A Room Full Of Spiders: Shia militiamen training in Iraq. Living with dictators is never easy, but if events in the Middle East since 2003 have taught us anything, it’s that living without them is impossible. The curtailment of civil liberties that characterises dictatorial regimes has often been considered an acceptable trade-off for the peace and stability they bring with them. People living in these circumstances know that the alternative to dictatorship isn’t democracy – it’s chaos.
“SADDAM WAS A FAT BLACK SPIDER high up in the corner of the room. You knew where he was, and kept as far away from him as possible.” As a description of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, the metaphor was memorable enough, but what the young Iraqi woman said next was unforgettable. “Now that Saddam has gone the room is full of spiders. You can’t watch them all, and you can’t keep out of their way.”
Living with dictators is never easy, but if events in the Middle East since 2003 have taught us anything, it’s that living without them is impossible. There’s a simple reason for this. The conditions that give rise to dictatorship are generally so appalling that the curtailment of civil liberties that inevitably follows their establishment is considered an acceptable trade-off for the peace and stability they bring with them. People living in these circumstances know that the alternative to dictatorship isn’t democracy – it’s chaos.
Let us give the West the benefit of the doubt and say that its leaders failed to grasp this obvious truth. Let us assume that when Tony Blair declared Saddam a monster, and insisted the world would be a better place without him, he was being sincere. Let us accord the same honour to President George W. Bush, and assume that he, too, was speaking sincerely when he told the US Congress, in his 2007 State of the Union address: “The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity.” Where does it leave us?
It leaves us contemplating a number of brutal truths. The first, and the most brutal, being that, even allowing for Blair and Bush harbouring only the best of intentions, the answer to “the great question of our day” is that America and her allies cannot build free societies in the Middle East. And that the men and women living there will not be sharing the political rights of Westerners any time soon.
That being the case, the West’s choice is no longer between dictatorship and democracy; it is between dictatorship and chaos. And, given that chaos is the only thing the West’s intervention in the Middle East has created, there is really only one positive choice to be made, and that is to back those military/political leaders with the best chance of maintaining, and/or restoring, peace and stability.
In terms of the present security crises precipitated by the Islamic State, and the deadly chaos of Syria’s civil war (out of which the Islamic State emerged) this can only mean recognising what the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has understood from the very beginning; that the best hope of peace and stability in Syria, and eradicating Islamic State, resides with the Baathist government of President Bashar al-Assad.
It is what Emile Simpson, former British Army officer and author of War From the Ground-Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics, is calling the “cold realism” of the West’s diplomatic and military future. Writing for the conservative American magazine, Foreign Policy, Simpson predicts:
“The post-Paris war on terror will affirm the West’s commitment to fighting radical Islamic terrorism, but, in the process, it will reject the idiom of revolutionary, moralizing democratic change inherited from President Bush. Syria was the end of the line for that approach. This new phase will assume that terrorists are nonstate actors, and will take the view that if you have an international system built around strong sovereign states — no matter how brutal or unconcerned with human rights — life becomes much harder for nonstate armed groups, including terrorists. This is simply a reflection of the new realities we face, not a celebration of that shift.”
Democrats will stand aghast at this unapologetic re-emergence of Nineteenth Century realpolitik. They would, however, be wise to curb their outrage. The Baathist regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Assad family were, indisputably, ruthlessly oppressive in the context of political rights. When viewed from the perspective of the economic and social rights these secular Baathist regimes delivered, however, the picture changes. Modern systems of public education and health opened up the prospect of a more prosperous life for both men and women. Large-scale state interventions generated both jobs and, by Middle Eastern standards, prosperity. Most important, in both Iraq and Syria, the Baathists kept Islamic fanaticism under tight control.
All of which raises the worrying question: Was it really dictatorship that the West was determined to eradicate from the Middle East – including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States? Or was it Baathism? Were the men behind Blair and Bush actually betting that their long-term interests would be better served by “a room full of spiders?”
If so, then they lost the bet.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 24 November 2015.
Well, you may well be right.
The Egyptians, pretty much on their own volition, decided to return to their traditional strongman model. Basically voted for Sisi after the middle and upper classes virtually pleaded for the Army to overthrow Morosi - mind you the Army officer class is the middle and upper classes.
