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2006 November 05 Sunday
Saddam Hanging To Deepen Leadership Vacuum In Iraq

The one guy who knows how to prevent the Shiites and Sunnis from going at it in a civil war is going to be hanged for crimes he committed as dictator of Iraq.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein was convicted and sentenced today to hang for crimes against humanity in the 1982 killings of 148 people in a single Shiite town, as the ousted leader, trembling and defiant, shouted "God is great!"

As he, his half brother and another senior official in his regime were convicted and sentenced to death by the Iraqi High Tribunal, Saddam yelled out, "Long live the people and death to their enemies. Long live the glorious nation, and death to its enemies!"

Imagine a parallel universe where Saddam Hussein, dictator of Iraq, was given a drug to make him kind and benevolent to everyone. He probably would have been killed within a week. He might have lasted longer as his enemies would have suspected he was trying to trick them into showing their opposition to his regime. But eventually some of them would have done the old "et tu Brute" assassination in order to seize the throne for themselves.

Long running multi-generational dictatorships are the best we can hope for in the Middle East. The royal rulers of these dictatorships (e.g. King Abdullah II of Jordan and King Mohamed VI of Morocco) can afford to be less brutal because their claim to power takes on a widely accepted and familiar supernatural or superstitious basis for legitimacy. In countries where the people are too dumb or too tribal or too Muslim to handle democracy (or all the above) then only a dictatorship can maintain control. The main question becomes just how benevolent the dictatorship can be.

Syria, now under a second generation of Assad family rule, will - if Bashar doesn't make some big mistake - continue to move toward more of a Jordanian model of fairly benevolent dictatorship as long as the Jewish neoconservative supporters of Israel do not manage to get the United States to overthrow the house of Assad. If the Assads stay in power that'll be good for Christians and other minorities in Syria and also the Christians in Iraq who hope to flee to Syria to escape the Muslim fundamentalist savages that the US invasion has unleashed.

At this point with Saddam's sons both dead even the restoration of Saddam to power wouldn't be assured to start Iraq down the road toward a slow mellowing of the rulers because Saddam has no heirs to inherit the throne. Though perhaps his half-brother has kids who could inherit the throne? Ideally Iraq needs a dictator whose sons and grandsons are known to have some moral scruples and self discipline. Then the slow road toward a more benevolent monarchy could start again in Iraq.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 November 05 12:30 PM  Mideast Iraq Decay

Omer K said at November 5, 2006 3:10 PM:

To say Saddam was perfectly suited to his environment is as anathema to the current US powers that be as saying Democracy isnt a panacea for everything...

Randall Parker said at November 5, 2006 3:30 PM:

Omer K,

I quite agree.

On the other hand, the biggest reason I blog is to state things that the commissars have ruled taboo. I want to break discussions out of the walls of taboos that have been constructed around mainstream discourse by the powers that be.

John S Bolton said at November 5, 2006 4:23 PM:

The best we can hope for inthe middle east, probably should be restated as what is possible for moslem nations...

Wolf-Dog said at November 5, 2006 5:47 PM:

It appears that after the United States leaves Iraq, then the fundamentalist elements and Iran will gain more power in the Middle East. Then given the corrupt regime in Saudi Arabia, it will be very likely that Saudi oil will also fall into the hands of Iran. The latter scenario, is very possible, and in that case, if the Saudi Royal Family is overthrown either by Al Qaeda or Iran, then this will be a total disaster. Then within 10 more years, with all that oil money from both Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the arming of the new Islamic Empire, will reach epic proportions. It is interesting to see that one thing is leading to another.

Richard said at November 6, 2006 4:11 AM:

What we need to do is find the smartest, toughest guy in the country. I would throw one other criterion into the mix. I would want us to look for the most decent smartest, toughest guy in the country. It should be made clear to him he has a country to run and all we ask is he just run it. We would like to buy some gas when he has cowed the country into some semblance of order, but he needs fear nothing as long as he does not bother us.

Actually, we should just bug out. We'll screw up this selection process as well.

After all, the only successful exit strategy we have ever executed was the Viet Nam one.

Ned said at November 6, 2006 8:09 AM:

I agree with everything that's been said. The Middle East is too primitive, too tribal, too Muslim for democracy to take hold. Anyway, democracy doesn't work very well in countries with low per capita GDP's (and oil money doesn't count). The Middle East is like the Balkans - multi-ethnic nations can't hold together unless run by some sort of brutal dictator or king. Just look at what happened to Yugoslavia after Tito died.

