US Foreign Policy and The Evil Dictator

by Richard Butrick (October 2014)

“If at first you don’t succeed try, try again.” Most admirable. But it doesn’t mean using the very same approach again and again. It means reassessing the situation, trying to learn what went wrong and adjust the plan accordingly. To the contrary, failing to adjust a problem solving strategy which repeatedly fails is a sign of a fixation disorder. As Einstein quipped, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a sign of insanity.

Now consider the following pattern.

Out with Chiang Kai-shek in with Mao

Out with Batista in with Castro

Out with the Shah of Iran in with Khomeini

Out with Gaddafi in with chaos

Out with Mubarak in with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood

Out with Assad in with ?

Behind this pattern of “humanitarian” replacement is the problem solving strategy that the obvious first step in dealing with an evil dictator is to get rid of the dictator. The strategy is often pursued by those who view problems of good and evil from a means based perspective as opposed to an ends based perspective. A good example of the tension between these two perspectives is waterboarding. Those on the ends-justify the means end of the spectrum will reluctantly endorse waterboarding. Those on the means restricted ends, or no good ends from evil means, reluctantly or, more likely, with a sense of moral superiority and self-righteous indignation, reject waterboarding. Further, those with a means based perspective usually endorse punishment for those who transgress moral means. This is not to in general disparage a means based perspective – after all, legal criminal systems are largely prohibitive of actions and prescribe punishment for perpetrators.

President Carter has to be the poster child for the means perspective. His moral revulsion of the Shah’s (necessary?) brutality toward Islamists in Iran was readily apparent. Getting rid of the Shah had to be the right thing. It even got to the point that his potential successor, Khomeini was reflexively and without any real vetting heralded as a “Gandhi like figure” who was likened unto a “saint.”

But let me take a case which does not seem to fit the above pattern of going from bad to worse: getting rid of Saddam Hussein – the Butcher of Baghdad. The precipitating factor, real or alleged, was that Saddam had WMD. But that in itself does not entail targeting Saddam. The WMD capabilities could be targeted, as indeed, had been the Israeli strategy. Targeting Sadam was part of the goal of establishing a flourishing, democratic model state in the Middle East. It is that humanitarian out-in goal which consumed US military and financial resources for the years to come – culminating in the 2007 Surge and the “democratic” installation of the Maliki administration.

During Saddam’s regime people who were perceived as any sort of threat to his rule were thrown off buildings, shoved into shredders, tortured and hung. He even used sarin gas to kill Kurdish recalcitrants. From a humanitarian replacement standpoint, how can it be argued that the eventual take down of the Hussein regime and replacement by Maliki was anything but an enormous humanitarian success story?

Tell that to the Christians, Assyrians, Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq.

The persecution and cleansing Iraq of Christians started immediately after the fall of Hussein and continued during the whole period when American forces had substantial control of security in Iraq. How that was allowed is difficult to fathom. But the fact remains that both the Maliki and Obama regimes bear the responsibility. It is unquestionable that life for Christians, Assyrians and other minorities was worse after Hussein than it was during the Hussein regime.

Here is a report from the Reverend Canon Andrew White the “Vicar of Baghdad” in an interview back in 2008:

“The situation now is clearly worse” than under Saddam, White replied.

“There’s no comparison between Iraq now and then,” he told Pelley. “Things are the most difficult they have ever been for Christians. Probably ever in history. They’ve never known it like now.”

Moreover, UN observers on the ground (~ 2008) have argued that, as horrible as Hussein was, Iraqis were better off before than after the war.

The war in Iraq is a “pure failure” that has left Iraqis in a worse state than when they lived under Saddam Hussein, former United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said…

More recently (2014) the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported:

The World Bank ranks Iraq as one of the least politically stable and most violent countries in the world, and as worse off under Maliki than under Saddam Hussein.

There it is, “worse.” Not just for Christians but in general. And this is before the ISIS situation.

The out-in humanitarian strategy seems to proceed without serious consideration of whether heavy-handed tyrants – Saddam, Mubarak, Qaddafi, et al – create brutal societies, or do naturally brutal societies create the need for heavy-handed tyrants to keep order.

Instead, the myopic moralistic mind set prevails. And Samantha Powers does the myopic moral posturing as well as any.

In addition to this White House briefing the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said in an e-mailed statement. “The Security Council needs to speak with one voice in the interest of the innocent men, women and children of Syria whose lives are hanging in the balance……. Every day the Council remains silent, we let down the Syrian people, and we fail to uphold our role as guardians of international peace and security.”

Assad used (or is alleged to have used) chemical weapons against “his own” people. That is all we need to know. Out with the horrible monster. Damn the consequences, full speed ahead. Meanwhile, the in gate swings open for ISIS.

As painful as it is to admit, it is the vacillating, indecisive President himself, our verbalizer in chief, who may have (or had?) the right approach. He seems loath to really go after Assad. But the reasoning does not seem to be that Assad’s successor might be worse or fail to protect Christians and Kurds and the Alawite minorities. Is it not that, as defender of the Islamic faith, the President feels it would be unseemly to go after recognized Sunni or Shia leaders or their satellites?

The above back-handed policy pass for the Obama administration is only with regard to Syria. With regard to Egypt and Iran the Obama policy has been a disaster. Aside from backing Muslim Brotherhood stooge Morsi in Egypt – which fortunately did not take – the administration’s backing of the Iranian regime has kept a brutal oppressive regime in power and thwarted the secular Green Movement from gaining power. Obama’s policy has been described  by Caroline Glick, a Director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, as “beyond madness.”

The lessons?

Looking at the out-in pattern, it is difficult not to seriously entertain the idea that life under “secular” tyrants is preferable to life under monomaniacal ideologs – ideopaths, religious or otherwise. Further, the presumption that the first step to getting rid of an evil dictator is to get rid of the evil dictator is not the trivially obvious move that it seems. The simple minded means based approach – monkey see (evil) monkey do (eliminate the evil one) – has not worked. A better approach to out-in would be in-out. First determine whether the in (replacement) regime is incomparably better than the current regime and that the switch has popular internal support and that the switch can be effected without direct military intervention. Not that balancing out that equation is easy but at least it is the more prudent equation.

But again, the forbidden question here, really, is whether heavy-handed “secular” tyrants – Saddam, Mubarak, Qaddafi, et al – create brutal societies, or do naturally brutal societies create the need for heavy-handed tyrants to keep order. Think of the humanitarian disaster the US created in dealing with the Branch Davidian sect in Wacko Texas in 1993. Nearly 80 men women and children died when the FBI attacked their compound. Yet it was a sect numbering ~100. Now multiply that by 100k? 200k? … .

Maybe in any given situation there is no morally satisfying solution. Maybe with a large ungovernable, implacable jihadi cohort to deal with, the Shah, who had visions of being the Ataturk of Iran, did about as well as could anyone.

Gaddafi? Mubarak? Who could be worse? And now Assad. The Israeli assessment of Assad is pretty damning. Who could be worse? We may soon find out.



Dr. Richard Butrick is an American writer who has published in Mind, Philosophy of Science, Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, International Journal of Computer Mathematics among others.


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