Hussein no matter what.” What? Incidentally, it’s not even clear that the United States needed to go a first round with Iraq back in 1991. Saddam wasn’t justified in invading Kuwait, but it wasn’t at all clear that the U.S. would actually intervene—even many within the administration, including Colin Powell, were shocked that Bush I went to war. It’s hard to rewrite history, but better deterrence might have prevented the whole thing. Whether that would have been positive or negative depends on other factors—what would have happened if Iraq went nuclear?—but wars are hardly as inevitable as Hitchens supposes.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend