Johnathan Chait and Alan Wolfe are back to arguing about Saddam Hussein’s state of mind before the Iraq War. Now, I have no special insight into the thought processes of a deceased Arab dictator, but I’m pretty sure Wolfe and Chait are in the same boat. Much like the debate preceding the invasion over Saddam’s intentions, we’re left to argue about the mind of an inscrutable autocrat with little in the way of actual facts. And yet decisions about war and peace frequently hinge on what amounts to amateur psychology.
One of the reasons I’m sympathetic to the realist paradigm is that it takes the guesswork out of international politics. Many observers assumed that Saddam’s peculiar personality rendered traditional realist predictions unusable. But now that the invasion’s over, we know his actions fit quite comfortably within the realist paradigm: Saddam chose not to restart a WMD program because his capabilities were limited and because he feared US retaliation. In other words, a straightforward weighing of interests would have saved us a great deal of trouble.