December 14, 2003

Saddam Redux

Posted by shonk at 11:29 PM in War | TrackBack

Since it’s the news story of the day, I guess I ought to comment on the capture of Saddam Hussein. Before I get to my opinion on the matter, I want to comment on some of the reactions from the anti-war crowd. I’ve been opposed to the war from day 1 (which, I’d like to emphasize, is different from supporting the Ba’ath regime, no matter what war supporters say), but many in the anti-war crowd continually amaze and annoy me with the stupidity of their rhetoric. Which just goes to show that someone can be right for all the wrong reasons.

To start us off, Stop the War’s Andrew Burgin makes the following excellent point in his warning against “triumphalism” :

This is a pathetic, isolated figure. [Hussein] was apprehended in an underground cell that he himself had created with a single air vent, cut off largely from the outside world. … It’s quite incredible that he was built up by the British and Americans as the person who was single-handedly masterminding the resistance.

Of course, the idea that Saddam was singlehandedly masterminding the resistance to US occupation is absurd and anyone who believed it is a fool. The fact is, people generally don’t like it when foreigners with guns decide to set up shop down the street. Taking pages from the Israeli playbook, like erecting razor wire, doesn’t help. But Burgin’s apparent contention that Iraqi resistance is entirely due to heavy-handed imperialism is also naïve. Even if Saddam had no direct communication with the bomb-tossers and gunmen of the last few months, it’s certain that many were inspired by a desire to return to the old status quo which held them in positions of favor. Burgin eradicates any of his good points with this stupidity:

Mr Burgin said it was ridiculous to assume that Saddam would have any specific knowledge of where supposed weapons of mass destruction might have been disposed of.

Admittedly, this paraphrase doesn’t provide context, wherein Burgin may well have added “…because they never existed”, which might well be true. But one would suppose that if Iraq did have any weapons of mass destruction or designs on building same, there is a very good chance that Saddam would indeed know where the evidence was hidden, or at least where to start looking. Megalomaniacs are not well-known for leaving important decisions up to the judgment of their subordinates.

In the article linked above, there is also mention of Human Rights Watch’s apparently contradictory desires that the Iraqi people “have ownership of [Hussein’s] trial” and that “international jurists must be involved in the process.” Huh? How can the “Iraqi people” (or, much more likely, some stylized representation thereof) have ownership of the trial if their judgment is subject to international review?

GNN also weighs in, making the point that this war was ultimately predicated on motives other than the ones publicly stated. No duh, as we used to say in elementary school. However, this too gets undermined by several glaring points. First, I am, as usual, annoyed by the equation of “privatisation” and “capitalism” with the corporatist mercantilism of US foreign policy. The dogma that underlies this misapprehension of reality leads to further absurdities:

Not the invasion of a resource rich country for the “capitalist dream” (The Economist), which was the forced handover of state industries to U.S. companies and the privatisation (or looting, whichever you prefer) of state oil assets and supply chains.

Excuse me? State oil assets? Since when does the stuff in the ground automatically belong to the state? Aside from justifying the notion that the totalitarian Iraqi state had legitimate claim to the oil under the lands which it purported to rule, this logic actually justifies precisely that which it claims to protest. After all, the only entity currently in the area that remotely resembles a state is the US-supported and -controlled provisional government, so it must necessarily own the oil and, therefore, have the right to do with it as it sees fit, right?

The article then moves on to a critique of the tribunals which will, apparently, conduct Saddam’s trial (incidentally, isn’t it so convenient that these tribunals were established just last week?):

So, Saddam (“he was beaten by his father teaching him the power of violence,” BBC News 24) will eventually be killed, by tribunals set up last week. These tribunals have the power of the death penalty although they have no basis in legality. … Their tribunals have no basis under any previous or current system.

I am far from convinced that the tribunals will necessarily serve justice in any meaningful way, but the “no basis in legality” assertion is ridiculous. Usually a “basis in legality” is established by way of tradition and the only legal tradition Iraq has known for the last few decades is the whim of Saddam Hussein. Surely nobody would suggest that the man ought to be tried under the so-called legal system that he created and controlled.

