Living with Regrets: The Iraq Case
Published: Sunday | February 26, 2006

IF THE four most expensive words in the English language are 'This time it's different', the five most dangerous must be 'Anything is better than this'.

I mean, whoever thought that one day people in Iraq would look back on the cruel, murderous regime of Saddam Hussein with anything but horror and disdain?

But, after the hundreds killed in the bloody reprisals that followed the destruction of the Golden Mosque in Samarra on Thursday, the thought must surely be going through even United States President George W. Bush's mind that maybe Saddam Hussein was not so bad compared to the alternative of all-out civil war.


I certainly have no truck for Saddam. The man was a mass murderer and deserves to be imprisoned for life for the hundreds of thousands his government killed.

But, even Saddam's regime looks more attractive than the prospect of no-holds-barred fratricidal strife between Sunnis and Shi'ites that now looms over Iraq.

Saddam's comment that "Be careful about wishing to get rid of me, because you would come to regret it,' now seems like more than an idle boast.

Perhaps it was indeed only his iron-handed brutality that has kept a fractious country like Iraq united for 35 years. Sadly, life in this vale of tears often comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils.

The reality is that right now the only thing standing between Iraq and a fratricidal bloodbath that would lead to hundreds of thousands and even millions of deaths, is Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shi'ites is not only by far the most influential individual in the country, but he has consistently been a voice of moderation.

In the past, his reaction after untoward incidents has always been to call for calm and to tell people to stay home. But after the bombing of the Golden mosque he called for demonstrations - albeit peaceful ones - and warned that "If the security apparatuses are unable to safeguard against this crisis, the believers are able to do so, by the aid of God."

A chilling warning indeed. Though it must now have occurred to everyone in Iraq that if the sacred Golden Mosque is not safe, then nothing or no-one is - including Sistani himself.


I am a die-hard liberal democrat who still wishes that Iraq, like every other country in the world, will be able to freely and peacefully elect leaders who are accepted by everyone in the country.

My big problem with President Bush's war was not its conception, but its execution.

A quick 'lop of the heads' invasion which got rid of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, but left the country's institutions intact would have immensely improved the lives of the vast majority of Iraqis.

But the blundering arrogance of Bush and his neo-conservatives has accomplished the hitherto unimaginable feat of making many Iraqis increasingly long for the 'good old days' when Saddam, brutal as he was, at least made day-to-day life tolerable.


Of course, this is hardly the first time the cry of 'anything is better than this' has led to chaos.

From 1944 to 1980, Liberia was a functioning, quasi-democratic republic with an American model constitution.

But corruption under the minority Americo-Liberian dominated Tolbert regime was so bad, people said then, things could get no worse.

Yet no credible forces for reform from within emerged. Liberia's elite ignored the responsibilities of privilege. Those with economic and political clout were either too busy feathering their nests or despairingly considered the political system an irredeemable failure.

So, when army sergeant Samuel Doe overthrew William Tolbert in 1980, joy was unconfined even among the educated classes. Here was the long-awaited new beginning.

Initially, Doe did speak the language of democracy, human rights and economic freedom. Even some foreign commentators spoke in terms of a 'liberated' Liberia.

But Doe's regime proved brutal, incompetent and corrupt. The granting of a new constitution was followed in 1985 by rigged elections. But opposing parties refused to accept the results and headed for the hills with their guns.

The country's infrastructure and economy collapsed and again the cry went up, things could get no worse.

But the time for rational reform was past. Politics now meant bullets, not ballots.

Armed rebels overthrew Doe in 1990, civil war engulfed the nation, and Liberia disintegrated into bands of warring factions, a country in name only. Liberia had finally hit rock bottom. This time things truly could get no worse.

Only now, 26 years later, is life beginning to return to some kind of normalcy in Liberia. And I certainly hope recently-elected President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf turns out to be a true order, bringing iron lady in the mould of Margaret Thatcher and Dame Eugenia Charles.


By the time this piece is published, Jamaica will have a new Prime Minister elect.

Whoever it is, a new milestone in democracy will have been reached. It will be our first party leader since Bustamante, chosen not by smoke-filled backroom manoeuvring, but by the will of the people, or some approximation of it.

I have absolutely no problem with the delegate system for choosing party heads. Who better to choose their own leader than a wide cross section of party die-hards?

My only quibble with the delegate system now being used is that theoretically, a winner could emerge who has only 26 per cent support.

I would prefer a system where someone has to get over 50 per cent of the delegate votes to win, with the lowest vote getter being eliminated on each round until this is achieved. This would ensure a greater degree of unity behind whoever comes out on top.

But the current model is certainly healthier democracy than having elitist cliques like party executives or, God forbid, special interest groups like the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, deciding the nation's business.

The most representative system would be to have party primaries where all party members vote as in America, but I doubt this country can afford this.

Vox populi, vox deus goes the old saying - the voice of people is the voice of God.

Well, it may not be strictly true. But it's certainly closer than anything else we humans have come up with.

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