For instance, no one has seriously suggested that it was the CIA who deposed Morosi, so the Egyptian counter-revolution looks to be fully home inspired. It is hard to imagine that President Obama would have approved such a move by the CIA, and unless someone can show a "smoking gun" I cannot see that the CIA would be implementing its own independent foreign policy quite to that extent.
The people of the Gulf states and of Jordan, when looking at the chaos around them seem quite content to have traditional leadership, with only a slight overlay of democratic participation.
So where does Iraq fit into this picture? A Shia dominated government proved to be a disaster - ISIS was a direct outcome. Saddam was a Sunni. The Kurds pretty much now have their state in the north west.
So at some point the Shia and Sunni parts of Iraq have to reconcile. The Egyptian conditions do not seem to exist in Iraq. There is no apparent strongman for the people to gravitate around. It look like their current "democracy" will have to provide the solution.
A very good piece of writing and once again you have written a piece which deserves wider viewing. I agree entirely with your opinions and also believe that Russia and the Assad regime are the key to bringing order back to the Middle East even if it means that democracy and civil rights are thrown under a bus.
I wish Russia and any allies the best but obviously other players will try to stop them. The House of Saud is intent on keeping Daesh alive and well.
The Western world will continue to be terrorised and will have slowly but surely increasing Muslim demands made upon them until there is Muslim control, or the Western governments and their peoples say enough, either assimilate or go back to the Middle East including those Muslims born in the Western world.
I agree with those people who say it is a clash of civilisations and the downing of the Russian plane by Turkey is a clear sign that Muslims accept and will fight for a Muslim world order. The light-hearted 'when in Rome do as Romans do' is being given the fingers by our refugee brother and sisters.
One of the reasons that democracy is difficult, and strongmen are needed in the Middle East is that incompatible peoples are lumped together. That makes it pretty much essential to have a repressive dictatorship, to stop the place fragmenting. Politicians being what they are, they hate to give up any form of power. I mean how many countries have ever split peacefully – Czechoslovakia aside? Maybe what's needed is some sort of Balkanisation :-). A federal or Canton system. The Kurds for example don't seem to have a huge problem instituting some form of democracy when they can become self-governing.
I don't believe for a second that Bush and Blair had "democracy" in mind for anybody other than as a cover for keeping strict control of oil supplies. Oil oil oil, repreat again oil. If it were not for oil Bush would have gone nowhere near the place. And certainly not to give them "democracy".
Om that note, in the West democracy may be just as illusory, looks far more like plutocracy and oligarchy to me. Who will bring democracy to us?
Great image. They have got style. Has someone been rehearsing them in preparation for making a film. In this world, nothing is impossibly OTT.
"I agree with those people who say it is a clash of civilisations and the downing of the Russian plane by Turkey is a clear sign that Muslims accept and will fight for a Muslim world order."
It's nothing of the sort. It's quite possible that it's a genuine reaction to an aerial trespass. Turkey is quite sensitive about that sort of thing. But the Russians have also been bombing Turkish allies in Syria, so it may just be a lesson. There is no such thing as a "Muslim world order" except in the minds of a few nutcases. Muslims are killing far more fellow Muslims than they are Christians or Westerners. Just how that establishes a Muslim world order I'm not sure. It's basically factionalism and local power struggles. No need for a tinfoil hat.
A fundamental problem with a democratic state making war on a dictatorship in order to impose freedom and democracy on the population at the point of a gun , is that while the attack in the first instance has the support of the voters in the first state, in the euphoria of spreading peace liberty and all ,the voter support doesn't persist through sons coming home in body bags and graphic coverage of atrocities committed in these voters name . Let alone through the years of imposed law and order that would be needed to allow a legitimate elected government to emerge. The "avenging angel " administration has too pull out long before true peace and democracy can flower ; either they get out themselves leaving chaos behind , or they get voted out of office in favour of an administration elected specifically to withdraw. Not that I allow either Bush or Blair could ever be mistaken for avenging angles.
Cheers David J S
Just as Blair and Bush were fighting for oil in Iraq, not democracy, Putin is fighting for the strategic naval base in Syria which gives Russia power in the Mediterranean not altruism.
Neil; Russia indeed are not in Syria for altruistic reasons. Unlike the specious Western "democracy" excuse they don't pretend otherwise. When a state as flawed as Russia is more overt and honest than the West we should fear for our "democracy".
Sadly, you may well be right.