So what was my personal reaction to today’s news. Like Jonathan Wilde, I had mixed emotions:

A bittersweet day for me. A quiet solace pervades my heart at the knowledge that a human butcher has been captured in a most unglorified state for all the world to see, with vermin in his beard and helpnessness in his aura.

Yet, I cannot get past the chagrin I feel at the fact that other individuals like Saddam still walk the Earth in this ‘Enlightened’ Age. Did anyone learn the lessons of the 20th century?

“A quiet solace” is a bit too melodramatic for my taste, but other than that he captures my mood well. I think his further musings are spot-on:

If humanity is ever to one day move beyond tyrants, we have to start questioning some very entrenched givens - ‘common sense’ notions accepted by a large part of the world. Why is it that I know no one bearing remotely close to the level of Saddam’s viciousness in my circle of friends, co-workers, relatives, or other people I have known? Why is it that these barbarians are almost solely found as the head of states or their friends?

Keeping with the depressing theme for a moment more, I don’t want to lose sight of the endgame. As Max Sawicky points out

U.S. political leaders in both parties are quick to laud imaginary progress towards democracy in other countries. It plays to the notion of an inexorable trend based on the shining U.S. example. Actual accountability, given the facts on the ground, is always sloughed off.

The fact is, Saddam the person (as opposed to the image) was unlikely to ever regain even a fraction of the power he had before the war, whether he was actually captured or not. In this sense, the capture is good TV, but strategically almost irrelevant. Except in the very important sense that Mark Gillespie illustrates :

He has the look of a homeless street person, not a leader of a country. Now, I am not saying these things to belittle him. I’m saying these things to illustrate a truth. In truth, this is what EVERY so-called ruler looks like! From the deposed Saddam Husayn, to Lord High Terrorist Killer Bush, himself, they are all the same.

Without their cronies, guns and props, every single so-called ruler is just a tired looking wretch, flitting around from hidey-hole to hidey-hole. In my personal opinion, every politician, every leader and every ruler should be made to look like this. Take away their protection, their nice suits and teleprompters, their campaign staff, their stolen millions in “matching funds” and see what you have. Take away their parties, their caucuses, their Secret Services and their stupid followers and they are nothing.

Preach on, brother. We are, indeed, “fools to give these men power akin to Godhood.”

Comments

Damn! Talk about getting down to the nitty gritty... This is a damn good entry and a bad ass blog. Keep it coming, my friend!

Posted by: Da Black Anarch at December 14, 2003 11:44 PM

"The fact is, people generally donít like it when foreigners with guns decide to set up shop down the street."

I also don't buy the notion that civilians who weren't willing to take up arms against Saddam are willing to take up arms against a far more benign force that just cleaned his clock. The resisitence is fueled by Saddam's old regime and international terrorists, not freedom fighters.

Posted by: John T. Kennedy at December 15, 2003 12:16 PM

"I also donít buy the notion that civilians who werenít willing to take up arms against Saddam are willing to take up arms against a far more benign force that just cleaned his clock. The resisitence is fueled by Saddamís old regime and international terrorists, not freedom fighters."

I agree.

Posted by: shonk at December 15, 2003 12:38 PM

RE: "I also donít buy the notion that civilians who werenít willing to take up arms against Saddam are willing to take up arms against a far more benign force that just cleaned his clock."

Many people would rather be led by a thug of their own than by allegedly benign foreign invaders. I think many Americans, given the choice between being ruled by an American-born despot and being invaded by a occupational army from, say, Pakistan or Japan, would prefer the former.

Posted by: Decentralist at December 16, 2003 12:43 AM

"Many people would rather be led by a thug of their own than by allegedly benign foreign invaders. I think many Americans, given the choice between being ruled by an American-born despot and being invaded by a occupational army from, say, Pakistan or Japan, would prefer the former."

