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Dictating terms


The shadow of Saddam Hussein ... even on culture.

THE United Nation's Weapons inspectors took away the fig leaf from President Bush. The United States President had thought that the U.N. team would find incriminating evidence that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction; excuse enough for him to order an all-out attack on that country.

So he has had to change track. The new Bush mantra is "Get rid of Saddam Hussein" and "Install a democratic government". In fact, the Government-in-waiting is already in place in London. As ever, George Bush's most ardent supporter is U.K.'s premier Tony Blair, now risking his political career because of his unwavering (and critics say, unquestioning), support for American policies. "Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity," he said, making it sound like a moral imperative. (Bush, as always, cut the ground beneath Blair's feet by saying, "We must get Saddam. He nearly killed my dad.") If you step back a moment from the rhetoric of war, you will see that there's something in what Blair says. Saddam Hussein is a tyrant; he has killed hundreds and thousands of his own people, especially the Kurds; he has been ruthless in putting down even the whiff of dissidence, executing many generals after summary trials. Like all despots, he has built up a massive personality cult around himself. He has also appropriated a lot of the wealth of his oil-rich country, constructing a large number of grandiose palaces for himself. As a result of all this, people are suppressed, are unable to speak out and are far poorer than they need to be. In short, Saddam Hussein is bad news for Iraq itself, and the sooner he goes and is replaced by a good, democratic government, the better off (and happier) the average Iraqi will be.

Having said that Saddam should be replaced, the question arises about who will replace him. The Iraqi people, ideally should do the job, but for obvious reasons, they can't. That, of course, is the way all dictators have survived throughout history and have flourished everywhere: by terrorising their own people into submission. Not so long ago, there was Idi Amin, now living in self-deluding retirement in the Saudi city of Jeddah. In his eight-year rule in Uganda, 300,000 people were murdered. There are stories of many of the victims being fed to crocodiles. He also shattered his country's economy by throwing out overnight Uganda's 80,000 people of Indian origin.

Then there was "Baby Doc" Duvalier whose family and cronies spirited away 60 per cent of Haiti's national income in the 1980s. He did so by using the dreaded secret service called Ton Ton Macoute who made sure that inconvenient people "disappeared" overnight.

There was Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who appointed himself "Emperor" of the Central African Republic and was known to have killed and tortured hundreds of his countrymen. When he was finally overthrown, coup leaders found an outsize freezer fall of corpses of dissident student leaders. (According to a new book Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators by Riccardo Orizio, Bokassa still believed that the Pope secretly named him as the "Thirteenth apostle of the Holy Mother Church"!) There are more where these came from, if you have the stomach for it.

For example, Lt. Col. Mengitsu Haile Mariam who called himself a Marxist revolutionary and was responsible for 500,000 deaths in Ethiopia in the late 1970s. More recent examples must include Yugoslavia's butcher Slobodan Milosevic, now under trial at the International Court of Justice.

The last word is, of course, Adolf Hitler, killer of six millions Jews, and a one-man argument for outside intervention in getting countries rid of their tyrants.

The sad truth is that no one did anything to stop all these monsters when they were running amok, and that includes Hitler who probably would have killed happily ever after if he hadn't started invading other countries.

The question always has been who decides which dictator should be got rid of. And then, who gets rid of him. Hitler should have been a clear-cut case, but even about him there was no international consensus. On the other hand, there is Fidel Castro, America's Public Enemy Number One for so long: the U.S. would have wanted to get rid of him years ago, but who else did? Not even most Cubans themselves.

Enforced regime change is a tricky issue which is why the international community is so confused about it. Most people would agree that leaving the decision to one country, however strong and rich it is, will result in arbitrariness and irrationality.

Yet tyrants shouldn't be allowed to murder and loot their country without any fear of retribution from the outside world. That, to echo Tony Blair, really is inhuman.

Saddam Hussein can be a test case for debate once the present war hysteria dies down. The proper forum for this discussion is obviously the United Nations.

The debate should also draw up a list of other despots who need ousting. If nothing else, these monsters will know that they are under notice. And that might change them, to start with at least, from Horribly Evil to Just Wicked.

Anil Dharker is a noted journalist, media critic and writer.

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