Many are the perspectives flying on the capture of Saddam Hussein, what it means, what lies ahead. Here are some of them:
Spencer Ackerman thinks the Bush administration has the significance of Saddam’s capture reversed:
- President Bush told the American people bluntly that “the capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq”–a stark contrast to the triumphalism that characterized his previous declarations of success. On the political question, however, the administration was decidedly more upbeat. “A hopeful day has arrived,” Bush said. “All Iraqis can now come together and reject violence and build a new Iraq.” Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), spoke of a spirit of “reconciliation and hope” that he hoped would unite the Iraqi people.
In fact, the administration’s analysis may be backward. The information Saddam possesses is likely to go a long way toward solving one of the biggest problems faced by coalition intelligence officials: the inability to identify precisely who they’re fighting against and plan accordingly. Politically, however, the United States may soon find that giving Iraqis closure on Saddam’s tyranny–that is, making him stand trial for his atrocities–is more divisive than unifying. Assuming Saddam is tried in Iraq, which the State Department has indicated will be the case, the question of which Iraqis will preside over the prosecution may turn out to be the thorniest political dilemma the United States has faced so far.
….With the Ace of Spades about to become acquainted with CIA and military interrogators, the intelligence war just got a massive boost.
….even if Saddam isn’t issuing marching orders, he can certainly describe the network that hid him for nine months, which probably dovetails with some aspects of the resistance. More important, Odierno’s forces discovered what intelligence officials described as the minutes of a meeting of resistance leaders, complete with names. Those names will likely lead coalition forces to other sources of resistance, and thereby allow intelligence analysts in Iraq to piece together a more detailed understanding of the resistance’s composition. That understanding will help U.S. military commanders and the CPA better develop effective strategies for fighting back–militarily and, where appropriate, politically.
….The United States has no such guiding light when it comes to the political problem of who will try Saddam. Early news reports quoted some Iraqis lamenting that Saddam wasn’t caught by Iraqi forces. Those Iraqis who try and convict Saddam will likely gain the next best thing to such heroism. In a country without a Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, or Lech Walesa–living symbols of resistance to tyranny, who commanded widespread loyalty in their countries–whoever interrogates Saddam and ultimately decides his fate will obtain an envious political platform. Saddam oppressed and murdered Iraqis of all ethnicities and faiths, and so all Iraqis can see their desires for justice and aspirations for the future reflected in his prosecution. If the last nine months of post-Saddam politics are any guide, it’s highly probable that the various Iraqi factions will fight amongst themselves to gain a dominant role in the trial. [TNR]
John Keegan of the Telegraph essentially agrees:
- The capture of Saddam immensely simplifies the security situation in post-war Iraq. It strikes a disabling blow at his surviving supporters, who must now lose heart. Any hope they held that, by wearing down the will of the occupiers through terror and subversion, they could pave the way for his return to power is now utterly deflated. Saddam, a man who built his career on the principle of personal survival, is now in the hands of his enemies and has no hope of escape from whatever fate is decided for him.
….Since 1648, when the Treaty of Westphalia created the principle that sovereign states, and therefore their sovereign heads, are both legally and morally absolute, there has been no legal basis for proceeding against such a person, however heinous the crimes he is known to have committed.
A fallen ruler is therefore an acute legal embarrassment, as first became apparent with the flight of Napoleon from France in 1815. Napoleon took refuge aboard a British warship and then sought to throw himself on the mercy of the Prince Regent. The British government, horrified at the prospect of his having recourse to British law, refused to allow him to land and deported him to the distant island colony of St Helena, the contemporary equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. The legality of his exile was never tested in law, since his own country, France, refused to protect him, holding him to be a usurper, and the British were determined not to allow him to proceed in British courts. His hope of finding sanctuary in the United States was physically prevented.
