There are worse things than an evil tyrant’s rule

Although I had misgivings that the U.S. rationale for invading Iraq in 2003 was based on lies, I thought the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a good thing, not a bad thing.

Saddam HusseinHe had massacred his own people, the Kurdish people in the north and the Marsh Arabs in the south.  I felt ashamed that the U.S. government in 1991 called upon these people to rise up against Saddam and then left them to their fate.  I thought the invasion could be a way of making things right.

One thing that stuck in my mind is that Saddam issued an edict that those who insulted him or his sons would have their tongues cut out.  Amnesty International tracked down someone who suffered that fate.  Surely, I thought, nothing could be worse than such a tyrant’s rule.

But I was wrong.  The people of Iraq are worse off now than they were under Saddam.  At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed in the fighting in Iraq, and some claim as much as a million.  Nobody knows.  There are a million Iraqi refugees.  The age-old Christian community in Iraq is threatened with extinction.

There is something worse than the rule of an evil tyrant, and that is the collapse of governmental authority and, in extreme cases, the whole structure of society.   When people are faced with chaos and unpredictable, uncontrollable killing, robbery and rape, they will turn to anybody that offers protection and order—even the Taliban in Afghanistan, even (perhaps) ISIS in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The instances of democracy being introduced by a conqueror are rare, and then only when the conqueror has the will and staying power to impose its own order and experience proves the new order to be clearly better than what went before.  I am thinking of the Allied occupation of West Germany, the persistence of British ideals of liberty under law in India and the persistence of the Napoleonic code by the conquering French armies.

Democracy and liberty are more than the absence of tyranny.  They are a form of law and order, and cannot exist without order.  Lawless violence will never generate the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

If the U.S. government was truly interested in promoting democracy and freedom around the world, it could (1) stop arming dictatorships with weapons to use against their own people and (2) provide help to democratic governments, including help with debt relief, when these governments come to power.


Tales of the Tyrant by Mark Bowden for The Atlantic (2002).  A profile of Saddam Hussein and his Iraq.

Why Keeping a Dictator Is Often Better than Instability by Christiane Hoffmann for Der Spiegel.

From Pol Pot to ISIS by John Pilger for Counterpunch.  Reflections on what happens when a social structure is destroyed by bombing.

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2 Responses to “There are worse things than an evil tyrant’s rule”

  1. williambearcat Says:

    One of the mistakes I made was believing that Saddam was killing his own people (the Kurds). He didn’t think of them as his people.It was one tribe killing another. Not that that makes it any better, but does show how little we knew (know) of the Middle East. I have said that surrendering at least gives the opportunity of staying alive.


  2. djgarcia94 Says:

    Then there’s the simple fact that the Iraq War led to more Iraqi deaths then Saddam’s entire reign.


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