US policy here seems to make no sense. At one time Saddam was the Main Enemy, so he was smashed. Now Iran appears to have taken over the role. But the US has destroyed Iran's two principal foes, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, which has magnified Iran's power in the region. When Saddam was on the job, there was no way for the Iranians to threaten the Saudis. Despite all the blustery rhetoric, If I were the Iranians, I would be quite pleased with US actions in the area so far.

The US will not allow Iran to make any sort of move against Saudi Arabia. And should that country be threatened, they will need plenty of help, because the Gulf Arabs are pretty much lazy and ineffective - imagine having to fight to defend your own country against an invader - how preposterous! This would mean no more whiskey-drinking, gambling, whoring trips to Cairo, Paris or London - unbearable!

Again, American policy seems to make no sense. The US went to war about 15 years ago to kick Saddam out of Kuwait and keep him from threatening Saudi Arabia. While this was a good thing, I wonder just what the US got out of it. Not a whole lot, it seems. So if Iran gets its act together and, perhaps in league with the Iraqi Shiites, threatens the Saudis, the President should call up the Saudi king and ask him if those pesky Iranian heretics are starting to annoy him. If so, the US would be pleased to move in and teach those Zoroastrians a lesson they won't soon forget and send them back to the smoking rubble of Tehran with their tails between their legs. And all we'd like in return is, say, that Saudi Arabia sells us enough oil to meet our import needs for the next 20 or so years at, say, 50% off the world price. What a deal! And if the Saudi king seems a little hesitant to accept this fine bargain, well, perhaps he should start brushing up on his Farsi. Or perhaps he might consider how good his head would look adorning a pike in Riyadh while the Iranians take over the Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia and deny access to the Sunnis. Now that's a foreign policy we could be proud of!

Richard said at November 6, 2006 9:39 AM:

At 50% of the world price the Saudis go broke.

Wolf-Dog said at November 6, 2006 1:17 PM:

"At 50% of the world price the Saudis go broke."

Not true: The cost of production for the Saudi oil, is between $5 to $10 per barrel, while the average
cost of extracting a barrel of oil in the world is $15. (For Russia it is $20).

Ned's suggestion about imposing a "price" for the protection of the Saudi Royal Family, is a very brilliant idea. This situation will become even clearer in a few years, when the Saudi monarchy is really threatened. After all, one of the arrangements before the Gulf War I in Kuwait, was that the United States did get financial compensation from many countries.

But on the downside, the lowering of the price of oil, would be deleterious for the alternative energy research in solar, nuclear and biomass projects, all these projects would go bankrupt, which is what the oil companies want.

Richard said at November 6, 2006 2:42 PM:

I didn't say Aramco will go broke. KSA will have severe financial problems if they discount too much. Telling some of the princes they can't go to Gstaad because it is more important to cover the social welfare budget might cause a problem.

Wolf-Dog said at November 6, 2006 2:56 PM:

"I didn't say Aramco will go broke. KSA will have severe financial problems if they discount too much. Telling some of the princes they can't go to Gstaad because it is more important to cover the social welfare budget might cause a problem."

It is not that Gstaad itself that is very expensive, it is that the debauchery and decadence of the oil princes, when in Gstaad is excessive. Otherwise, a ski trip to Switzerland, is not too expensive (Gstaad included.) But seriously, when the danger of getting overthrown becomes clear, these princes will inevitably do some belt tightening, and a lower price will be negotiated for the oil that the US imports. Probably there are many unexplored oil-rich regions in the gigantic Saudi peninsula, and the Royal family would simply give exclusive rights of these regions to the American oil companies that Bush is connected with.

But once again, the real victim will be the new upstart alternative energy companies doing research on lithium batteries, electric vehicles, solar, nuclear, wind, coal to liquid, etc. All these projects will go bankrupt if the price of oil declines for an extended period of time, and this is possible if a political arrangement is made with the Saudis to give us more oil at a very low price.

Richard said at November 7, 2006 2:45 AM:

I'll accept your modification. A deal is one thing, a 50% discount is another.

Long term, I don't think time is one the side of clique that runs KSA. The contradictions are too great.

Ned said at November 7, 2006 8:13 AM:

I made the suggestion about "protection" for Saudi Arabia and maybe some of the other Gulf states somewhat in jest, but, the more I think about it, the better the idea seems. I plucked the 50% number out of thin air and have no idea what the right one is, but clearly that could be negotiated.

