Bring Back Saddam


Iraq is the victim of a contrived accident. Like a bicyclist run over by a driver drunk-with-power, the country has been shoved off to hospital. The media hangs around and records the miraculous recovery as newly empowered citizens cross ballot papers and frame a constitution. The drunk driver hangs around, promises recompense and rehabilitation (in between killing insurgents) while the bicyclist’s family finds the driver’s presence repugnant and unwanted. As he is thrown out of the hospital, the driver says, ‘But the bicycle was faulty, it was going all over the place.’ And the family says, ‘Just go.’

Some people don’t know when it’s time to leave.

It is increasingly the case that those on the Left who support the invasion of Iraq use the term ‘fascist’ to describe Saddam’s regime and legitimate the presence of the Coalition of the Willing. This usage draws on the proud Left-tradition of anti-fascism in the 1930s. Saddam Hussein might have been going all over the place, but he was not a fascist. Nasty, brutal, disturbed, megalomaniac, one-time ally of the West – yes. Fascist, no.

Thanks to Fiona Katauskas

Thanks to Fiona Katauskas

Some amount of history needs to be read before using the term ‘fascist’. A bit of Machiavelli wouldn’t hurt either. The truth is that if the currents of international politics had changed, Saddam would have had a lavish welcome at the US presidential ranch rather than having to hide down a hole.

Given the mess that Iraq is in, it is my belief that the US government would welcome Saddam back if they could get away with it: an approach something along the lines of ‘Saddam is dead, long live Saddam’. Certainly a more compliant, less belligerent Saddam, but Saddam more or less – the kind of soft-nationalist dictator the US has always supported when it suited them.

Oh, what order he could bring, what relief, and what oil would flow! The problem is he is irredeemable. When you’ve done propaganda to the extreme, it’s hard to turn back the screws. So the search is on, no doubt, for a new hard man.

Before some readers get all sensuous about the poetical wording of the Iraq constitution and hope for a better future, the reality is that the constitution is simply part of the fringe festival. The main game is elsewhere.

Given the state of Western intelligence, does anyone know what is going to happen when Iraq collapses under the weight of civil war, and Afghanistan keeps groaning but is largely ignored?

My bet is that we should watch Samuel P Huntington for a view of future US policy. Huntington, America’s most famous conservative intellectual, has a knack for capturing the shifting paradigms of US government group-think.

He has had three public incarnations as the mouth of conservative America. The first was in the 1960s in his book, Political Order in Changing Societies. This was the heyday of counter-insurgency and programs of modernisation in the Third World. His basic idea was that if poor nations were to modernise (and be pro-Western), they required iron-cast institutions. In Huntington’s view, this meant the military leading politics. In short, his approach was order before liberty.

When counter-insurgency and repression failed to quell rising labour and social movements worldwide, the US moved towards low-intensity democracy (elections with death squads in Central America, for example) as a form of social pacification. Huntington then became the prophet of democracy, arguing for its spread in his book, The Third Wave. But this was not a Fukuyama-type argument about the end of history, with liberal democracy representing the highest form of political and ethical order. Rather, Huntington was still a Cold War warrior and democracy was his chosen weapon.

His current incarnation is as the prophet of his book The Clash of Civilizations. Over time, his argument hasn’t gone down well, other than among simpletons and journalists looking for column fillers. Even President Bush has moved away from the infantile idea that coherent civilisations are at each others’ throats as in a perennial cockfight. In the interests of being able to speak to and win over moderates within Muslim communities, Bush has been willing to withdraw his own civilisational cock from the ring. Now it’s about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims, not a clash of civilisations.

So what now, Prophet Huntington? My bet is that as people grow old they return to their primal first political thoughts. And for Huntington, that was order before liberty. The environment is ripe for such a return.

In the 1990s there was some genuine hope among US liberals that democracy was the wave of the future. The doctrine of ‘democratic enlargement’ was embraced by the Clinton Administration, and the US placed great hope on the expansion of markets and democracy. Which came first depended on political expediency. So in China, it was best to support economic liberalisation and integration with the world market as a catalyst for the growth of liberal political forces. In other places, pressure for democratisation was more forceful, but always twinned with economic liberalisation.

This democratic moment has receded. The invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq, so-called forms of democratic imperialism, are not a continuation of that impulse from the 1990s. Rather they are a bloody imitation advancing new geo-strategic interests, which return the American State to its belligerent foreign posture of the 1960s.

One thing is clear from the democratic imperialism of the Bush years you cannot invade a country with its own dynamic complexity and reshape it according to Western prescription. President Bush may well think he has a God-given mission to create democratic forms of rule in the Middle East, but in the attempt to redraw the political boundaries of that region, he has unleashed political forces well beyond his control. When hubris successively meets reality, policy changes even as the presidential PR machine shouts out the same messages about democracy. Huntington’s original message ‘order before liberty,’ must be re-echoing through the halls of power right now.

The pro-invasion ‘Left’ such as Christopher Hitchens and Pamela Bone, often say because the anti-invasion Left opposes Bush, it wants to see the failure of the democratic experiment in Iraq. This is wrong. The flourishing of democracy in Iraq, as a viable political system, requires the emergence of political forces that seek genuine social change both nationally and internationally. It would also involve undoing the economic hatchet job of the US Administration that has opened the country to corporate cronyism. Should such democratic forces emerge, that would be a victory for democracy, and a failure for Bush.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.