Strongmen-itis

The New York Times’ Sunday Week in Review this week has an article asking whether Iraqi’s are hankering for a strongman once again, to replace Saddam (who, if they execute as the intend to right now, they would have gotten rid of for ever). According to the article,

It is something ordinary Iraqis say with growing intensity, even as they agree on little else. Let there be a strongman, they say, not a relentless killer like Saddam Hussein but somebody who will take the hammer to the insurgents and the death squads and the kidnappers and the criminal gangs who have banished all pretense of civility from their lives.”

How many times have I seen this form of liberal nonsense, bordering on racism? The reasoning goes as follows:

(1) We came to your country and freed you of a dictator. Ok, we might even agree that the invasion itself was criminal, but we did get rid of your dictator and put a democratic government in its place.

(2) You guys screwed it up by rebelling against our occupying force and killing each other in droves.

(3) As the Hindi saying goes, Laaton ke bhooth baaton ko nehin sunte hain, i.e., Those who are used to kicks don’t listen to words.

(4) We are getting angry and tired of managing this mess.

(5) Therefore the solution to Iraq’s problems is to bring back an authoritarian regime. Only a strong man, a caudillo (to use a term from another continent with a long history of American intervention) will make these people sit up and take notice.

I used to think that this was racism, pure and simple, but I wonder if this is also a class sentiment. After all liberal western norms are primarily middle class, bourgeois values. And those norms are ready to turn to the right when their really core values of order and stability are threatened. I remember my grandfather, who was no white liberal, once telling me that he liked the emergency regime (from 1975–77) because it made the trains run on time. I think he voted for the Congress his entire life.

PS: The same Week in Review has an article on Daniel Ortega, “The Marxist Turned Caudillo”. When he was a Marxist, the US started a civil war that ultimately ousted him from power, but now that he is a Caudillo, he is more than welcome to become El Presidente (despite some ritual murmurs of disapproval from that Caudillo to the north, GWB).

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