It was better under Saddam Posted by: Dale Franks
on Saturday, April 01, 2006
Ronald Steele writes for the The Guardian that, essentially, Iraqis were better off under Saddam Hussein than they are today. Since Saddam's passage from power, life, for Iraqis, has become nasty, brutish, and short. It's just a terribly violent place, you see.
For Iraqis in Baghdad, duck and cover is already a metaphor for daily life. On each of the seven visits I have made here since Saddam Hussein was toppled, security conditions have worsened. The downward slide since my previous trip for the December elections seems particularly steep.
The spate of sectarian revenge killings that followed the bombing of the golden-domed shrine at Samarra last month is not yet over, in spite of an 8pm curfew imposed in Baghdad. Abductions and murders continue relentlessly. Bodies, often scarred by torture and with their hands tied, have been turning up on lonely roadsides at a rate of 13 a day. Shops close their metal shutters and streets start emptying at 4pm as people flee home well before the curfew. Many Baghdadis rarely venture out except to the corner store. Those who drive to work vary their routes. A doctor who uses taxis to get to her hospital says she tells the driver she's a patient, "since it makes kidnapping a bit less likely".
Even shopping has become risky. Eight people at an electrical-appliance store in the middle-class suburb of Mansour were lined up against a wall and shot dead this week by masked gunmen. Two money-exchange dealers and three other shops were also attacked by armed raiders in Baghdad. Whether the motives are criminal or political, the result is terror and chaos.
Bodies turning up at a rate of 13 per day! People rushing home before curfew! It's intolerable, I tell you, intolerable!
Yet, Ronald Hilton estimates that, over the 24 years of Saddam Hussein's rule, about 600,000 people were killed by the Iraqi government. Now, maybe I ain't all that good at cipherin', but by my math, if you assume that Saddam Hussein was in power for 24 years (8,646 days, including leap years), and 600,000 people were executed during that time, you come up with an average of 69.4 people a day executed by Saddam Hussein's regime. That doesn't, by the way, include the 1,000,000 or so Iraqis who died during Mr. Hussein's wars of aggression agsint Iraq or Kuwait. That's just executions.
So, Mr. Steele's argument, essentially, is that Iraqis were better off when they had a tranquil public life with 70 people being bumped off by their own government every day, than they are now with 13 people dying in sectarian violence each day. Nevermind that, at the current rate, it will take 126 years for the daily death toll in Iraq to equal the death toll under Saddam Hussein. It just feels really unsafe.
And, frankly, Iraq is really unsafe. But it'as a fundamentally different kind of threat that existed under Saddam. Now the threat is overt violence; easily seen, and easily identified. Under Saddam Hussein, the threat was far more subtle. Your neighbors merely disappeared in the middle of the night, with hardly a ripple to mark their passing. Sure, you were five times more likely to be bumped off by Saddam Hussein, but at least he had the good breeding to ensure you went quietly, without making a big deal out of it.
This may be analogous to the old saw about whether a tree falling in a forest makes noise if nobody is there to hear it. If violence and mayhem occur and there are no television cameras or reporters to record it, does it really count as violence? Obviously, the answer is no.
Ronald Steele writes for the The Guardian that, essentially, Iraqis were better off under Saddam Hussein than they are today. Since Saddam’s passage from power, life, for Iraqis, has become nasty, brutish, and short. It’s just a terribly violent place, you see.
So, Mr. Steele’s argument, essentially, is that Iraqis were better off when they had a tranquil public life with 70 people being bumped off by their own government every day, than they are now with 13 people dying in sectarian violence each day.
Could you possibly be more disingenuous? Anytime someone summarizes someone else’s position using the word "essentially," it usually means that are fundamentally mischaracterizing the other person’s position. Otherwise, why use the word "essentially." Why not just say he "writes" this, instead of saying he "essentially writes" this?
Moreover, Steele isn’t making an "argument." He is simply telling the reader what he is seeing compared to what he say in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. Is he lying? Possibly. But you don’t accuse of him of that. Small wonder.
Steele makes absolutely no reference to what life was like under Saddam. Not one. Indeed, his reference point - in the very passage you quote - is what the security situation was like immediately after Saddam was toppled. he is saying that since then, the security situation has grown worse. Now, you can either agree or disagree with that proposition. But he is precisely not making a comparison between the current situation and what life was like under Saddam. So why in the world are you claiming that he says otherwise?
Of course, it is hardly surprising that backers of the war are forced to resort to mischaracterizing reports coming out of Iraq. The basic position of the war backers today is that since it could be worse in Iraq, it is not that bad in Iraq. But your take on Steele’s article is silly. Indeed, from your point of view, if anyone reports about the deteriorating security situation in Baghdad, it means that the person must automatically believe that the situation was better under Saddam. Again, where does Steele "essentially" say that?
And, frankly, Iraq is really unsafe. But it’as a fundamentally different kind of threat that existed under Saddam. Now the threat is overt violence; easily seen, and easily identified. Under Saddam Hussein, the threat was far more subtle. Your neighbors merely disappeared in the middle of the night, with hardly a ripple to mark their passing. Sure, you were five times more likely to be bumped off by Saddam Hussein, but at least he had the good breeding to ensure you went quietly, without making a big deal out of it.
Through his criticism of the Guardian article, Dale Franks essentially believes that the Bush administration has masterfully administered post-invasion Iraq. (Notwithstanding the traitorous remarks concerning the subject made this weekend by Ms. Rice.) Dale Franks essentially believes that the current security problems are a result of anti-Bush media bias, not facts on the ground. Of course, there are no direct quotes from Mr. Franks asserting these propositions. But that is essentially what he is saying.
You know, compared to the Rape of Nanking, the security situation in Iraq is worse. Of course, Mr. Franks never directly referred to the Rape of Nanking as a relevant reference point for comparison purposes, but why in the world would that matter? That is essentially what he is saying.
MK, Dale and the rest of us keep making the point that if someone just whines about how bad things are in Iraq, then the implication is that things would have been better if we had not invaded. I’ve called you on exactly the same thing. If you do make no comparison to the past, and just rue the effects of the invasion, then you are implicitly saying things were better under Saddam. It’s unnecessary to explicitly state it for it to be a part of your (and his) argument.
If someone says "Well, things are better, but they’re still bad, and the improvement is not worth the cost of the invasion", then that’s a non-disingenuous argument, and worthy of rebuttal and discussion, and perhaps respectful disagreement. But if someone just whines, as the left is wont to do, then the argument deserves no such respect, and Dale treats it as such.
Your keen lawyer mind is apparently unable to grasp such distinctions. So it appears Dale is tired of pointing them out to you. I understand - I’m getting to the same point myself.
Maybe it’s a matter of who commits the violence. Those on the left seem to believe that government, particularly non-western and non-capitalist regimes, should have control of essentially everything, so private sector competition in any field, including the infliction of mayhem on the citizenry, is illegitimate and immoral. It upsets the natural order of things,
Let me see if I understand mkultra’s point. If a writer merely states that the situation in Iraq has gone downhill since the invasion, there is no justifiable reason to believe that he considers the pre-invasion conditions to have been better than current conditions? That is what he’s saying, right? Well, I suppose that someone could ignore common sense and argue that the writer might believe that conditions were much worse under Saddam for much of his reign, but that there was a sudden improvement immediately before the invasion, thus justifying a statement that conditions have deteriorated since the invasion. I’d have to say, however, that someone would have to be disingenuous or a fool to try to make that argument. A combination of the two would help.
And if its worse? Or even just as bad? What respect would you those who oppose the invasion? And what respect would you show the Bush Administration?
There’s no indication yet that things will be any better. At least pre invasion, if you weren’t openly anti-Saddam, the streets were safe to walk.
And as stated by the arguments of those pro the war, it isn’t much better. For example, you weren’t safe from Saddam if you were from a Kurdish, Marsh-Arab anti-Saddam community; that’s essentially no different than Harum’s argument that some provinces now are relatively safe these days and some aren’t.
Today’s seemingly random, or disparate, violence could be regarded just as bad, or indeed worse, for the normal Iraqi.
There’s no doubt that Saddam would have his own view of natural justice regarding those that opposed him, but if you towed the line, and that line wasn’t as radical as most of the neighbouring countries, some of which are strong Western allies.
I have friends from Somalia that moved to Baghdad when the war started in Somalia because pre-Kuwait Iraq was considered one of the progressive places in the Middle-East. They moved there because the girls in the family were coming into university age and could study in Iraq. They had their choice of the whole middle-East, would they have moved there if they thought the family in any danger?
I also have a Kurdish friend who had to move to Sweden after members of his family were killed by the regime, so before you I get flamed for being a Saddam lover its just bearing in mind where the propaganda begins and ends.
The point is that the Iraqi government is not suppressing the insurgency and foriegn infiltration. Their failure to do so leads to this condition whereby people cannot conciously choose to make themselve safe. Under Saddam the choice of living as an oppressed citizen existed. Right now no matter what they do the people of Iraq cannot make themselves safe. The most important thing a government can do is offer its people the opportunity to be safe.
Mr Franks points out the irony of the situation - to make Iraq safe the Iraqi government and American security forces have to kill more people. Most of these hopefully soon to be dead people will have to be bad people - mostly Sunni Arabs and Shia allied to Iran. These deaths will make the point that choosing loyalty to the Iraqi government will make a citizen safer.
"would they have moved there if they thought the family in any danger?"
For one thing, danger is relative; Iraq may have been safer than Somalia. Secondly, what information did they base their decision on? I don’t think Somalia, or the entire region for that matter, has much in the way of a vibrant free press, and if they were relying on regional news sources Iraq may have looked good.
There’s so much wrong with this posting that I’m not sure where to begin. First:
"over the 24 years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, about 600,000 people were killed by the Iraqi government. ... you come up with an average of 69.4 people a day executed by Saddam Hussein’s regime."
That estimate is on the very high side, higher than groups like Human Rights Watch or even the State Dept have placed it. But let’s just put that aside and assume it’s accurate.
Turning to today’s Iraq you write: "Bodies turning up at a rate of 13 per day!", but that is only talking about Baghdad, and only bodies that are found at "lonely roadsides". It is not a total for all of Iraq, or even a total for all of Baghdad.
So you’re comparing a likely inflated "70 per day" to a fractional "13 per day".
But the major flaw, even assuming the comparison didn’t already have these flaws is that Iraq had seen nothing close to either 70 or 13 per day in many years. Such a rate is concocted by an arbitrary mathematical exercise that smuggles in death rates from the 1980’s and pretends they were ongoing in 2003 and could be stopped or mitigated by an invasion. They weren’t, and couldn’t.
The vast majority of killings under Saddam were heavily concentrated in the 1980s (incidentally, while he was receiving diplomatic, financial and military support from the United States and the UK for his invasions and slaughters). After roughly 1991 (after that support had ceased), the rates dropped off significantly, and nothing on the same scale had been seen since, with the lowest points being the years directly preceeding the invasion.
Amnesty was using figures like "scores" (dozens) and "hundreds" to refer to people killed by the Iraqi regime in the years directly preceeding the war (2002, 2001..etc.). And Human Rights Watch has said there hadn’t been mass killing going on in Iraq for many years.
The invasion has brought about a return to 1980s level killing, not seen for over a decade, and possibly even exceeding it.
While I appreciate Joshd’s rebut, it being the first cogent response to this line of thought I have read. It still seems to be skating on a few details.
First, math is math. Saddam did kill all those people over a 26 year timeframe, and continued to kill any who opposed him. Even if we cut his number in half, and double the current numbers (doubtful) it is still better today.
What about the disapearances of family members so commonly reported at the hands of the secret police? The hundred thousand or so children Saddam allowed to starve in recent years while he was building his palaces and amassing millions through the oil for food scam? Not to mention that the mass graves unearthed recently were filled with corpses (not bones). The point being a steady unreported killing was ongoing even though the big events may have not occured in the last decade-oh, except for all the Shiites after the first gulf war.
Another point worth considering is that much, if not the lions share, of the body count today are the "bad guys" as opposed to under Saddam, when the bad guys killed with impunity. Even these latest execution style killings may simply be a sign that people have finally had enough and are fighting back against the lats vestiges of Saddams bloodthirsty goons.
Frankly, accuracy counts, but with such evidence of what life was like there it is unimaginable that anyone can rue Saddam’s downfall.
And some math can be arbitrary and meaningless. For instance, 10 guys are in a bar, they have an average income of $20k. Bill Gates walks in the bar and suddenly the "average income" of all the people in the bar is huge. But everybody has the same income they had before and nobody is "better off". You just did an arbitrary mathematical exercise, and one that doesn’t really tell you anything about the actual people in the bar. Anything such an exercise might have told you about the people in the bar is ruined when Bill Gates walks in and wildly skews the numbers. Saying "math is math" isn’t going to make any of the original patrons’ incomes any higher than $20k.
Similarly, when you throw huge deaths tolls from 1980-1991 into an average with relatively low ones from 1992-2002 to construct a "per day" average over the widely disparate time period, you wind up with a figure that bears no resemblance to the conditions in 2002. It just creates a phony appearance of ongoing mass killings in 2002 when there weren’t any.
The arbitrary mathematical exercise actually takes you further away from understanding the conditions in Iraq preceeding the invasion than if you’d never done it, just like doing the bogus average in the bar takes you further away from understanding the financial conditions of any particular person in the bar.
"Saddam did kill all those people over a 26 year timeframe, and continued to kill any who opposed him."
He did continue to kill people, but the groups that monitor Iraq were offering _per year_ numbers for about a decade preceeding the invasion that were pretty close to what you’re asserting as a "per day" figure.
"Even if we cut his number in half,"
You’d still have a bogus number that doesn’t resemble anything that had been going on in Iraq for many years. The number would be a product of huge tolls from 1980-1990 being averaged in with low ones preceeding the war.
"and double the current numbers (doubtful) it is still better today."
Double what "current number", 13? That was only being claimed for Baghdad, and it wasn’t even being claimed that that catches all of Baghdad.
There may be some standard under which some things are better, but deaths is not one of them. The invasion has produced an explosion in death rates not seen since the 80s.