Thursday, January 8, 2015

Defending Saddam Hussein---my 2004 op-ed

 This article was published after Saddam Hussein was captured but  before he was tried and executed.  Needless to say,  he did not take my legal advice,  nor did I expect him to.  

It should be clear by now that Saddam Hussein was a terrible person, but that the average Iraqi would be better off today if we had left him alone.  And so would we!


Published on Tuesday, December 7, 2004 by
Defending Saddam Hussein
by Paul F. deLespinasse

Iraq`s interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi reported recently that he had received an appeal for mercy from a "depressed and broken" Saddam Hussein. Allawi said Hussein claimed that he had been "working for the general good and ... didn`t aim to harm."

Hussein`s claim sounds outrageous when we consider how many people he bumped off during his career. But it is not inconceivable that he was telling the truth, and if he gets a fair trial, he just might be acquitted.

American experience demonstrates that Iraq is not an easy country to govern. Given Iraq`s history and ethnic and religious divisions, any leader who is less willing than Hussein to kill large numbers of people may not be able to govern at all. The one thing worse for the average person than a government like Hussein`s is the total absence of government.

Niccolo Machiavelli, writing 500 years ago, puts it to us bluntly: A leader, he says, "should care nothing for the accusation of cruelty so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal; by making a very few examples he can be more truly merciful than those who through too much tender-heartedness allow disorders to arise whence come killings and rapine."

There is no danger that Saddam Hussein will be convicted of tender-heartedness. But if he had not been overthrown, today`s average Iraqi would be better off financially and enjoy more personal security.

Iraqi life today is characterized by bombings, murders, rapes, assassinations, robberies, kidnappings and a total disruption of daily life. Sen. John McCain says that when looting broke out after the United States seized Baghdad, our forces should have shot looters on the spot. Our failure to do this undoubtedly reduced Iraqi support for the occupation, emboldened petty criminals and "resistance fighters," and helped to produce today`s general mess. But public opinion back home would have been horrified if we had done what McCain now recommends.

More than 300 years ago, Benedict de Spinoza noted the immense dangers in removing a tyrant: "For a people accustomed to royal rule, and kept in check by that alone, will despise and make a mockery of any lesser authority; and so, if it removes one king, it will find it necessary to place him by another, and he will be a tyrant not by choice but by necessity."

Of course, Hussein and his buddies lined their own pockets and lived very high on the hog out of the public treasury. But that is hardly a hanging offense, and there was nothing unique about their behavior. Like corporate executives who can determine their own compensation, all rulers have a high estimate of their own worth and pay themselves accordingly.

It would be a horrifying commentary on Iraqi circumstances if a government like Saddam Hussein`s is the best one possible there. But that may well be the case, and in that event it would be unjust to convict Hussein.

Of course, few tears will be shed for Saddam on the day he is executed, if it comes to that. A little injustice is inevitable once in a while.

Paul F. deLespinasse is professor emeritus of political science at Adrian College in Michigan. He can be reached at