Mitchell Cohen Responds

Mitchell Cohen Responds

Is Baghdad simply another miserable regime? Just one of those unpleasant tyrannies that, sadly, speckles our globe, but ought not to compel overbearing concern? Much depends on how one answers this question. The answer, I think, is no. Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship is pathological and distinct from other rotten regimes today, including those rooted in a similar ideology (Syria, for example).

It is not just a matter of this regime’s fascist-like character (call it fascism-plus), although its ruling Ba’ath Party fused Pan-Arabism to the worst ideas of early twentieth-century Europe. It is not just Baghdad’s brutality, although it is difficult to imagine a more vicious, vengeful regime. It is not just a question of Saddam’s totalitarian aspirations at home and aggressive ambitions abroad, although Iraq’s citizens and neighbors know firsthand that these aspirations and ambitions are beyond question. It is not even a matter of Iraq’s dogged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction-although this is clearly Saddam’s fixation, and he has demonstrated his readiness to use them against citizens and neighbors (and would be pleased to do likewise against Americans).

No, it is not “just” these things. It is their combination with the fact that this regime never keeps agreements. Virtually every major accord Saddam has reached with domestic or foreign foes-usually under pressures produced by his recklessness-lasts only until he recovers sufficiently to pursue his purposes. Ask Iranians. Ask Kuwaitis. Ask Iraqi communists. Ask Iraqi Shiites. Ask Iraqi Kurds. Recall the UN inspections.


So I conclude, reluctantly, that the options are not “war or peace,” but “sooner or later.” Unless there is a coup, force will eventually be needed to defang Saddam’s regime. The only real questions are when, how much force, and what aftermath.


Mitchell Cohen is co-editor of Dissent and professor of political theory at Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York. He is currently visiting professor at Stanford’s Center for Integrative Research in the Sciences and Humanities.

Other responses: Marshall Berman, Todd Gitlin, Stanley Hoffman, Kanan Makiya, James B. Rule, Ann Snitow, and Ellen Willis

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