Sunday, July 09, 2006

Like a Crazy Mofo

I'm just gonna go and jump on the bandwagon and reccomend the John Judis piece on the Madman Theory of international politics.

What surprises me about the post is that people ever treated Bush's accusations that Saddam was a "madman" as something that needed to be heeded.

I mean, in an obvious sense, you have to be a madman to perpetrate Saddam's heinous crimes. That should go without saying, but the Internet being what it is I probably have to say it.

But it's one thing to use the force of the state to commit terrible crimes, and another thing entirely to be irrationally driven to your goals, even at the cost of your own life or the existence of your state. This Saddam obviously wasn't. The same is true for most of the adversaries America has faced in its history.

My preferred example is Mao Zedong (the english spelling of whose name I'm never sure of), who quite obviously wanted to accomplish the US's downfall for a variety of reasons, and even advocated nuclear war to do so, but was nonetheless rational enough to not launch the few missiles under his control at the US. Mao - though legitimately nutty - was deterrable.

It's worth asking if there's ever been a legitimately crazy leader that the US has ever faced. I mean, obviously the US continually accuses every new bogeyman of being the New Hitler, but this game is getting old. And that probably grants too much: as Rob at LGM notes, Hitler doesn't fit the "madman" schema any more than Saddam does, monstrosity notwithstanding.

The domestic reason for all this crazy talk is obvious: It's hard to say "Saddam Hussein is a man we can work with, he seems rational enough, despite some rough edges. All the same, we'd just really like to bomb some stuff." You need at least a decade between "he's our bastard" and "he must be destroyed", apparently.

The more important question for me - not because I hate America, but because it's contemporary, and vastly more dangerous - is what happens when we look in the mirror. Could Bush have been deterred from the war in Iraq by any combination of international pressure? He was, we know, making an irrational decision based on some bizarre ideas and bad information. And it seems like it would have been basically impossible to prove to Bush's satisfaction that Iraq posed no threat - indeed, evidence showing exactly that was dismissed out of hand. As others have noted, anything that could have prevented war was seen as an obstacle, not a potential opportunity to avoid the bloodshed.

So I ask: is America led by a madman? Because if the United States is being led by a leader who is irrational to the point of madness, that's vastly more terrifying than if Iran is.

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