After 350 years, this is what we come back to, if not for ourselves then for others:
"When a state as flawed as Russia is more overt and honest than the West we should fear for our "democracy"."
Yer not wrong.
"The curtailment of civil liberties that characterises dictatorial regimes has often been considered an acceptable trade-off for the peace and stability they bring with them."
Characteristics such as little unimportant things like the Police not letting academics have access to information?
"When viewed from the perspective of the economic and social rights these secular Baathist regimes delivered, however, the picture changes. Modern systems of public education and health opened up the prospect of a more prosperous life for both men and women."
Indeed; this hasn't gone unnoticed by many of us. In conversation with a relative recently, I observed that, awful as Westerners may think dictators like Assad are, we've now seen what's indescribably worse. And people have failed to notice that the lot of women is usually vastly better in such secular dictatorships - precisely because they are secular - than in the theocracies which infest that part of the world. Last year, in response to well-intentioned urging by a "left-wing" commentator for countries like ours to get involved in the Syrian conflict, I made the following comments:
"Syria under the Alawites is a secular state, in which women can drive cars and go about with their hair uncovered. Other religious minorities aren't - or weren't, until IS and the other jihadists came along - persecuted, but allowed to practise their faith.
Contrast social conditions in Syria with the US client state Saudi Arabia, where women must be completely covered when out of their homes, lest they be accused of being prostitutes, and are forbidden from driving. Religious minorities are relentlessly persecuted. Beheading is the favoured form of punishment. Note also that Saudi Arabia supports and funds IS.
If the West cared a flying fig for the rights of women in the Middle East, it'd have gone into Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the Soviets and in response to the rise of the Taleban. Or better yet, it wouldn't have opposed the Soviet presence in the first place: the women of Afghanistan were never better off in terms of their rights than under the secular regime of the Soviets."
Nick J: " When a state as flawed as Russia is more overt and honest than the West we should fear for our "democracy"."
I agree with you. Russia is straightforward in its motivations with regard to Syria, in a way that the "gentlemen of the West" as he might say, rarely are. At least the West knows where it stands in that regard. However, this characterisation of Russia illustrates that a sort of Soviet-era propaganda inertia persists in the West, such that everything Russian is at least suspicious, if not downright bad. Yet it'd be difficult for any polity to be more flawed than the US has been in recent decades. Ditto the UK and others of the coalition of the willing.... we're in no position to chuck epithets around.
Thanks for the link,Victor: quite takes me back to student days!
Good post Chris.
GS talking sense, here and on 9/11 theories.
Hell's teeth I must be ill.
Here's a question for you two: This Baathist Party thing that came about before WW2 if my memory serves me, and afterwards was tolerated by the West as the lessor of several evils, wasn't it sort of fascist, sort of national socialist? They were fond of Nazi Germany in the 30s and supported them in WW2 to some extend? Very statist so appearing somewhat socialist but actually right wing.
I've always thought of it is Arab fascism, without the goose stepping and racial superiority thing, except always Jew hating and suspicious of capitalism unless they were fully in control of it?
What do you experts say about this theory?
To: Charles E.
Nope. The first Ba'ath Party was founded in 1947. It's slogan was "Unity, Liberty, Socialism"
You have occasionally talked sense Charles :-). A stopped clock shows the right time twice a day.
Yes Chris and the Ba'athists are also secular. Where-ever they were in power the various factions got along reasonably well.
I don’t wholly disagree with you, Chris. But I have a few caveats.
Firstly, aren’t you setting up something of a false dichotomy by suggesting that the Iraq invasion was motivated EITHER by a genuine if misguided desire to free the oppressed OR by a desire to topple the socially “progressive” Ba’ath regimes.
I can think of a whole raft of other reasons (none of them good) why the Bush administration chose to go down that bloodstained and ruinous path.
Apart from the oil factor, there was the utility of a war for cementing support behind the administration, so that its failure to secure a majority of the popular vote in 2000 would not be repeated in 2004. There was also, inter alia, the perceived need to test US weapon systems and to show their effectiveness to the world, as well as a desire to build a ‘national security state’.
Plus, of course, the ‘W’ administration was a bit short on grey matter and, faced with a complex and shifting international environment, fell back all too readily on the comfort food of American exceptionalism and global mission.
