No Such Thing as a Benign Despot

Posted: Mar 24, 2003 12:00 AM

Watching what had happened in Iraq, I felt “shock” and “awe”—not at the military campaign, but at what Saddam has done to his own people during his reign of terror.  At the end of a new Pentagon-produced documentary, I had become more desensitized by the 20 minutes of graphic footage than by 20 years’ worth of violent movies and television programs.

  My first reaction was exactly what the Pentagon intended: I knew that the war commenced later that evening was not simply just, but necessary.  My second thought, however, was likely not what the Pentagon intended: The horrors captured by the camera were the handiwork of a man the U.S. once supported.  And it was not a matter of Saddam going bad after he was our enemy, but well before.  Our government backed him despite a growing recognition of his ruthlessness.  But an ally he remained.  Not until he went into Kuwait did he cross over into an enemy.

  Iraq was an enemy of our enemy—Iran—and thus, an ally.  Saddam was becoming increasingly sadistic—culminating in the gassing of the Kurds—but he was our sadist.  He kept Iran occupied, serving the only function we cared about.  We didn’t want to know about the human meat grinders and rape rooms because, frankly, we didn’t care.  Despite earning his title as the Butcher of Baghdad, we “rewarded” him with chemical and biological agents.  Some in the Reagan administration saw Saddam as a looming threat, but an ally he remained. 

  Foreign policy should not be dictated by morality, but it should not exist in a moral vacuum, either.  Not because we should be the world’s morality police, but because our national security depends on the spread of the only societies that can be counted as true long-term allies: free-market democracies.  Truly free people pose the greatest threat to terror, both in terms of fighting terrorists and undermining them. 

  Self-governed populations are our most enthusiastic partners in the war on terror—and they will remain that way by their very nature.  They are less susceptible to turning, like Saudi Arabia did a quarter-century ago.  After the debacle at Mecca, the House of Saud saved itself by cutting a Faustian deal with the Wahabbists—and has been funding the people we are now fighting ever since.  Governments responsible to people who are not dependent on them cannot do as the House of Saud did—free people would not allow it. 

  Free societies are the only inherently reliable allies because they share our values—not “Western” values, but the values of free peoples.  Bad things can and do happen in good countries, but in the end, the values of a free people prevail.  Leaders of a free country cannot terrorize citizens or invade neighbors.  Leaders of a free country cannot fund terrorists or unleash weapons of mass destruction on thousands of innocents.  And citizens of free countries are far less likely to join the ranks of terrorists because they would lose the most prized of possessions: freedom.

  Acutely aware of the necessity of freedom in the Middle East, President Bush has laid out a bold vision of democracy—but the State Department is doing its best to prevent it from becoming reality.  The same day Bush outlined his plans, State released an “internal” report—which happened to get leaked to the Los Angeles Times—stating, essentially, that Middle Easterners are not capable of self-rule. 

  State may be right—particularly since it has long fought pro-democracy groups in Iraq.  The Iraqi National Congress—the umbrella organization for various freedom movements—has been financially hobbled by State, despite Congress’ insistence that the INC be fully funded.  Making matters worse, State is now allowing the Iranian mullahs and the House of Saud to play major roles in a post-Saddam Iraq.  History shows us this is a tragic mistake; there is no such thing as a benign despot.

  Some have argued that the U.S. should not topple Saddam because of its hand in creating him.  But even Dr. Frankenstein had to put down his creation.  It is time for us to “put down” Saddam—and then fill the void with freedom, not the next Frankenstein.