The important point is that access to abundant supplies of reasonably priced energy is going to be a key issue (maybe THE key issue) for the first part of the 21st century. The US is in a uniquely favorable position, having both substantial domestic sources, easy access to nearby foreign sources (Canada and Mexico), and a large military with powerful global force projection capability. One possibility would be to strike some sort of protection deal with the Saudis, whose corrupt monarchy looks shakier every day. This would go a long way to meet US energy needs and also screw the Euroweenies, China, India and Japan, who would be denied access to the cheap Saudi oil (some accommodation might be needed for a close ally such as Japan). Too bad for them! (By the way, if smashing Saddam and the Taliban was all a part of some subtle grand strategy cooked up by GWB to magnify Iranian power in the Gulf so as the threaten the Saudis and allow the US to come riding to the rescue, I will take back every bad thing I have ever said about him).

Another possibility, of course, would be to develop a policy of energy independence from thug regimes like the Gulf states, Nigeria and Venezuela (of course, Canada and Mexico would still be OK). This would involve maximum development of domestic energy sources (Alaska, outer continental shelf, Gulf of Mexico), use of alternative fuels (ethanol, CTG methanol, oil sands/shale, etc.), plus conservation. The cost of energy (especially natural gas and petroleum) would increase, but probably not that much and it would be reasonable to expect, in 10-20 years, the US would be free of energy dependence on unstable parts of the world. Easy access to relatively cheap Saudi oil would not be compatible with this strategy.

In any event, it would be nice to have a government that even thought about these problems and at least tried to craft a response. Instead of blundering around the world trying to "make it safe for democracy," we should be working on securing our future energy sources. In 1919, when that wooly-headed fool Woodrow Wilson tried to democratize the world, the result was Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco and a host of lesser clones. Sixty years later, his spiritual heir, Jimmy Carter tried the same sort of thing, and the result was the fall of the Shah of Iran and the beginning of a period of great instability in the Gulf, which we are still experiencing. US foreign policy seems to make no sense at all. Our guiding spirit should be Otto von Bismarck, not Goody Twoshoes or Dr. Pangloss.

Richard said at November 8, 2006 3:53 AM:

"Our guiding spirit should be Otto von Bismarck, not Goody Twoshoes or Dr. Pangloss."

To paraphrase Otto, Arabia is not worth the bones of one Alabamian national guardsmen.

We should be smarter to stop giving Russia a hard time.

Ned said at November 8, 2006 6:36 AM:

Richard -

I agree with you about Russia.

Bismarck said that the whole of the Balkans was not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier, i.e., that Germany had no vital interest there. He was right, of course. Too bad his spirit didn't guide Germany in 1914, when World War I was started there by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist. Germany gave a "blank check" of military support to Austria-Hungary to beat up on Serbia, which may or may not have had some involvement in the assassination. This brought in Russia, which brought in France, which brought in England (to simplify a complex series of events), which resulted in a general European war which killed millions and upset the fairly stable system which had prevailed since the Naploeonic wars ended. If Bismarck had still been alive and in power, Germany would have stayed out and the war might have been avoided. Bismarck was an absolute genius at isolating his enemies and fighting short, decisive wars. Where is he now?

If the US were to develop a program of energy independence from unstable regimes, we could indeed ignore the goings-on in the Middle East. But as long as we are dependent upon such countries for substantial amounts of our energy imports, we may have to face the prospect of sacrificing our troops in that part of the world.

Randall Parker said at November 8, 2006 6:05 PM:


We will always be able to buy oil on the world market. We could withdraw entirely from the Middle East. Someone is going to control the oil fields and whoever does will want to sell.

We could insure ourselves against supply disruptions during Middle Eastern wars by building up bigger oil reserves and by building chemical plants that convert coal into liquid fuels. The plants could sit there turned off most of the time if the price of oil is low enough to make synthetic fuel costs too expensive.

The $100 billion a year we now spend in Iraq could be spent on insulation, better building designs for greater energy efficiency, photovoltaics material research, nuclear power research, and if oil as a national security concern is really that big then even development of mothball coal synthethic fuel plants.

nz conservative said at November 8, 2006 10:35 PM:

China and Russia have clearly out foxed the US over the last decade by keeping it simple- what is good for us ?

US policy is too complicated to work. The neo-cons have been trying to eliminate all rogue states, spread democracy, promote a narrow style of laissez-faire economics, secure cheap oil and fight international terrorism all at the same time.

Furthermore, they have been trying to address this daunting to-do list with a spartan toolbox of right-liberal idelogy.

Interestingly, one of the reasons the Soviet Union collapsed was because its international goals were too complex and ideological. Russia put its international 'missionary work' over the interests of its people, with money poured into backward states around the world for no constructive end.

The US is doing the same in Iraq as it borrows money from China to try and convert Iraqis to democracy.

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