Monday, January 08, 2007

Another Cold War Corpse

[posted by Callimachus]

Robert Kaplan points out that Saddam's last gasp also let the last air out of the old secular, statist notion of "Arab nationalism."

And just as communism exited the European stage exposed for what it always truly was — fascism without fascism's ability to make the trains run on time — secular Arab nationalism will exit the stage revealed for what it always was: a despotic perversion of the western nation-state that lasted as long as it did mainly because of secret-police techniques imported from the former Soviet Union.

Arab nationalism's roots go back to the revolt against European colonialism in the early decades of the 20th century. But as it developed, it faced a serious problem: Because it was organized around the artificial national borders that these same colonialists had drawn — which generally ignored ethnic and sectarian lines — the result, in too many cases, was multiethnic rivalry and the subjugation of one part of the population by another.

... The defining organizational attribute of secular Arab nationalism was the military emergency regime — witness Egypt, Syria and Iraq — that justified its existence by the continued state of war with Israel. Also working against liberal change in the Middle East was the influence of the Soviet Union. With Soviet military and economic aid for the secular nationalists came the techniques of East Bloc security services.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the two Baathist countries, Syria and Iraq. The result of made-in-Moscow surveillance techniques was the emergence in the early 1970s of a new class of dictator — Hafez Assad in Syria and Saddam Hussein in Iraq — who, unlike their predecessors, were not overthrown by yet another general or colonel after a short time in office.

These new men stayed in power for decades because anyone who opposed them, no matter how furtively, was soon identified and destroyed.

Yes. And the execution of Saddam reminded me of nothing so much as the sordid end of another Cold War relic, Ceaucescu.

Ceauşescu and his wife Elena fled the capital by helicopter together with Emil Bobu and Manea Mănescu. They headed for Ceauşescu's Snagov residence, from where they fled again, this time for Târgovişte. The presidential couple kept moving through the countryside more or less aimlessly. Near Târgovişte, they abandoned the helicopter, having been ordered to land by the army, which by that time had already declared Romania to be restricted air space. The flight included grotesque episodes: a car chase to evade citizens attempting an arrest, leaving their aides behind, a short stay in a school. The Ceauşescus were finally held in a police car for several hours, while the policemen listened to the radio, presumably in an attempt to get a clue as to which political faction was about to win. Police eventually turned over the presidential couple to the army. On Christmas Day, the two were condemned to death by a military kangaroo court on charges ranging from illegal gathering of wealth to genocide, and were executed in Târgovişte. Before they were shot dead, Ceauşescu sang part of the "Internationale" and proclaimed that history would judge him well. His wife was screaming at everyone to go to hell.

The "trial" and execution were videotaped. The footage was promptly released in France and other western countries. Several days later, footage of their trial and pictures of their corpses (but not of the execution itself) was released on television for the Romanian public.

He died in the manner of the cowardly totalitarian culture he fostered in his land, stripped of its veneer of "socialism."