This is what I was alluding to when I said:

_The fact is, people generally donít like it when foreigners with guns decide to set up shop down the street._

However, I agree with JTK that "[t]he resisitence is fueled by Saddamís old regime and international terrorists". In order to gain recruits, these groups are almost certainly appealing to the perfectly natural xenophobic tendencies you mention, but the driving force behind the resistance is probably not grassroots action.

Posted by: shonk at December 16, 2003 01:06 AM

"I think many Americans, given the choice between being ruled by an American-born despot and being invaded by a occupational army from, say, Pakistan or Japan, would prefer the former."

After 30 years of being hopelessly under the boot of an American monster they'd immediately take up arms against far more benign Japanese who were promising to install a democracy and get out?

Posted by: John T. Kennedy at December 16, 2003 08:28 AM

RE: "After 30 years of being hopelessly under the boot of an American monster theyíd immediately take up arms against far more benign Japanese who were promising to install a democracy and get out?"

Those Americans whose friends and family members had been killed by Japanese bombs or triggerhappy Japanese soldiers might.

Posted by: Decentralist at December 16, 2003 02:29 PM

Cool blog!

Posted by: Mister X at December 19, 2003 09:47 AM

"We are, indeed, 'fools to give these men powers akin to Godhood.'"

I don't see how this follows from earlier points about how politics is a hopeless affair where the powerful seize power. I'd say this is somewhat akin to Nietzsche's corrozive and fallacious view of religion as the means by which the unpowerful become powerful. What I mean by that is this: you seem to mean that we are complicit in the power of oppressive governments, that it is only by the consent of the common people that abusive governments hold their power. In a similar vein, Nietzsche felt that the powerful were somehow complicit in letting the weak religious ascetes rule them, because if they were not the weak could not dominate them. But in my experience neither one of these propositions is really true. Those who hold power, I think, really are the most ambitious, cold-blooded and calculating, in my experience, and they simply use politics or religion just like anythin else: to conceal the reality of the situation. Now I suppose in theory the population at large is complicit in the power of their rulers, because if everyone rose up at once a million people could physically overwhelm any ruling cabal. But no revolution in history has every operated in this way: look at the French Revolution, or the Russian, or the Peasant Revolution during the Reformation, or the Jacquerie, et al, and one always finds a great mass at the service of some tiny elite. Mob psychology may be a powerful force, but a short-lived one, and easily dissipated. The fact of the matter is that most people are servile, and consent to be ruled out of laziness as much as anything. Hence, we will always have rulers.

Posted by: Curt at December 27, 2003 02:47 AM

"Why is it that these barbarians are almost solely found as the head of states or their friends?"

I disagree very much with the assumption in this statement. Politics and power may attract the most vicious and vile, but they are certainly not limited to those in power. Just think of your own petty meannesses and cruelties, or those of people you know, and consider these flaws magnified by virtually unlimited power, combined with the constant fear of losing it all along with your life. Just because your neighbor next door hasn't massacred any Kurds doesn't prove that a huge quality of virtue separates us from members of dictatorial governments. It doesn't prove that there isn't either, but societal norms and lack of access to power is, I suspect, the primary difference. Just think of ordinary Germans in the 1930s and 1940s living, in many ways, such typical modern European lives in the shadow of Treblinka. I remember a scene in the great and underrated comedy "Children of the Revolution" in which Stalin's illegimate love-child asks his father, in a dream: "How does a man become a monster?" and Stalin responds something to the effect of: "I don't know. You go about what you think you have to do, and one morning you wake up and you just are one." Also see, if this one isn't glaringly obvious, Hannah Arendt's "The Banality of Evil."

Posted by: Curt at December 27, 2003 03:00 AM

The fact of the matter is that most people are servile, and consent to be ruled out of laziness as much as anything.

And how, exactly, does this contradict Mark's point?

Posted by: shonk at December 27, 2003 04:20 AM

It doesn't contradict it, but it takes the positive thrust out of it, because it makes this "consent" of the governed into an inevitability.

Posted by: Curt at December 27, 2003 06:17 PM