Sunday, December 31, 2006

Farewell to the Bogeymen

Saddam Hussein and Augusto Pinochet are dead. Fidel Castro seems likely to follow. Two of them have had a grossly disproportionate place in the minds of the right; the third, arguably, has a similar role in the minds of the left.

The Pinochet obsession is more harmless--it may well have distorted, in our minds, the extent to which American policy is responsible for Latin American problems, but it's not as if that had any concrete effect on policy. The Saddam and Castro obsessions have been more destructive. The right's obsession with Castro gave us forty years (and counting) of an absurd embargo that has done nothing to promote freedom and much to impoverish the Cuban people. Their obsession with Saddam has (so far) resulted in 3,000 dead American soldiers, a failed state in Iraq, a stronger Iran, the likelihood of wider regional conflict, and a whole slew of missed opportunities in foreign policy--opportunities missed because the powers that be were obsessed with payback for Saddam.

They won't learn, of course. A reasonable person might conclude that basing foreign policy on inflated fears of a few bogeymen is a stupendously bad idea...but we are not currently governed by reasonable people. New bogeymen will spring up, have already sprung up: Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Kim Jong-Il. They're too useful a distraction, too useful for internal politics, for the conservatives to consider the costs of a fatally distracted foreign policy.

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