Friday, April 12, 2013

Saddam the secularist unbound by the rule of law

I was thinking last night, for no particular reason, about Saddam Hussein and decided to save some of these thoughts in my blog. Please excuse me if I ramble. It reflects the way I was thinking.

What occurred to me is that the favoritism shown to Sunnis in Saddam's regime was likely not intentional. That doesn't square with the secularism of his Baath Party. Moreover, he did not favor the Kurds who, though Sunnis, were also disposed to separatism. Sunnis from the central and western regions of Iraq likely came to be favored because Saddam favored members of his own Tikriti tribe who incidentally happened to be Sunnis. Saddam was almost certainly a firm secularist himself intent upon making Iraq into a modern, technologically up to date, country -- probably encouraged in this by his associations with the USSR.

It is a mistake to suppose that if someone is a brutal despot that anything and everything he believes or attempts to do must be purely evil. Such tyrants normally have some commendable intentions. Where they uniformly go wrong is in accepting the very common moral error that the ends justify the means. It should be observed that, in the context of politics, this is directly contrary to the rule of law -- which is the principle that those who govern, no less than the governed, are required to obey the law. Under that principle it doesn't matter as much as it does in a dictatorship what brutal means a leader thinks are justified by his ends because the public, and the world, has some protection from the law -- perhaps a great deal of protection if the laws are based on protection of individual rights and the institutions of law are strong.

In a democracy, war is the principle means by which the rule of law and its institutions are subverted and weakened. It is not just coincidental that Saddam made war upon two of his neighbors, Iran and Kuwait.

The new regime in Iraq is much more sectarian than Saddam's was. This is very unfortunate. Shia, in particular, feel that they have been discriminated against in fact even if it was not in intent and now are repealing secularism in fact even if the intent is just to abolish Sunni favoritism. Iraq lacks adequate legal institutions for protecting the Sunnis from Shia vengeance. Majorities can be despots too. They too are prone to believe that the ends justify the means and they too need to be restrained by the rule of law.

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