….None of these precedents seems likely to spare Saddam. He may, de facto, have been head of state but, by fleeing his capital and office at the outset of the last Gulf War, he effectively abandoned whatever constitutional status he enjoyed. The power vacuum he left has been filled by the creation of the Iraqi Governing Council, which, very conveniently last week, announced the establishment of a tribunal empowered to try any Iraqi citizen – and that Saddam unquestionably is – for crimes under domestic law. Prima facie, Saddam has to answer for many crimes, including murders he has himself committed, large-scale episodes of murder and torture of his fellow citizens, and organised extermination of minorities, particularly Kurds and Marsh Arabs, inside his own country.
….At present there is no death penalty in Iraq, but it seems possible that the Iraqi Governing Council will introduce one and Washington will undoubtedly wish to see Saddam dead. As he has brought death to so many innocents, it is a fate he unquestionably deserves.
Eliot Cohen thinks the trial is much more important than the verdict, which will be, um, guilty:
- Scholars still turn to the massive documentation produced at Nuremberg for insight into the workings of Hitler’s government; no less important was the impression upon the public mind of the detailed description of one of the great evils of human history. Now too it is essential that the full tale of Saddam’s cruelties, from the gassing of the Kurds to the massacres of the Shiites, from the diabolical tortures he ordered to the beating deaths he administered with his own hands, be laid before the world. Those who favored the war and those who opposed it, and above all the residents of Iraq itself and of the Arab world, deserve and need to have that record laid before them completely, in Arabic as well as in English, and it should spare nothing. Let there be no doubt about what the war terminated, and perhaps a glimmering of what it may have prevented. [WSJ -subscription required]
David Ignatius says Saddam’s capture will make it easier to – to paraphrase Paul McCartney – give Iraq back to the Iraqis:
- Saddam Hussein’s capture should help the United States press ahead with the transfer of power to the Iraqis. Now it’s up to the Iraqis to come together, resolve their differences and build a new country. If the Bush administration is wise, it can use Hussein’s capture to create the conditions for a free Iraq and then begin extracting itself honorably.
The United States’ responsibility for rebuilding Iraq is far from over. But with the butcher of Baghdad behind bars, it should be easier for America to someday honestly announce: “Mission accomplished.” [Washington Post]
And who was this pathetic rodent cowering in his dirt den? Jim Hoagland reminds us:
- The dictator flashed his tailored cuffs and diamond-encrusted jewelry at me in an encounter in 1975 as he described in minute detail his commitment to Arab socialism. He went on to deny that the atrocities I had seen in Kurdistan a few weeks earlier could have happened. When I reported both atrocities and atmospherics, Hussein sent word that he was outraged — that I had mentioned the cuff links.
After that it was hard to take him seriously as a political leader, though not as a gangster and homicidal tyrant. While other Arab leaders had their opponents killed when they felt threatened, Hussein killed to keep in practice. The scene that unfolded near Tikrit on Sunday underlined the fact that he ordered the killings and the looting of an entire nation from the safety and obscene luxury of his palaces, not from any battlefront.
This was no reincarnated Saladin, as his publicists claimed, nor some brave, modernizing Arab nationalist holding off the Iranian hordes, as gullible Arab journalists and rulers — and a pair of American presidents named Reagan and Bush — believed in the 1980s. Hussein was the ultimate sadistic gangster, who cloaked his clan’s brutality and greed in a fascistic pseudo-ideology called Baathism.
….Necessary but probably not sufficient is the best way to think of the role that Hussein’s capture will have in ending the insurgency. His failure to resist, though his sons went down fighting, will help dismantle the myth factor in the rebellion. “People are already saying the sons died like men and he gave up like a coward,” a Baghdad resident told me in a telephone conversation.
“Why didn’t you fight?” one Governing Council member asked Hussein as their meeting ended. Hussein gestured toward the U.S. soldiers guarding him and asked his own question: “Would you fight them?”
This is perhaps the most damning statement of all: there was no ideology, no Greater Cause, no nation – there was just one egomaniacal, sadistic, amoral, calculating baby raper who was in it for the goodies and the jollies who lived only to wallow in self-indulgence and inflict pain upon as many human beings as possible. This was truly a monster of historic proportions, a stain on human history.