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When Even the Good News is Reported as Bad

from Slate Magazine

Iraq’s Budget Surplus Scandal
Why do we have such a hard time hearing good news from Baghdad?
By Christopher Hitchens
Updated Monday, Aug. 11, 2008, at 6:53 AM ET

Excerpts

Largely attributable to the bonanza in oil prices, to new discoveries of oil since the eviction of Saddam Hussein, and to the increasing success of Iraqi exports via the pipelines to Turkey, this surplus could amount to as much as $79 billion by the end of this year. A good chunk of that money is sitting safely in a bank in New York. I would call this good news by any standard, though of course I understand the annoyance of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and others involved in the auditing of Iraq, who complain that all the unspent wealth is a bit much, given the heavy outlay from the U.S. treasury for the rebuilding of Mesopotamia.

Yes indeed, Iraq should pay for its own reconstruction. But, just before we all join hands on this obvious proposition, may we take a moment to apologize to Paul Wolfowitz? Of all the many slanders hurled at this advocate for Iraq’s liberation, probably none was more gleefully bandied about than his congressional testimony that Iraq’s recovery from decades of war and fascism could be self-financing. Now the opponents of the intervention are yelling that Iraq ought to be opening its bulging wallet right away.

I think we should be glad that the luridly sadistic and aggressive Saddam Hussein regime is no longer in power to be the beneficiary of the rise in oil prices and thus able to share its wealth with the terrorists, crooks, and demagogues on its secret payroll. I think we should also be glad that its private ownership of Iraq’s armed forces, and its control over a party monopoly called the Baath, has been irrecoverably smashed. Iraq’s resources are no longer at the disposal of an aggressive, parasitic oligarchy. Its retrained and re-equipped army is being deployed, not in wars of invasion against its neighbors and genocide against its inhabitants, but in cleanup campaigns against al-Qaida and the Mahdi Army. An improvement. A distinct improvement.

It is in no spirit of revenge that I remind you that, as little as a year ago, the whole of smart liberal opinion believed that the dissolution of Baathism and militarism had been a mistake, that Iraq itself was a bottomless pit of wasted dollars and pointless casualties, and that the only option was to withdraw as fast as possible and let the inevitable civil war burn itself out. To the left of that liberal consensus, people of the caliber and quality of Michael Moore were describing the nihilist “insurgents” as the moral equivalent of the Minutemen, and to the right of the same consensus, people like Pat Buchanan were hinting that we had been cheated into the whole enterprise by a certain minority whose collective name began with the letter J.

Had any of this sinister nonsense been heeded, it wouldn’t even be Saddam’s goons who were getting their hands on that fantastic wealth in such a strategic country. It would have been the gruesome militias who answer either to fanatical Wahhabism on one wing or to fanatical Shiism on another, and who are the instruments of tyrannical forces in neighboring countries. Hardly a prospect to be viewed with indifference. I still reel when I remember how many supposedly responsible people advocated surrendering Iraq without a fight.