George W. Bush’s horrific, deadly blunder: Would Saddam Hussein be better than Iraq’s new hell?

tags: Saddam Hussein, George Bush

Patrick Smith is the author of “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century.” He was the International Herald Tribune’s bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992.

... My fondest hope is that one of our very oldest ideas now teeters near collapse. I have already mentioned it: It is the evangelism named in the last century (and hatched by a Presbyterian minister’s son) as Wilsonianism. Put this in the past and we will instantly make the world none other than safer.

There is a lesson here that draws from the more recent past. I have taken to naming it the Tito Thesis.

Remember Marshal Tito? He was a distinguished anti-Nazi German partisan and went on to govern Yugoslavia from 1953 until his death in 1980. He was commonly demonized as another East European despot, but in the upper reaches it was understood to be more complex. Tito stood among those flawed giants of the independence generation: Mossadegh, Sukarno, the four “Ns,” as I call them — Nehru, Nasser, Nyerere, Nkrumah. He stood up to the Soviets as well as the Americans, and his true sin, as with the others, was his insistent non-alignment.

Tito was tough when he had to be, which was often. But he kept Yugoslavia Yugoslavia, primarily by making sure all the bitter communal animosities were balanced in the sharing of power. Anyone who had no taste for Tito might look to what came after him and consider the man again.

The thesis is simply stated, then. Strongmen are sometimes strongmen for a reason, and they are not to be fooled with capriciously, and certainly not without a thorough analysis of what is likely to follow.

Take the Tito Thesis to Iraq and where does it land you? This is bitter indeed, especially at our moment, but it forces reconsideration of Saddam. I know no one inclined to apologize for his numerous cruelties against the Kurds and the Shiite majority, among much else. But he kept Iraq Iraq, under the Ba’athists’ secular ideology (a variant of Nasserite socialism).

I can hardly make my fingers move across the keys as I ask this: Better or worse, what Americans did to post-Saddam Iraq? All the sectarian viciousness was there to see as Bush sent the troops into battle. But Bush was all ideological fervor, little thought. There was no apparent understanding of the snakes that were to crawl out of the baskets.

As to Nuri al-Maliki and his brand of Shiite chauvinism, I do not see he meets Tito Thesis standards. He is now in a very bad place, and having landed him in it Washington may owe him something. Obama’s best move would be to pay on this debt only when al-Maliki begins unity negotiations — not just with the Kurds but with credible representatives of the Shiites, irrespective of al-Maliki’s taste (or Washington’s) for what they will bring to the table...

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