March 25, 2003

High Baathist Death Toll Good

High Baathist Death Toll Good

Or so says Daniel Drezner in a provocative post. Drezner thinks we reap the gains of a more expeditious de-Baathification in such fashion--making the post-war scene easier to navigate for allied forces. Sorry to say, I think a much better way to go about de-Baathification will be through a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Committee or former Yugoslavia style war crimes tribunal once the conflict is over rather than higher body counts at the present juncture.

Why? Well, for one, there are well over a million potential sympathizers of the Baath Party but a much smaller number of actual Baathist leadership:

"....the Baath Party claimed about 10 percent of the population, a total of 1.5 million supporters and sympathizers; of this total, full party members, or cadres, were estimated at only 30,000, or 0.2 percent. The cadres were the nucleus of party organization, and they functioned as leaders, motivators, teachers, administrators, and watchdogs. Generally, party recruitment procedures emphasized selectivity rather than quantity, and those who desired to join the party had to pass successfully through several apprentice-like stages before being accepted into full membership. The Baath's elitist approach derived from the principle that the party's effectiveness could only be measured by its demonstrable ability to mobilize and to lead the people, and not by "size, number, or form." Participation in the party was virtually a requisite for social mobility. "

There is likely a decent chunk of those 1.5 million Baathist symphathizers that may, at this juncture, still fight sporadically based on varied local dynamics underway during the current chaotic unfurling of the allied campaign (but are increasingly likely to lay down arms as Saddam's regime totters). Rather than calculate that we are making the post-war scene easier to manage by killing large swaths of Baathist supporters now, better to think solely in terms of engaging active resistance that must be defeated to assure success.

Further, and importantly, it is the approximately 30,000 cadre members that are the real objects of a necessary de-Baathification once a coalition victory is secured. And, unlike Drezner, I think these 30,000 are not so embedded into Iraqi society that we won't be able to identify them with relative facility once victory is secured.

Bringing them to justice via tribunals or a truth and reconciliation committee will prove an important mechanism for Iraqi society to grapple with the legacies of a brutish, tribal, neo-Stalinist regime. Running roughshod through population centers like Basra to hunt down tepidly motivated Baathist resistance now, at high cost to civilian lives, will be more likely to imperil the war effort than make for an easier post-war scene.

Posted by Gregory at March 25, 2003 11:27 AM
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