Does Iraq Prove Samuel Huntington’s Argument?

No, No, No.

We are not talking here about Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington’s controversial thesis on the Clash of Civilizations.

We are talking about Huntington’s earlier work, Political Order in Changing Societies (Yale University Press, 1968).

In that now forgotten classic, Huntington famously argued in the opening sentence:

The most important political distinction among countries concerns not their form of government but their degree of government.

As Iraq collapses into complete chaos, it’s worthwhile to reexamine Huntington’s 42-year-old argument (originally outlined in an essay Political Order and Political Decay in the academic journal World Politics in 1965).

Huntington framed his argument on the importance of order in context of rising violence in modernizing countries across the world. In perhaps the best sentence by a contemporary political thinker, Huntington wrote:

Men may, of course, have order without liberty, but they cannot have liberty without order.

Fast forward to Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was a monster, the likes of whom have seldom walked the face of this planet. Some 200,000 people died or disappeared during his decades-long rule in addition to the several hundred thousand who perished in the Iraq-Iran war and the first Persian Gulf War.

But Saddam and his Baath Party were also a bulwark against terrorists in Iraq and ensured order and stability in the country, mostly through repressive measures.

In the aftermath of Saddam’s ouster, the institutional vacuum has produced far more violence, and maybe, just maybe, more deaths too.

As for the casualties, the medical journal Lancet has estimated that 654,965 Iraqi civilians died between March 18, 2003 and June 2006 following the coalition invasion of Iraq, most of them because of the violence.

Factor in also the over three thousand American soldiers killed, the tens of thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians injured and hundreds of billions of dollars spent in Iraq.

What do you have as an end result in Iraq – a Hobbesian world of total anarchy where the life of the individual has become “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

And this is just the current state of affairs. When the American forces leave, Iraq and some parts of the Middle East too could easily turn out into an inferno that would make the Saddam era seem like an idyllic period.

In his analysis of increasing violence and instability in the 1960s, Huntington wrote:

[I]t was in large part the product of rapid social change and the rapid mobilization of new groups into politics coupled with the slow development of political institutions.

If Iraq proves anything, it’s that you cannot have liberty without order. And it’s order that’s currently in short supply in Iraq.

Saddam may not have provided liberty but his regime could govern and ensure political order in Iraq.

If we were to ask a Reaganesque question, are the Iraqis better off today compared to their Saddam days, we shouldn’t be surprised if the unequivocal Iraqi response is a resounding No.

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