As to the egregious Blair, his was surely a case of hunger for personal glory, with all the later career perks this was to generate, plus a taste for playing at being a war leader, following a run of apparent successes in Sierra Leone, Bosnia and Kosovo. Being one of ‘Thatcher’s Children’, he also likes posing as a ‘convictions politician’, despite (contra the late baroness) having no real convictions.
Secondly, I have my doubts as to whether US policy has ever been all that much affected one way or the other by the Ba’ath’s modernising policies.
Washington clearly preferred the Iraqi Ba’athists to the pro-Moscow Kassem regime, which they’d overthrown. Moreover, for much of the 1980s, Saddam was Washington’s quintessential ‘our son of a bitch’ and an essential counterpoise to the radically anti-western regime in Teheran. They only really fell out when Saddam got greedy, misread the signals and invaded Kuwait, thus sending shivers down the spine of the HW administration’s closest regional ally, Saudi Arabia.
The US was certainly opposed to the Syrian Ba’athists. But this was surely because of Damascus’s links to the Soviet Union and , later on, to the Russian Federation and also because of the Assad dynasty’s connections with Iran, its recurrent perceived destabilisation of Lebanon, it’s de facto alliance with Hezbollah, sponsoring of Islamic Jihad etc. Of course, none of this stopped the HW administration from welcoming Syria into its anti-Saddam coalition in 1991. And, in any event, it was Iraq and not Syria that the US chose to invade in 2003.
Thirdly, if you’re going to make a distasteful Faustian pact to support tyrants as an alternative to chaos, you’d better make sure your choice of tyrant can deliver. And, frankly, I don’t believe that the Assad regime is again capable of ruling anything but a small rump of Syria, without massive, long term, on-the- ground support from Moscow.
A religious civil war is now waging across the Middle East, pitting Sunni against Shi’ite, even in places where they’d lived in something approaching harmony for generations. The Syrian regime is drawn primarily from the Alawites, an obscure branch of Shia Islam whilst the majority population is Sunni.
....more to come
....concluding previous post:
That regime now has vast amounts of blood on its hands. I can’t imagine it surviving without ongoing external support.
Yet, if I was Putin, I’d be concerned about repeating in Syria the same mistake that Moscow made in Afghanistan in the late 1970s and ‘80s. It cost approximately fifteen thousand Soviet lives to keep the unpopular Barbrak Kamal government in power in Kabul and the difficulties involved helped undermine the Soviet regime itself.
Correct me if I’m wrong, Peggy, but aren’t many of Putin’s contemporaries and associates likely to be ‘Afghanski’, battle-hardened veterans who lost their illusions about their own regime when fighting the jihadis?
But, even assuming that Assad, unlike Humpty Dumpty, could be put back on his wall, why should we assume that either he, his mentors in Teheran or his allies in Hezbollah represent a force for peace and stability, even of the bleak variety recommended by Thomas Hobbes? That’s hardly the role they’ve played to date.
As to the much-vaunted secularism of the Ba’athist regimes, Saddam’s was already starting to consciously Islamise (and Sunni-ise) itself in the decade before his overthrow, whilst Assad’s allies and associates make him effectively part of a radical Shia block, even if it continues to promote the status of women and offer some protection to selected non-Islamic minorities.
So where does this leave the West? Without, as far as I can make out, a decent policy option for ending this crisis. And, even if such an option existed in theory, its association, in Middle Eastern minds, with our battered and toxic brand, would make it a sure-fire failure in practice.
But that doesn’t mean that we’re free to wash our hands of the crisis. Syria’s neighbours (Jordan and Lebanon in particular) have been inundated by recurrent waves of refugees that are depleting their resources and threatening their infrastructures and internal security. We need to do all we can to support these countries as they face up to their onerous but necessary humanitarian role.
And we also need to support islands of sanity and good government in this sea of murder and chaos. To my mind, this involves supporting the Kurds, including the ones with controversial leftwing pedigrees. Yet I stress again that none of this, on its own, constitutes a solution.
But, apart from that, we should leave as well alone as is practicable.
I think that the epithet "Fascist" pretty accurately describes the Ba'ath, albeit that some on the left might argue that it doesn't perform the objective role that they see Fascism as performing in defence of the capitalist system.
Chris is correct that it was formed after World War Two. But similar parties existed before and during the war and were undoubtedly friendly towards the Axis.
Very interesting and informative Victor.
