Sunday, March 30, 2003

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THE STALIN ANALOGY: For a founding member of the Idiotarian society who writes nothing but dull apologias for those who hate the United States, Robert Fisk nevertheless has the ability to provoke.

His latest essay explicitly compares Saddam to Stalin and implicitly concludes that Operation Iraqi Freedom will turn out like Operation Barbarossa. This prompted a denunciation from David Adesnik (although Adesnik really fisks Fisk here). Which prompted rebuttals from Kevin Drum and Kieran Healy, two people who are neither idiotarians nor anti-American [That's a ringing endorsement--ed. Kevin and Kieran are both very smart. Their blogs are the feel-good hits of the year!!]. Kieran starts by citing my post on de-Baathification and then makes the following point:

"[N]ever mind about Fisk’s credibility. The real point is that the Baath party is very large, basically Stalinist in organization and has successfully held power for a long time. You don’t get to do that by populating the party apparatus with idiots. Instead, you populate it with thugs. Beyond that, the thugs are organized in a manner designed to maintain a tight grip on power.

Three consequences suggest themselves. First, in the short term, Saddam’s resistance is probably going to be much tougher than the U.S. has been hoping. Second, in the medium term, the backlash after his inevitable defeat could be horrible. Third, in the long term, Iraqi society is probably going to be living with the legacy of the Baath party for generations."

So why am I bringing all of this up? To rebut Kieran's second and third predicted consequences (I agree with his first one). It rests on whether post-Saddam Iraq will be like post-communist Russia. The answer to that is no, for three reasons:

1) The Baathists have been in power for less time. No one in Russia had a political memory of life before the communists. This is not true in Iraq. If you accept that parallel between the Baathists and Communists, the better comparison is between Iraq and the Eastern European states. The good news here is that the communist parties in those states have successfully morphed into Western-leaning parties of the left.

2) Saddam is no Stalin. Saddam Hussein might aspire to be Stalin, but so far he's failed miserably at the task. Stalin was a ruthless dictator, but he also managed to industrialize Russia and defeat Hitler's invasion of Russia. It was these achievements upon which his legacy was built.

Hussein has seen his country's per capita drop 75 percent over the last 25 years. Militarily, he scratched out a draw against Iran and then soundly lost the first Gulf War. And even the most pessimistic experts believe that the U.S. is going to win this war. Saddam's successors have no legacy of success upon which to build. Iraq's decline has lasted a quarter-century, with the effects particularly concentrated over the past 12 years. And Saddam has been in charge the whole time.

A smart Baathist would blame all of this on the American embargo, and that might succeed in defusing some of the blame. However, this same Baathist would be hard-pressed to say how Saddam either boosted the Iraqi standard of living or made Iraqis proud of their country.

3) There are no loyal Kurds or Shia. When Hitler invaded Russia, Ukrainians joined the German Army in droves despite Hitler's avowed racism against Slavs. They did this in part because they loathed Stalin for starving them during the 1930's. The one way in which Saddam is like Stalin has been his treatment of the Kurds and the Shia. They'll be glad to see the back of Saddam, and they'll also be glad to turn in his Baathist co-conspirators.

In short, Saddam may aspire to be Stalin, but post-Baathist Iraq will not be like post-communist Russia.

posted by Dan on 03.30.03 at 09:30 PM