During the really bad years after the fall of Saddam, the criticism of the Bush Administration’s actions focused on the sectarian bloodbath unleashed by the end of Hussein’s strict authoritarian dictatorship. The argument was that while Saddam and his family had their peccadilloes — mass murder, pillage, rape, foreign aggression and thought control — at least people weren’t cutting each others’ throats and blowing each other up under Saddam. That is, at least those who weren’t the ruling party weren’t. The body count at least appeared to be lower that way.
So now its 2012, and, via the New York Times, here’s Syria, its dictatorship imploding with no direct help from us:
The paradox, of [Iraqi] Shiites supporting a Baathist dictator next door, has laid bare a tenet of the old power structure that for so long helped preserve the Middle East’s strongmen. Minorities often remained loyal and pliant and in exchange were given room to carve out communities, even if they were more broadly discriminated against.
As dictators have fallen in neighboring countries, religious and ethnic identities and alliances have only hardened, while notions of citizenship remain slow to take hold. The fighting in Syria has exacerbated that, as Shiites worry that a takeover of Syria by its Sunni majority would herald not only a new sectarian war but actually the apocalypse.
People here say that is not hyperbole, but a perception based in faith. Some Shiites here see the burgeoning civil war in Syria as the ominous start to the fulfillment of a Shiite prophecy that presages the end of time. According to Shiite lore, Sufyani — a devil-like, apocryphal figure in Islam — gathers an army in Syria and after conquering that land turns his wrath on Iraq’s Shiites.
“Among these stories we get from the Prophet and his family is that Sufyani will come out and will start to kill the believers in Syria, and then come to Iraq, where there will be many killings and massacres,” Mr. Nujafi said.
All of which makes me think — and of course, I am not the first — that when the Arab nationalists threw off the yoke of both the imperialists and the old Arab dynasties after World War II, they made the mistake of retaining something from the foreign devils that seemed like not only a good idea, but the only idea, at the time: Nations. Nation-states, to be specific. More from the Times story:
In Hilla, another Shiite town north of here, Mohammed Tawfiq al-Rubaie, the representative for Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most widely followed Shiite religious leader in Iraq, said, “We wish for the survival of Bashar al-Assad, but the prophecies of the Shiite books expect him to be killed.”
Mr. Rubaie explained what Shiites believe would happen if the Assad government were toppled by Sunnis: “We expect that the blood would run heavy in Iraq if they held power in Syria, because they think that Shiites are infidels and our lives, our money and our women are permissible for them to take, and that killing us is one of the requirements to enter paradise.”
So you read stuff like that and you think, wow, maybe a little authoritarianism here wouldn’t be so bad after all?
And you can’t say that, not only because “you can’t say that,” but because just as “anti-western protesters” almost all dress like westerners — because that’s the world today — you can’t go back to a pre-nation-state order today. And yes, nation-states have to be firm against sectional conflict; but that doesn’t mean they have to be tyrannical. And gosh, if by tyrannical you mean Abe Lincoln (who some folks did and do think was a tyrant, as he was called by his assassin after all), I guess we can live with that. Abe Lincoln, yes. Josef Stalin or Pol Pot, no. Baathist dictatorships are a lot more like the former pair than the latter. There’s no reason to tolerate any of that on this planet, in this age (unless, I guess, you’re selling them weapons).
And remember one more thing: Tyrannical regimes inevitably threaten their neighbors. There is no such thing as “internal matters” with cats like this.
No one said it would be easy.