I recall that my sister who votes Labour or Green reluctantly supported the invasion of Iraq and when I asked why she said Saddam had gassed 250,000 Kurds and was a fascist. I also supported it (regretfully) but only due to the delusion that because it had a lot of educated, secular people they would jump at becoming a democracy.
I think we both overlooked the looming civil war within Islam and the incompetence of the US military post invasion. But her motive was better than mine: He was a murderous maniac and had to go before he killed on a vaster scale.
It gives me no pleasure to say that I've been proved right in detail after detail concerning the Iraq invasion.
It was clearly based on a lie. Moreover, there were sound reasons why George H W Bush chose not to topple Saddam in 1991, reasons that should also have stopped his son from trying.
The destruction, the slaughter, the endless numbers of refugees,the inter-religious civil war, the rise of fundamentalism , the worsening position of women, the persecution of non-Moslems, the accelerated rise of Iran, the shock waves across the region, the sudden decline in US and general western "soft power", the cynicism about democracy .....all of them.....all of them...totally and utterly predictable!
But I'm just an elderly suburbanite in a city thousands of miles from where the planet's decision makers are ensconced and in a country without (it must be said) the world's best array of available media. So how comes I could work it all out and they couldn't?
The only thing I got wrong was that I thought the inevitable Sunni comeback would be dressed-up in berets and army fatigues. Instead, we've got ISIS.
I'd seen quite a bit of the world and thought I was un-shockable but I still have difficulty coming to grips with the extent of human folly shown by this shoddy and bloody business.
Gosh, I really cannot believe that a social democrat has penned this piece.
Both Hussein and Assad oppressed and murdered left-wingers: socialists; trade unions; women's movements; human- and equal-rights campaigners.
Aren't these our comrades?
Can you imagine how they would feel if they read your suggestion that, although living under a dictatorship is a rather bad deal, relatively-speaking it's 'better than the other options'? I thought that if you were a liberal-minded socialist, that meant that you opposed fascism?
I read your piece through once and became angry; the second time, I just became sad.
What the hell has happened to the Left?
I am well aware of the evils that befell the Left in Iraq, tshirtweather. But, as I say in the posting, the choice is not between dictatorship and democracy, it is between dictatorship and chaos. And, as the young Iraqi woman I heard interviewed acknowledged, chaos is much, much worse.
I have said it before, but I'll say it again - just for you: "Those who cry 'Let Justice be done - though the Heavens fall!', are seldom to be found living among the ruins."
Victor, thee and I often agree and sometimes disagree on some points, as it should be. This is one of the times when I agree entirely with what you say. The outcome of the disastrous Raqattaq was obvious to anyone with a few more grey cells.
I doubt if any of the idjits in Washington could fine Iraq on the map and even if they could they had no understanding of the implications of a take-over. Paul Wolfowitz was the author of that crazy decision in conjunction with Kristol and Cheney. None had any understanding of the issues involved there.
Madd, Badd Sadd was a monster but he was necessary as a buffer between Iran (Shia) and Saudi Arabia (Sunni). He stopped them from fighting each other. Although Sadd was a Sunni he would not ever support OBL, in fact, if OBL was lying injured in a ditch, Sadd would have stepped over him and kept on walking. The Yanx allowed Iran to take over Iraq and put it right on the border of Saudi.
Enter Paul Bremmer the cowboy Sultan of Baghdad, in his $1000.00 cowboy boots, his $500.00 cowboy jacket, and his $300.00 ten gallon hat. Who immediately sacked Sadds army (mostly Sunni) and dumped them out on the streets, angry, un-employed and armed to the teeth! What the hell did he expect would happen? Did he think that they would go back to their little plots of land and grow turnips? Load that with the Iraqi Shia victimising the Sunni and you have a plot for a good afternoon's civil war. And that is what they got! ISIL is the end result.
The reason Sadd went into Kuwait was because the Yank oil drillers were slant drilling under the border and stealing Sadd's oil. In Texas people get shot for doing that and Madeline Albright (not particularly all bright) set Sadd up so that George I could show off his shiny techno-weapons. The rest is history.
Getting back to the OP, sometimes a country needs a Strongman to run it and Iraq needed Sadd unfortunately. The Yank plan was never to bring democracy to Iraq but to put a pliable Govt. in place there. The same can be said for Syria. Assad is the legitimate Pressie of syria, voted in twice in open and fair elections but he wouldn't jump when the Yanx told him to, so he has to go.
