One very annoying criticism of my column today (which I am a bit fond of, btw) is the objection over my use of the word bully for Saddam Hussein. Although I didn’t even directly call Huseein a bully — it is implied however — a bunch of dyspeptic anti-war types have written to complain that Saddam was no bully to America. How could he be? We’re so much more powerful. Etc etc.
Frankly, I think this sort of thing is grotesque. First of all, I think Saddam’s history of trying to intimidate the West — funding suicide bombers, pursuing WMDs and so on — makes calling him a bully perfectly accurate at that level. Second, one needn’t be the one who is picked on to confront a bully. If you’d ever come to the aid of someone being picked on, you’d know that.
But, more importantly, he was so obviously a bully in his region. Just ask the Kurds, Shiites or the Kuwaitis. To mock my suggestion that Saddam was a bully is a sign of the corruption of liberal idealism in certain quarters in my eyes. If one can mock the notion that Saddam was a bully, then no dictator can count as one and the best parts of liberal foreign policy from the 1990s (and earlier) unravel into a form of amoral isolationism. Milosovic, Aideed, the Sudanese government: none of these governments can count as bullies either. I’m not trying to associate every anti-war liberal out there with these emailers. I know that the vast majority of them agree in broad brushstrokes that Saddam was evil. But still, I’ve gotten pretty versed in reading the tea leaves in my email box, and this just feels like a symptom of rot to me.