Joe Conason's Journal

Only the Iraqis themselves can determine whether the cost of this victory was too great.

Published April 9, 2003 10:43PM (EDT)

A brief cease-fire with Rummy
For once, I agree with a statement by Donald Rumsfeld: Today was "a good day for the Iraqi people," and Saddam Hussein, wherever he may be, has been justly consigned to history's dustbin. Although the secretary's comparison of Saddam with Hitler and Stalin sounded slightly self-aggrandizing, the deposed dictator was terrible enough.

Fortunately, unlike those two monsters, Saddam turned out to be a weak, utterly inept military opponent. His regime's primitive resistance proved useless against American air power and armor. Another factor, of course, was the excellent training and equipment of the U.S. armed forces. (As Dick Cheney once noted, back when he denigrated their condition during the 2000 election: "A commander in chief leads the military built by those who came before him.")

We don't yet know the full extent of death and destruction suffered by the Iraqis, or how much more they will have to endure before hostilities finally end. Any attempt to discount or ignore what has happened to them during the past three weeks is obscene. But as an opponent of the war, I will admit that I expected the devastation to be considerably worse.

Whether the human cost of victory was too great should be left to the Iraqis themselves -- unless and until more convincing evidence emerges that Saddam posed a serious threat to the rest of the world. Amid renewed calls for jihad in the Muslim world, the wisdom of this war remains in grave doubt.

Meanwhile, there is another message in the clashing images of celebration and devastation, of looting and liberation. A world whose most powerful nations colluded for so long in Saddam's oppression of the Iraqis is now responsible for their future. Soon they will learn the value of all the worthy promises of democracy, human rights and the restoration of their national wealth. Now there can be no turning back, because the redemption of those commitments may very well determine our future, too.

By Salon Staff

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