The fact that they invaded and deposed Saddam may possibly have been justifiable. He was hardly a BENEVOLENT dictator. The fact that they did it without any plan for what was to happen afterwards was unconscionable. I think their main mistake (outside of invading maybe) was disbanding the army. It could have been some sort of unifying force, but now it's the Isis high command.
I strongly disagree, GS.
It is one of the key assumptions of UN membership that a member state that has not been (and is not in imminent danger of being) attacked by another member state; and is not responding to the aggression of one member state against another; and does not have the explicit authorisation of a Security Council resolution to engage in military action on behalf of and under the auspices of the United Nations, must find itself in clear contravention of the UN Charter - and a host of international covenants - if it launches, or aids, a military assault upon the territory of another UN member state.
And yet, this is precisely what the US, UK and Australia did: they attacked a fellow member of the UN which had not attacked their own country and was at peace with its neighbours. What's more, they did this with malice aforethought and as the culmination of months, if not years, of planning.
In other words, they were guilty of planning to wage aggressive war. This was described by the prosecutors at Nuremberg as "the crime of crimes" - because all the other war crimes and crimes against humanity flowed from the Nazi's original decision to invade and conquer other nation states.
So, no, GS. The invasion of Iraq was NOT justifiable. It was carried out in contravention of both the UN charter and International Law. The Bush Administration is, therefore, guilty of war crimes and its key personnel - Pres. Bush himself, VP Cheney, and Sec. Defence Rumsfeld - should be placed in the dock at the Hague.
I too strongly disagree with you, as there was no way that the outcome could have been sufficiently benign to justify the inevitable bloodshed and dislocation involved.
Iraq didn't, to my mind, need as tyrannical a strongman as Saddam in the first place, although, I'd agree that some sort of strongman was probably necessary.
But, once Saddam was in power, his forced removal by outsiders could only lead to the destruction of the artificial country clobbered together by Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell in the early 1920s.
It's also my view that, although a further UN resolution might have rendered the invasion legal, it would not have made it either wise or ethical, as it would still have been based on lies, have failed the crucial test of proportionality, have reinforced Middle Eastern resentments against Western "Imperialism" and helped to recruit yet more terrorists.
And, from the point of view of realpolitik, it would also still have vastly increased Iran's disruptive influence in the region, which is hardly to the West's advantage.
Bush, Blair and Howard could have learned from the fate of Anthony Eden that the age of western incursions in the Middle East is over.
Moreover, as Maximilian Robespierre trenchantly reminded his bellicose Girondin opponents: "No-one loves armed missionaries"!
I have to agree with Chris here GS. The Bush Gang are War Criminals of the worst kind. Iraq had nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with oil.
There is no exit strategy from Iraq and Afganistan because there is no intention of leaving and never was. No-one in their right mind would ever say the Madd Sadd was a kindly soul but he was necessary for the stability of the region. Take him out and chaos is the result!
Note Libya, Bush and Blair bombed the living crap out of it, got rid of Gadafi and turned the country into a hell pit that is a training ground for Jihadis! Yet they completely ignored what was going on in Egypt (hint: Egypt has little oil!!!).
Have you worked out where Israel fits in all of this?
Neither of you seem to notice I said "might possibly" – which was partly a device to contrast it with the lack of planning for the aftermath. There is also a difference between United Nations regulations, and ethics. The United Nations has sanctioned some pretty terrible things. You are saying it was illegal, I'm just saying it might have been ethical. I believe it would also be ethical to remove the North Korean leader for instance, who keeps people in concentration camps almost as bad as those in Nazi Germany. Not practical or legal, but may well be ethical. I believe there should be limits placed on what you can do to your citizens before decent people and other countries have you removed. I believe the principle of noninterference in the affairs of sovereign states should definitely be limited. Given that we do this in all sorts of covert and overt ways, perhaps we should do it more transparently. Just call me an old romantic.
Just a further comment. It's obvious that around the world most people want some form of representative government – if only locally. You seem to be quite willing to deny them a chance at this. To be honest, I think this is cold. Would you apply the same logic to your friends, family and fellow citizens?
