Helping the scum rise to the top

Desperate to get some sort of handle on Iraqi resistance, the American occupying forces have begun to recruit alumni of the Iraqi Secret Police. [*]

The arguments for and against that move are neatly summed up in three proverbs: the one about recuiting the best poacher as the gamekeeper, the one about supping with the Devil, and the one about dogs and fleas.

It’s quite likely that some of those folks can help prevent acts of resistance against the US military and of terrorism against Iraqis and international institutions. On the other hand, it’s equally likely that using them now puts them in a better position to regain power in the new Iraq, and having them in power means that they get to run their opponents through wood-chippers. It’s virtually always the case that the secret police constitute the worst and the most dangerous element of a totalitarian regime.

From this distance, it’s hard to tell whether the decision to recruit the secret policemen is, on balance, a good one or a bad one. But it’s clearly a move we very much would have preferred not to make, and a sign that, pace all the happy h.s. coming from the Spin Machine, things are not going well. It’s the opposite of the decision made earlier — and now being criticized as a mistake [*] — to disband the Iraqi army. It is also a bad fit with another earlier decision (one which seemed to me like a good idea at the time): the decision to purge Ba’athists from Iraq’s civil institutions, such as universities and hospitals. [That move was the subject of an exchange between Max Sawicky and the undersigned [*] some months ago.]

As if that weren’t enough bad news from Iraq for one twenty-four hour period, the New York Times reports [*] that the chief difference of opinion among the Shi’a clerics in Iraq is whether to join the armed resistance now to fight to make Iraq an Islamic Republic like Iran or instead to wait and establish an Islamic Republic like Iran in the elections we’ve promised to hold.

For now, I’m holding on to my view that war was the least bad option, but I have to admit I’m now holding on by my fingernails. A year from now, I may well remember having been against the whole business from its inception.

Update Joshua Micah Marshall — who, like me, is ambivalent about whether recruiting from the former secret police is a good idea or not — has some thoughts on what the need to do it tells us about the coherence and feasibilty of the neocons’ much-touted “democratic transformation of the Middle East.”

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: