30 December 2006

What if Saddam is the Best Iraq Can Do?

Last night at the gym, the TV news was flitting from one image to another to confirm that Saddam was evil and deserved execution. It's an easy sell to an American audience, raised as we are to be repulsed at the thought of such unchecked power.

But what the media will never allude to is that Saddam may have actually been exactly the kind of leader one would expect for a country like Iraq.

Iraq does not have the foundation of one nation on which to build a nation-state. Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds are three distinct groups that see themselves as Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds before they see themselves as Iraqis. Creating one nation-state with these three groups requires a strong leader.

For a significant portion of the population, the authority of religious dogma far outweighs the authority of the uncertain processes of law or science. Such a population cannot be reasoned with for the simple fact that they've little respect for reason. Force is the one alternative for dealing with such a population.

You don't have to make a formal study of children to know that what is appropriate for a child of 16 won't work for a child of 6. And to be fair to the Iraqi legal system that found him guilty, no people should have to endure the rule of a tyrant, as Saddam clearly was. But the type of rule appropriate for a country at the stage of development of Iraq is going to look more like the rule of Saddam than the rule of, say, contemporary Dutch Parliament.

Afghanistan, freed of Taliban rule, is gravitating back towards Taliban rule. Why? The fundamental social dynamics that led to the rise of the Taliban have yet to be changed. Don't be surprised if the same country that yesterday executed Saddam doesn't soon raise up a leader much like Saddam. History shows us that it is much easier to change individual leaders than it is to change the social reality that allows them to rule. But then, George doesn't even acknowledge the differences in social dynamics of San Francisco and Midland, TX, so how could he be expected to acknowledge differences as vast as those between a quasi-theocracy and modern democracy?

1 comment:

Life Hiker said...

Many world-wise folks have concluded there are quite a few countries where the best form of government might be a benevolent dictator.

Some are countries like Iraq, split by ethnic divisions. Some are like Haiti, split by economic divisions. Some are simply too primitive, educationally and technologically, to handle democracy. Then there are countries like China: who knows what would happen if the lid of dictatorship came off there?

It's true that dictators can be useful rulers and that doing their job sometimes requires a bit more force than we can stomach. However,Saddam appears to have loved brutality for its own sake, and luxury more than his country. Yet he would still be in power if his hubris quotient had been a bit lower.

In my view, the first Bush should have offered Saddam a quiet well-witnessed bargain at the end of the 100 hour first Iraq war: you tone down your act, treat the people better, you and your family stay in power. Otherwise, we come and get you and your family, and give Iraq to the army. It would have been worth a try.