I wasn't arguing about the motives of the people involved Bushbaptist. I am as aware of them as you are. But I doubt somehow that any permanent occupation was considered. Very expensive and counter-productive. What I was arguing with was the lack of preparation for establishing a government after the invasion. No conspiracy, just complete and utter ignorance. It could have been done in several ways that might just have kept the stability, and introduced a tad more democracy or at least a strongman that didn't use chemical weapons on his own citizens. If we don't do something about people like Saddam, we become as Primo Levi said, —“a mass of ‘invalids,’ huddled around a core of savages.” In my opinion, we should at the very least remove the core of savages.
Israel? I suspect the present government of Israel would prefer a destabilised Middle East, at least to the point where Arab nations can't cooperate against it. But I suspect this is a little more than they bargained for.
I agree that what’s legal, what’s ethical and what’s practical are not necessarily the same thing.
And I also agree that, had it been practical to remove Saddam Hussein without huge loss of life or other obscene consequences, then it might well have been ethical to do so or even unethical to refrain from doing so.
I’m not a Christian but I’m rather impressed by the originally Christian doctrine of a “Just War”. This lays down a whole series of criteria (of which legality is only one) which need to be met before a war can be considered “just”.
“If only”, I can hear you sigh, ”Christians had actually practiced what they claimed to believe these last 15 or so centuries! “ Be that as it may, I’ve found these principles invaluable in picking my way through the long list of problematic interventions and non-interventions of the post Cold War epoch.
One of the criteria is that of proportionality. This has been described in various ways by different experts but seems to come down to the notion that the use of arms must not produce ”evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”.
I can’t imagine any circumstances in which the use of arms against Iraq would not have produced far graver evils and disorders than the undoubted and manifest evil of Saddam's rule. Leaving aside the invasion’s own huge body count, the consequent splintering of authority and the spread of sectarian violence were almost certain to send casualty rates spiralling, with all the dismal consequences that we’ve seen and read about.
Perhaps it might have been only 80% or 90% as bad had the Iraqi army and/or the Ba’ath Party been allowed a continues existence. Who knows? But one thing is certain: it would still have been terrible.
Does this mean that I believe an invasion of another country is never justified? No it doesn’t. The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia was terrible but a continuation of Khmer Rouge rule would have been infinitely more so. Conversely, the failure of the international community to intervene in Ruanda was and remains a cause of shame.
But I also think that there has to be what UK lawyers call a “rebuttable presumption” in favour of legality and respect for countries’ sovereignty. Without that, we return to a 1930s world of “No law except the sword, unsheathed and uncontrolled”. And, by the way, that’s one of the main reasons why I’ve differed to many on this site, including Chris, over Russia’s policy towards the Ukraine.
Meanwhile, I regret suggesting that Iraq needed a “strongman” of some sort. Who am I to recommend for others that which I would not regard as acceptable for myself? What I was trying to say was that an artificial country, created by outside powers and riven by sectarian and ethnic divisions, is unlikely to hang together without a tough ruler of some sort. I think you were making a similar point earlier on in the thread.
I also think Wayne Mapp might have a point in suggesting that, where liberal democracy does not exist, you might be better off with traditional rulers than self-made despots. Personally, I suspect I’d rather be under the thumb of the Hashemites than of either the Ba’ath or ISIS, though it might be something of a “Hobson’s Choice”.
GS you old Romantic, I was not talking about legalities or even ethics. It would be ethical and even legal if everyone were all lovey-dovey with their neighbours and religion as well as politics was never an issue. Not going to happen any time soon but. When we have each of the three Abrahamic beliefs constantly stirring up a war or six with each other. With Sunni Islam stating that their way is the one true light and the Shia stating that theirs is and both are willing to kill each other to prove a point, when Christians are prepared to kill both because their way is the only one, while the God's Chosen people sit on the side line like soccer mums!
Sometimes, to keep the peace, we need a crusty old Sheriff who is prepared to break the rules to stop an endless gang war. Not sayin' that it is perfect but nothing in life ever is. Madd Sadd was that sheriff and when he was taken out we have all the problems that are visited on us right now.
The US can't claim the high ground when they deliberately bomb a hospital (no accident as claimed), kill lots of civilians with drone strikes and often miss the real target they were aiming for? How can they claim the Assad is a crook because he uses barrel bombs when they use cluster bombs that kill and maim hundreds or thousands of civilians for years to come? When they plaster a city with white Phosphorus against all legal obligations? No-one can say that they are doing it for altruistic reasons when they are doing it to protect the profits of the MIC!
