CONCERNING TYRANTS AND GLASS JAWS

Eugene Volokh cites Christopher Hitchens’s analysis of how brutal the Saddam Hussein regime is, even to the dictator’s closest associates and their families.

…this is not a regime that’s likely to inspire loyalty, either in higher-ups or in the man on the street, especially since I suspect that what Hussein does to his henchmen (and I’ve also heard stories of Hussein forcing his subordinates to divorce their wives so that Hussein can briefly marry them), his henchmen likewise do to the public.

This means that if we try to do things by half measures, people will be unlikely to rise against Hussein — they know that if their rising will fail, the results will be breathtakingly awful, for them and for their families. But if we attack with overwhelming might, those who are outside Hussein’s clutches, and who know they won’t fall back into his clutches, will be very glad to be free of him. Will they love us for it? Gratitude is not the most reliable of human emotions. But I suspect that they won’t wage a guerilla war to try to keep him in power.

I would very much like this analysis to be correct. In general, the world would be a better place if those who ruled by terror lost their capacity to resist invasion. In particular, since it seems very likely that we will soon invade Iraq, I hope we won’t run into much resistance.

But my reading of the historical record isn’t encouraging in this regard. Hitler’s first act after establishing his dictatorship was to order the mass slaughter of the brownshirts who had brought him to power, including his close friend Ernst Roehm: the “Night of the Long Knives.” Yet Berlin was defended house-to-house in 1945. The death toll from Stalin’s terror among the Politburo and the Red Army leadership was horrifying; ask the German Sixth Army whether that made Stalingrad any easier to take. Reaching back a little further, losing a power struggle in Tudor England meant going to the headsman’s block, but loyalty to the regime was fierce. It appears that terror, skilfully wielded, can be a quite effective instrument of rule.

According to Nicholas Kristof, the Iraqi regime has encouraged the population at large to arm itself, with an alleged seven million members of the Al-Kuds militia. (A well regulated militia being necessary….) Now it’s possible that Saddam Hussein will turn out to have been deceived, and that those weapons will remain idle, or even be turned against him. But I’m not betting on it.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com