Deep Underground with Raul Groom

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Heresy time - I've got a big test tomorrow, so no time to give any background. I'll just lay it on you and you'll think I'm a lunatic. But maybe in a couple of years we can look back and I won't sound so crazy.

The Iraqi people are not better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein.

AHHHHH!!!! Evil!!!! Lies!!! How can you say that!?!?!?! He is an evil murderous super satan-man!

Well, yes. Saddam Hussein is an evil murderous super-satan man. The difference between Hussein and Hitler or any other historic baddie was purely one of means and capacity - had Saddam been in control of the world's biggest army, we would probably all have been wiped out.

However, since the 1980's, when Saddam carried out some very major atrocities with the enthusiastic support of the U.S. government, the main manifestation of Saddam's badness has been that Iraq under his rule was a brutally repressive totalitarian police state.

Well, guess what, folks? In all of history, the only way anyone has ever figured out how to rule over an occupied population is to institute a brutally repressive totalitarian police state. When we invaded Vietnam in the 1960's, we instituted such a regime. We had to. You invade a country, you knock off its leadership, then you start cracking heads until you figure out what to do next. I'm not making a value judgment here - we did the same thing in Germany after World War II, an invasion for which I can offer no reasonable alternative. It was the right move. We shouldn't be ashamed of it, even though there were parts of the process that weren't pretty.

The point is, right now, life under the American occupation is probably about like it was under Saddam Hussein, only with more rubble. That's just a fact. It might make your heart leap into your throat with rage to read it, but it's reality. One brutally repressive dictatorship is a lot like the next one if you're the one living under it.

The difference is, potentially at least, that we plan to make a transition to something else. This "something else" is supposedly a representative democracy. I'm all in favor of that - unlike a lot of people on the far left, I am a big fan of representative democracy. If there is any ideological/bureaucratic system worth fighting and dying for (not a certainty by any means) then representative democracy is it.

Germany is a nice example of how to create a democracy in a state whose government you've overthrown. First, you reinstall a lot of the fascist elements that were in place before the overthrow to administer your brutal totalitarian police state. Once you've done that, you start to bring those elements under democratic control, and they sort of mellow out over time. Not exactly greeting-card material, but great power politics is not nursery school. If you don't have the stomach for this sort of thing you should go read Instapundit or something.

There were a couple of factors that really helped us in the case of Germany. First of all, pretty much the entire world was grateful for the overthrow of the German government, which was, in case you're just joining us, kind of running amok, invading everyone and torturing millions of people to death. That created an environment where everyone - most of all Germany's neighbors - were rooting really hard for us to succeed.

Second, what we were doing in Germany was basically returning the country to the "regional mode," which is always the easiest way to prop up a failed state. That is, you institute a government that is similar to other allied governments in the region. That way the institutional structure of the new state meshes well with the other institutional structures in the region, which lends legitimacy to the whole thing.

Unfortunately, in the Middle East, most of the allied governments are run by U.S.-backed monarchies. In fact, almost the whole region is monarchy. So there are barriers to setting up a representative democracy that have nothing to do with this racist idea that little Arab brains can't handle self-government. Iraq's neighbors are as follows:

Saudi Arabia - U.S.-backed monarchy.
Kuwait - U.S.-backed monarchy.
Iran - Hostile hybrid of theocracy and representative democracy.
Turkey - Friendly hybrid of military dictatorship and representative democracy
Syria - Hostile monarchy
Jordan - U.S.-backed monarchy

So the obvious choice in Iraq, if not for political considerations, would be to install a king. Unfortunately it would be hard to justify an invasion on the basis of our yearning for monarchy. It just won't play in Peoria.

So we have to have a representative democracy of some kind. But it's not going to be a European-style democracy, because that won't work. There's no institutional structure for it, in-country or in the wider region. The only other choice is the Turkish model, a military dictatorship with some democratic structure sort of grafted on top.

That's almost certainly the plan for Iraq. Now, you could argue that over time you could scale back the role of the military and move toward a true representative democracy. In fact, that's happened somewhat in Turkey and it's made the country much harder for us to control. But that's a viable model and it's probably what we're going to pursue.

So now, we can look at the real situation, without all the propaganda of how the Iraqi people have been "freed" from brutal repression and strife. The fact is, they are still under brutal repression and strife. It's probable that, over a period of many years, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives, we might be able to provide them with some measure of freedom and autonomy, but only if we devote almost all of our foreign policy attention to the situation for at least a decade, probably more. If at any point in that process we make a misstep, the whole thing slides into chaos, and a strong, charismatic and brutal dictator will fill the power vacuum and take control of Iraq for himself.

It reminds me of an admonition I read in a book by Idries Shah - "Why did I do such-and-such a thing" is all very well. But what about "How else might I have done it?"


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