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Sunday, December 14, 2003


In what must be viewed in Iraq, America, and the whole world as very good news, Saddam Hussein has been captured.

There are a few things that are immediately clear:

1. The Iraqi populace, and the rest of the world, need not worry about Saddam Hussein ever returning to power again.
2. Another unfortunate chapter in the history of the Middle East draws to a close. It would appear that the type of dictatorship represented by Saddam is on the wane.
3. There will be at least a short-term boost in the popularity of the war in America and elsewhere, since one of its main objectives has been accomplished. Poll numbers for the administration will go up for the next few news cycles.
4. That picture of Saddam Hussein – beard and all – now being shown en masse in the news media - will definitely take its place alongside those of Glen Campbell and Nick Nolte in the Ugly Mugshot Hall of Fame.


It’s all too easy to get caught up in the moment when these things happen, to proclaim the lasting permanence of how some given event that just transpired somehow “changes everything,” whether, from one’s perspective, the change would be for better or for worse. (Which is the main reason I waited eight hours to start blogging my thoughts on the matter.)

The situation has undoubtedly changed, and for the better, for nearly everyone, but there are a lot of things that have not changed.

1. It will not, in the long run, make the occupation more popular in Iraq.
Consider this for a moment: Would even the most militant Free Republic denizens, during a Hillary Clinton presidency where liberals controlled all three branches of government, welcome an occupation force from, say, China? Of course that’s not a perfect metaphor, but how many foreign occupation forces have been welcome by the populace? Not many.
There are probably many Iraqis willing to express gratitude to the Americans today, that are, to put it mildly, less sanguine about the idea of foreign leaders hand-picking the next group of people who are going to run their country for them. And it’s not as if recent history of who America has blessed with support in this region would give those Iraqis much comfort.

2. It will not really change everyday conditions in Iraq.
If Ba’athist Saddam loyalists are a significant contributor to the Iraqi resistance, this capture would be a blow to that resistance, even though, given the nature of where Saddam was found, it’s highly unlikely he was coordinating any resistance or insurgency activities himself.
I remain unconvinced that many will lay down their arms simply because the dream of a triumphant return to power of Saddam Hussein is gone. I doubt there were that many who even harbored such a dream by the time he was captured.
Indeed, the very nature of the insurgency activities – most especially the use of suicide bombers – suggests the work of Islamist militants, not any group connected with Saddam
Hussein, whose rule rested not on fanatical devotion to any principle but on fear.
There may indeed be those not have been aiding the resistance up to now in part out of a fear that they would only be aiding Saddam by attacking the occupiers - particularly those may be many who disliked Saddam but still believe that a “strong leader” who is not a puppet of the West is needed in Iraq. With the prospect of a return to power by Saddam gone, who knows what will happen next?

3. It will not make America or the West in general safer from terrorist threats.
To the (very limited) extent that President Bush’s statement that Iraq is now “the central front in the War on Terror” is true, it’s because his administration helped make it that way. Iraq was not a country where terrorist cells had any significant room to operate, outside of some areas in north not controlled by Saddam.
And now there’s terrorist activity there. I know some people are thinking “better there than here,” but this line of thinking assumes that there are a finite number of terrorists and that when they are all vanquished, the threat will disappear. I have insisted from the beginning that this war will inspire more terrorist activity than it would prevent, and I see no reason to deviate from that opinion.
In the meantime, there are real things that the country could be doing to safeguard some of our most sensitive facilities – chemical plants, energy facilities, seaports – from terrorism that the country is not currently doing. And a big reason for the lack of attention to these sites is that the operators of these facilities have powerful friends in Congress, particularly in the majority party, and in the White House. One of the unfortunate consequences of the demise of Sen. Bob Graham’s presidential campaign is that less attention is being paid to these potential points of vulnerability.

4. It will not ensure George W. Bush’s re-election, or even affect it much one way or the other.
As I said above, things aren’t going to change much, though at first some people won’t notice that amidst all the cheering. This isn’t like beating the final boss in a video game.
There is one faction of people who feel like this President is exactly the leadership we need. There is another faction, of approximately the same size, convinced that this President is exactly the sort of leader we don’t need. The Saddam capture isn’t going to move many, if any, people from the second camp into the first. Just like there aren’t many things that would push people from the first camp into the ranks of the second.
This Iraq war is neither going so well that anyone who opposed it seems foolish, nor so poorly that it will poison anyone who gave it his or her blessing.
Either the economy will improve or it won’t. That will matter a lot more to that group of people still in the ranks of the undecided about who they’re supporting next year.
There will be lots of talk about how this is some huge coup, or how it happened too early, and such. I suggest taking it all with a big grain of salt.

I just have so many thoughts about what might come next, and my curiosity is somewhat overwhelmed.

• I am somewhat interested in what Saddam would have to say, about the nature of Iraq’s weapons program, about the support he once enjoyed from America, about what he might say if asked to defend himself and his regime. I doubt what he would have to say would shed much light on anything, but I’m curious how he would conduct himself if he found himself at a trial or a tribunal.

• Also, this administration is famously disdainful of the United Nations, and of the International Criminal Court, and yet this case seems uniquely designed for some sort of multinational body. Anything run exclusively at the behest of the United States would be seen as illegitimate by many. In particular, if Saddam were, as he almost assuredly deserves, executed for his innumerable crimes, there is a substantial risk that America would essentially be making a martyr out of him, a risk lessened somewhat by the inclusion of nations that did not support the war effort.

• The specific soldiers in charge of the capture have to commended for taking Saddam alive, without firing a shot. I retain the highest confidence the military forces of the United States can do whatever is asked of them by our command structure, though I am worried that a long term commitment of this size may ultimately impact readiness, particularly in terms of the reserve system.

• I remain convinced that we will ultimately find that this war, successful insofar as the removal of Saddam Hussein was a goal, was not worth the costs incurred, namely, American and Iraqi lives, American and international resources, and the resources and lives that will be spent cleaning up the problems that will arise as a consequence of the creation of a failed state in the heart of the Middle East. The only thing that could have justified such costs, human and financial, of this invasion, would be an imminent threat to vital interests, did not exist; further, the American public and the world at large were deliberately misled as to both that threat’s existence and possible magnitude. America’s credibility regarding future threats to the world has been tarnished, and its claim of the right to wage pre-emptive wars in this fashion, when inevitably echoed by other regional and world powers, will prove an unwelcome and destabilizing force.

There. Now I can sleep more soundly now that I got all that off my chest.


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