Comparing Saddam to Hitler is justified

Posted: Feb 19, 2003 12:00 AM
"We do need to remind everybody that tyrants don't respond to any kind of appeasement," President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, explained this weekend. "Tyrants don't respond to negotiation. Tyrants respond to toughness. And that was true in the 1930s and 1940s when we failed to respond to tyranny, and it is true today." This is hardly a new argument for the administration and its supporters. Hawks have been invoking the lessons of WWII for a long time now, and comparisons between Adolf and Saddam go back more than a decade. And it annoys the dickens out of liberals and doves committed to avoiding war at all costs. Now, I've long been a critic of what I call "arguments ad Hiterlum" -- by which I mean the drafting of that infamous Adolf into debates where he has no place. Recall, for example, how Representative John Lewis, D-GA, explicitly said that Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" was a prelude to a Nazi-like roundup. First, Lewis read aloud Martin Niemoller's timeless speech about the Nazi takeover: "They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews . trade unionists . Catholics ... ." And Lewis then declared, "Read the Republican contract. They are coming for the children. They are coming for the poor. They are coming for the sick, the elderly and the disabled." Aside from the outrageous slander against the United States in general and conservatives in particular, this asininity illustrates the problem with such ad Hitlerum arguments: They demean the Holocaust. Medicare cuts, as bad as liberals think they might be, do not amount to genocide. You could look it up. In other words, something can be really bad and still not be as bad as Hitler and his regime. And it's here where I think the doves' argument falls apart. Liberals replace the question "Is Saddam evil enough?" with the question "Is he as evil as Hitler?" Then by answering their own question, they declare Saddam should get a free pass simply because he's not as bad as Hitler. This is a little like saying police shouldn't stop robbers because robbers aren't as bad as murderers. But this argument gets even more incoherent. For example, in response to Rice's statement Sunday, the Toronto Star editorialized that Rice's comparison "fails the test of serious scrutiny." It continued: "Saddam is no Adolf Hitler, who murdered 6 million Jews and occupied much of Europe. Saddam is a despot who has sacrificed a million Iraqis fighting with Iran, and over Kuwait, who ordered the lethal gassing of Kurds in northern Iraq in the 1980s and the wholesale destruction of their villages. But the Holocaust was a unique evil." I see. So gassing Kurds and launching wars just isn't bad enough because it isn't as bad as what Hitler did. Well, the problem here is that Hitler didn't murder 6 million Jews until well after WWII began. The evidence against Saddam today is far worse in most respects than it was against Hitler in 1938. Which then brings us to the "But Hitler was stronger" argument. "The parallel between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Nazi Germany is transparently ridiculous," writes a columnist for the shrilly anti-war and anti-American British newspaper the Guardian. "In the late 1930s, Hitler's Germany was the world's second largest industrial economy and commanded its most powerful military machine. . Iraq is, by contrast, a broken-backed developing country, with a single commodity economy and a devastated infrastructure, which doesn't even control all its own territory." In this bizarre formulation, military action is unwarranted because Iraq isn't strong enough -- as if the West would have been wrong to stop Hitler when he was still weak. Sure, some conservative realists and isolationists can get away with making this point as they are deeply skeptical about morality in foreign policy. I think they're wrong on realist and moral grounds, but at least they're intellectually honest. But liberal opponents of war tended to support interventions in Somalia, Kosovo, Haiti, etc. -- countries far, far weaker than Iraq. And the truth is, Saddam poses a thousand times more of a threat than the brigands of Mogadishu or the thugs of Serbia. Indeed, if Saddam is allowed to flout U.N. and Western demands, he will become a greater threat -- as will many other would-be Saddams and Hitlers who will learn that defiance pays. This is the lesson of appeasement. A widely misunderstood term, appeasement doesn't merely mean caving in to strong bullies. It also means turning a blind eye as weak bullies try to get stronger. It's true, Saddam Hussein is no Hitler, but that's not because Saddam isn't trying his best to be one (actually, he's reportedly a bigger fan of Stalin). If the U.S. and the U.N. blink first in this showdown, we'll have made it that much easier for Saddam to become the man he wants to be. And in that sense, Rice's argument ad Hitlerlum is perfectly justified.