or half a century now, the rulers of Iraq have been brutally murdered by their successors. That fate probably awaits Saddam Hussein too, maybe at the hands of someone as ruthless as he is for instance his two sons, though he might be able to kill them first, the way he did with his sons-in-law and grandchildren.
The Iraqi people know and suffer all this. The day they are free from Saddam, in any case, they will demonstrate en masse on the streets, hoping for better days. Until then, we can't know the full horror of what they have gone through, though courageous Iraqi dissidents like Kanan Makiya and Ahmad Chalabi and Khidhir Hamza give us the general picture. I have no doubt that if Iraqis could run their own affairs, they would opt for some form of constitutional politics; perhaps a presidential democracy, perhaps a parliamentary democracy.
For the moment, Iraqis have no say in their future, no way to take control of their destinies. President Bush proposes regime change for them. The question becomes: What then? Hundreds of influential Iraqis in exile are debating that question. A number among them are fit to replace Saddam. The fear is that some strongman, some general, will prove a Saddam clone and take over the secret police and other instruments of dictatorship, and things will go on as before.
So I floated in NR the idea of a restoration of the Hashemite monarchy which revolutionaries brought to an end in 1958 by murdering as many of the family as they could lay their hands on. Another branch of the Hashemite family has done all right in Jordan, in very difficult circumstances. It's a more or less absolute monarchy, to be sure, but I was advocating a constitutional monarchy for Iraq. That's a rare animal, but there are examples of it in Europe and Asia. It has the merit of providing a figurehead who can serve to unite different national religions or ethnic groups. I mentioned Prince Hassan of Jordan as a possible candidate for the job. I have met him in private, read his book about Christians in the Middle East, and heard him speak once or twice in public. He has a sense of humor, and gravity as well. As far as I can judge, he's a decent man who wouldn't prove a killer.
My idea has got up the sensitive nose of Claude Salhani. With rhetorical flourishes, Salhani accuses me of colonialism, and oh what a deadly sin that is. Unforgivable. Why, I must be one of what he calls "a certain group of people" who believe that the West and in particular the United States should interfere in the internal policies of other countries. Let me confess outright to conspiracy, I belong to a one-man group with the belief that it is absolutely wrong for a ruler to be killing his own people. If it is colonialism to stop such a ruler, then I am all for it.
"Colonialism is dead" says Salhani in the tone of someone holding an ace. That's news. Try telling it to the Tibetans who live under Chinese colonialism. Try telling it to the Lebanese who live under Syrian colonialism. Try telling it to the Afghans who were colonized by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Try telling it to the Bosnians and the Kosovars who were colonized by the Serbs. We can debate the ills and the benefits of these various enterprises, but to adapt a song of Noel Coward's, Everyone's doing it.
The world is a good deal more complicated than Salhani thinks. He's trapped in the mindset of the Fifties which held Western powers to be bad because they were guilty of colonialism, and emerging nationalist rulers to be good because they defined themselves as victims. But colonialism, like the tango, requires two parties. The colonizer succeeds only because the colonized are in a state of political or social collapse, unable to rule themselves. It was always so, and always will be. In a recent example, the winners of the civil war in Sierra Leone have just invited the British back to rule them because among themselves they can only fight.
Western colonizers tried to put democratic systems in place. They didn't do it too well, but a great deal better than the nationalist rulers who succeeded them and then spent the Fifties and Sixties closing down parliaments and law courts and building up secret police. That's why we have Islamists in some countries, and ugly thugs in others. If the people in those unhappy countries can't help themselves to be free, then outsiders have to help them, which may mean expedients as unlikely or imperfect as a Hashemite restoration. Unlike Salhani, I want for others the freedoms I enjoy for myself.
David Pryce-Jones is an NR senior editor whose books include The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs, available in a new edition from Ivan R. Dee.