For the second time in a row, Kim Jong-il, 63, is the "world's worst dictator." His regime has been judged most repressive of its own people, "more completely than any other in the world." Freedom House has ranked North Korea as the "worst" in 31 straight years. Some dictators are indeed more durable than others.
— Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 21, 2004
"The world is a lot better off without Saddam Hussein," gets my vote as the silliest, most disingenuous line in the presidential campaign; yet when it is uttered, usually in what used to be called Pulpit Tones, everybody clamors to agree with it. Nobody wants to appear to be on Saddam’s side. The line is allowed to stand as a justification for the incompetence, bad judgment, and waste entailed in our effort to get rid of Saddam.
We may at least ask the obvious follow-up question, "Just how much better off?"
We can’t yet tell, since the war that toppled Saddam is ongoing. Berra’s famous line applies to warfare as to baseball: "It ain’t over till it’s over." I doubt that the rate of violent death in Iraq has decreased much since the days of Saddam. So many ungrateful Iraqis would rather kill foreign troops than be liberated by them, answering the President’s invitation to "Bring ‘em on." This in turn requires the foreign troops to keep killing them. That will teach them to be grateful!
Let’s suppose that Iraq will be better off without Saddam, the sooner the better, a free, democratic Iraq without an AK-47 in sight.
Then what? Saddam was not the top honcho in the dictating game; he was number 3. A new number three has already taken his spot. As in any game, a second-stringer has moved up. If getting rid of dictators were our goal all along, as the American administration seemed to remember several months into the war, why didn’t we go after numbers 1 and 2, taking them out in the order of their awfulness? Now we’ve spent all these lives, all this time and money, and all have to show for it, as a certainty, is a third-rate dictator behind bars. Numbers 1 and 2 are still out there, victimizing their own people and intimidating their neighbors, while the new 3 through 10 are waiting in the wings.
How much better off are we? I’m reminded of the surgeon who, upon opening the patient up, discovered that there was nothing wrong with her after all. Since he had gone that far, he took out her appendix. She is now better off in the sense that she will never get appendicitis.
We resemble that patient. We are better off without Hussein, as she is better off without her appendix. It’s an exaggeration, however, to declare that we are a lot better off.