Wanniski: Free Saddam!

The godfather of supply-side economics remains an unreconstructed Saddamophile.

When last Chatterbox looked in on Jude Wanniski, high priest of supply-side economics, Wanniski was taking a well-deserved victory lap for having stated, prior to the war, that Saddam didn’t have any chemical or biological weapons. The moral high ground was unfamiliar to Wanniski, at least on this issue, because previously he’d argued, against a mountain of meticulous documentation to the contrary, that Saddam Hussein never gassed the Kurds. For a brief moment, one could shed the memory of Wanniski as genocide-denier and call him prescient.

But apparently the air up on that moral and factual summit was too thin for him. Wanniski has now reverted to his more accustomed role as crank with a truly appalling claim (in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft) that Saddam Hussein “suddenly looks innocent.”

Saddam, Wanniski argues, did not harbor weapons that threatened other nations and did not have meaningful ties to al-Qaida. So far, so good. But then Wanniski slips the surly bonds of earth to argue that Saddam may not have had the vaguest clue about the atrocities being committed in his name. If Bush didn’t know about Abu Ghraib, isn’t it possible that Saddam didn’t know about what his brownshirts were up to?

I wonder if you have evidence that Saddam ordered the Iraqi state or local police to “torture and rape,” or might he also insist as Mr. Bush has that he was at the tippy top of the national government and if he had known what excesses were committed by local cops, he would have put a stop to it.

This is, of course, absurd. Saddam didn’t merely preside over an absolute dictatorship that committed brutal acts; he committed some of those acts himself. Wanniski argues that stories about Saddam’s taste for savagery come from the same discredited sources that told us about his weapons cache. But—to take just one example—don’t you think Saddam might have wondered what happened to his sons-in-law when, after defecting to Jordan in 1995, Saddam welcomed them back in 1996, and they foolishly took him up on it? Are we to believe he’s been keeping Sunday dinner warm for them these past eight years, fretting about their failure to turn up?