Could anyone in their righ mind say that Egypt's Sisi is democratically elected? After all he led a military coup against a Govt that was democratically elected, was the US involved in that coup? Who knows but probably was. See Egypt is predominately Sunni and the Mus' Bro's were Shia, (aligned with Hamas and Hezbolah, Israel's arch enemies)) so they had to go. So much for bringing "Democracy" there.
We can not bring democracy at the muzzle of a machinegun, all that happens is chaos and the death of thousands of innocent civilians. People have to find democracy for themselves.
No-one's hands are clean in this, not even ours GS.
I wonder if anyone living in Syria or Iraq would understand New Zealands social and religious nuances and divisions well enough to divise a stable successful form of governance for us from afar?
Victor. I think most of the casualties of Bush's Iraq invasion came after the conclusion of the fighting. The casualties from the fighting between American troops and Iraqi troops were minimal. Most of the people who died since the casualties of the utter chaos that prevailed after Saddam had been deposed, because there was absolutely no planning for what should happen once the war had been won. I mean they still can't get electricity 24 /7 in many places. So the consequences needn't have been as bad as they were, if someone had done a modicum of figuring out what they were going to do after the war. For this I blame Bush and Cheney, who are hardly long-term thinkers. I mean the infrastructure wasn't nearly as bad as it was in Germany after World War II, so some form of Marshall Plan may well have worked. And some sort of cantonisation might also have been an advantage, If only to keep Shia and Sunni out of each other's faces for a while. They must've known that all those feelings that had been repressed under Saddam would come out, but they had no plan worked out to control or channel them. There must have been plenty of Syrians living in the US to whom they might have turned for advice, and I'm sure that the State Department also had experts they could call on – though the State Department seems to be ignored a lot these days. But I think they could have minimised the postwar problems somehow and produced something approaching a stable state/states.
GS, this is how Iraq was supposed to happen. The Yanx/Brits would invade, Sadd would put up a short fight to make it like it wasn't a push-over. He'd be deposed and the Yanx would set up a puppet Govt that would do it's bidding. Yanx would then build all those bases (still there with about 10,000 Yank troops) that Sadd wouldn't let them build and everything would be rosy! The Yank and Brit oil companies would be free to exploit Iraqi oil to their little heart's content.
Study a map of the patch as see for yourself why it's so important for the Yanx to be there. Hint: what country is on Iraq's eastern border?
Why is there no exit strategy? Could it possibly be that the Yanx never intended to leave?
Why is it that the Yanx haven't got rid of Kimmie of NK? That country desperately needs to have a democracy. Could it be because NK has no oil? Nah! The Yanx only do things because they are generous and magnanimous.
When are the Yanx going to effect a "Regime Change" in Saudi Arabia and depose that despotic, absolute monarchy and all the corruption there? You know the country, the one where there is a be-heading about once a week and women are stoned to death regularly. Where people male and female are whipped almost to death for the slightest infraction.
Yes GS you're right about the electricity and water supply in Iraq but why hasn't the generating stations been re-built? The water pumping station re-built too? The Yanx had plenty of time and plane loads of money, when they were there but such mundane things are not important so that should tell you that the Yanx are not interested in helping the locals re-build their lives. They couldn't find a soldier to protect the oldest museum in the world but they could find 200 troops to guard the Oil Ministry! That should tell anyone who doubts the invasion, where the Yanx interests lie.
Bushbaptist, you seem to be saying that the Americans interfered in Iraq because of oil, yet won't interfere in Saudi Arabia because of oil?
Ya onta it GS! Crazy world we live in matey!
Further to my earlier comment GS. Why did the Yanx invade Iraq to get rid of a tyrant but studiously ignore their great mates the House of Saud? The latter are any bit as bad as Sadd, even worse. Why do they allow the Saudis to bomb the crap out of Yemen (arguably the poorest state in the region), the other buffer to Iran?
To the east of Iran is Afganistan, and Pakistan. To the north is Turkmenistan (Firmly under the control of the Yanx) and Turkey. To the west is Syria and Saudi Arabia. See the link?
The Yanx are selective about who they want to Regime Change and who they don't. That should indicate their real motives. Altruism ain't one of them!
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