The enemy of our enemy...

...is Saddam Hussein. This argument should appeal to Steven Den Beste, who has argued the existence of a diffuse Arab Islamic Bogeyman as our "real" enemy.

However, Saddam Hussein has also called the Arab Islamic Bogeyman an enemy for a long time:

Anyone who spends a little time in Baghdad knows there is one thing the dwindling, beaten-down middle class of that country fears more than the hideous regime of Saddam Hussein: an Islamic uprising. The Iraqis sent millions of young men to their deaths in the 1980s fighting exactly the kind of fundamentalist Islamic mentality that we so dread now. As much as they hate their dictator, Iraqis hate the Islamists even more. As a Sunni Muslim, so does Saddam. As in the 1980s, this creepy strongman is standing between Iraqis and the jihad.

the article points out that this observation is obvious to anyone who actually bothers to go to Iraq. It's obvious to me from my discussions of people who live and who have traveled to Iraq (I know many)[1].

In my opinion, Saddam would make a great proxy dictator. He is a contemporary of murdered Nasser, and of Mubarak his protege. The Arab Nationalists were all viewed as a great threat by the United States during the Cold War because we feared they would lean to the Soviets, but now that the Soviets are gone and the Islamic Jihadis are the real enemy[2] (they're the only ones who have actually landed a blow on America, and pose a direct threat), we should be encouraging Arab Nationalists like the Baath party.

And history has shown that nationalist movements are far more susceptible to internal democratic pressure than religious theocracies. Yet, inexplicably, we coddle the latter and plan to invade the former?

We should adopt the approach taken with another Arab Nationalist strongman, Hosni Mubarak. Spend a few billion a year on Saddam, make him our pet, and another bulwark against the Arab Islamic Bogeyman[3].

And then focus on the real problem: Saudi Arabia. We can start by partitioning off the Hijaz. I strongly recommend Zachary Latif's excellent series on the Fault Lines within Islam for a much more realistic and potentially successful approach to remaking the Middle East.

Part I - The Saudi State
Part II - The Fault Lines of Islam
Part III - Recommendations for Iraq

UPDATE: Norwegian Blogger says, regarding regime change in Iraq and hypothectical democratic elections: "There will be exactly one election no matter what, if we are lucky Gadaffi II wins, if we are not lucky the Taliban wins." Thus, you can argue, if theer has to be a strongman, why not a kinder, gentler Saddam? After all, Gadaffi seems to have mellowed, but was Public Enemy #1 back in the Reagan days. NB also has an exhaustive discussion about the fallacy of comparing the Middle East to Japan.

UPDATE2: Bill Allison sees my argument as disrespectful of Arab culture - it's a solid critique, and I emailed him the following clarification:

I suppose I shoudl have indicated on my "let;s co-opt Saddam" post that it was satirical :) I don't like Saddam and would love to see him go. The main point I was trying to make though is that if the war on Iraq is all bout taking necessary but realistic steps, for the betterment of the Iraqi people, then it makes as much sense to simply co=opt Saddam as it does to siomply dpeose him and leave Iraq vulnerable to radical Islamic fundamentalism. Saddam is not hated in Iraq the way we sterotypically assume, and teh article I linked to about how Saddam abnd B'aath are really perceived as a bulwark against a Far Greater Evil is quite spot on,based on my conversations with people who live in Iraq and who travel there often.

Remember the Taliban were welcomed into Afghanistan.... because they wer seen as stable compared to the Northern Alliance warlords who took over and rampaged Kabul after the USSR pulled out and US aid ceased abruptly.

my main point is that normal democratic traditions cannot emerge in the Middle East as long as the entire region remains a pivot for strategic imperial maneuvering by more powerful nations. To that end, Egypt;s model fo benevolent dictator is preferable to an Islamic theocracy. The Iraqi people don't have much choice either way.

Contrast Iraq with Iran, BTW - Iranians do have more control over their destiny, because Iran is not the focus of imperialist and colonialist attention. Iran is not Arab and it isn't in the mIddle East, and is currently in a kind of isolation. If you have a repressive givernment in isolation, eventually it must fall. But unlike Iran, Iraq is not isolated, and so its repression is going to continue in some form or another due to these pressures.


[1] Of course, the failure of the US media (a theme of this blog) to actually go to Baghdad and report on these perspectives is both unsurprising and yet still disappointing, even to a cynic like myself.
[2] Note that Steven's Arab Islamic Bogeyman is a more vague and diffuse concept than mine of the Islamic Jihadist. Islamic Jihadists are those specific groups of terrorists who use violent means to enact religious and political goals. Steven is talking about cultural genocide, which I agree is not always a bad thing (remind me to blog about the Assassins sometime). But note that we have direct evidence of the existence of Islamic Jihadis and none for the Arab Islamic Bogeyman. Steven's comprehension of Islam is terribly flawed and I think part of the source of the mischaracterization. Islam is totally tangential to this debate.
[3] Note that as our pet, Saddam would no longer need nukes any more than Egypt does.

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