Saddam is But a Footnote, Now

No one should cry any tears for Saddam Hussein, who will no doubt be executed within a matter of days. He was a vicious butcher who terrorized his own people, and ran a regime of fear in which arbitrary execution and torture were a staple, and the majority of Iraqis — being Shiites and Kurds, both communities suffering episodes of mass murder at his behest — will see justice done by his execution.

Still, the circumstances of his trial and likely execution offer little cause for satisfaction among those who will trumpet it as vindication for their support of the Iraq war. Saddam Hussein was a long-time U.S. client, who fell afoul of Washington not when his men butchered the Shiites of Dujail or gassed the Kurds of Halabja or unleashed chemical munitions on Iranian troops as U.S. advisers watched; his unforgivable transgression was to invade Kuwait and take control of its oil reserves. Even then, the role he had played as a U.S. client remained too important for the first Bush Administration (the grownup one) to have him toppled from power in a popular revolt — if his own armed forces weren’t going to do the job and replace him with a friendlier and more reliable strongman, then Washington wasn’t going to facilitate the Shiites and Kurds doing it, because they knew (as the second — infantile — Bush Administration may be in the process of discovering) that this would empower Iran.

The Shiites and Kurds welcomed the end of Saddam, but three years later, they may no longer be thinking much about the old dictator, because the horrors of the new Iraq are upon them. Saddam has been tried by a failed state, in a process whose legitimacy has been questioned by many of the same Western human rights groups that championed the suffering of his victims.

The process, and his execution, instead of uniting Iraqis in common purpose as they put the past behind them will instead be viewed entirely through a sectarian prism. The Shiites and Kurds will celebrate; the Sunnis will protest. And, more importantly, their war will continue. Saddam is but a footnote on the pages of today’s Iraq story.

And the most telling indictment of what the U.S. has wrought in Iraq came from Kofi Annan, the U.N. Secretary General appointed because of support from Washington and who always remained close to Washington moderates such as Colin Powell, in his valedictory BBC interview. Annan, freed from the shackles of his diplomatic role, told a basic truth that few dare utter in the U.S. media:

If I were an average Iraqi obviously I would make the same comparison [that life was worse now than under Saddam]… they had a dictator who was brutal but they had their streets, they could go out, their kids could go to school and come back home without a mother or father worrying, “Am I going to see my child again?”

(He forgot to mention the electricity, and the jobs, and the freedom of women to move around outside the home, and the fact that much of Iraq’s professional class has fled — that even many of the democratically elected leaders of the new Iraq actually live, to all intents and purposes, in Jordan or London — and so on, see Juan Cole for more.)

Thus the backdrop of Saddam’s execution — that the average Iraqi was safer under his barbarous dictatorship than they are now. So while Bush will likely take the opportunity to pontificate about how the execution symbolizes the closing a dark chapter yadda-yadda-yadda, the reality is that Iraqis are now living an even darker chapter as a result of the U.S. invasion. Rather than bringing any kind of closure to the suffering of Iraq, Saddam Hussein will be just another corpse in the daily body count that shows no sign of ebbing.

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11 Responses to Saddam is But a Footnote, Now

  1. Devils advocate says:

    What is this “barbarous dictatorship” thing?

    Isn’t that the lesson from the last few years, that a “democracy” run by idiots and criminals doesn’t work?

    Saddam provided stability, education, a good economy. He made wars too, on the negative side. Isn’t it rather normal that a society should get rid of its worst elements if it is to survive? What if the the worst 5% of the USA population were simply locked away or killed? Get rid of racists, white or any type supretists, then proceed with warmongers etc. Life will be good, and society will get a chance to adjust itself on the basis of the gained prosperity etc.

    A “democracy” based on 1 or 2 political parties and the competition principle in all human relations has ceased to be a democracy. Caesar awaits, he can live with a few checks and balances.

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  3. Ed Marshall says:

    Wow, do you attract a low species of troll…

  4. Ed Marshall says:

    Do you ever check the ip’s on those guys?

    Not trying to be the internet snitch or anything, but I was remembering a few years back there was something that kept posting on an ivy league schools Palestine solidarity chapter and eventually it got tracked back to the local Hillel or Friends of Israel outfit. This seems like an odd place for eugenic style nazis to troll…

  5. Jorge says:

    “…the circumstances of his trial…

    …Saddam Hussein was a long-time U.S. client…

    …his unforgivable transgression was to invade Kuwait and take control of its oil reserves….

    …in a process whose legitimacy has been…

    …If I were an average Iraqi ..”

    There is beauty in truth. After reading so much gobbly gook about how wise Gerald Ford was to pardon Richard Nixon, I clicked as fast I could to the Rootless Cosmopolitan.



    There are similarities between Nixon’s pardon and Hussein’s trial that everyone except me will miss.

    But before I get to that, how does anyone know what the “average Iraqi” felt under Hussein? Running water yes. Freedom? Not likely. Step the wrong way and you were likely to be harrassed by someone with even remote connections to power.

    So there is no love lost for Hussein’s hanging.

    But the importance of Saddam’s hanging and Nixon’s pardon is not about those individuals. It is about the process – both in Iraq and here at home – that has been corrupted.

    For all of the fancy words about how the pardon of Nixon saved the nation from an agonizing trial, the pardon also reminded us that our judicial process is seriously flawed. And once that is the case, everything else is meaningless.

    Now, I’m not sure we can ever get complete justice in this world. But what I do believe is that we must try; and I am ceratin that we certainly can’t shy away from it simply because the process will be “too painful” for the nation.

    “Too painful”? Seriously? How would the nation suffer? Newspapers would be flying out of the bins – see Clinton’s impeachment. It would have made facinating television.

    Eventually, of course, the nation would have been bored and complained for more “Jeffersons” and less trial drama.

    But the real impact would have been that we have a judicial process and we will carry out justice to the best of our ability, no matter how much it “hurts.”

    Giving Nixon and bankers a break while cracking down on homeless vets and drug addicts and prostitutes did more damage to our nation than anything else in our culture.

    Pardoning Nixon led to pardoning Iran-Contra which led to the solidification of the belief that we are two Americas.

    The average American may not have a college degree or have what it takes to operate in the halls of government. But the average American, like the average Iraqi, knows right from wrong. And when we see people doing wrong and getting pardoned, we say, “fu*K it.”

    Finally, a question for all of you scholars out there: Did Ford ever comment on the Clinton impeachment?

  6. Ed Marshall says:

    Finally, a question for all of you scholars out there: Did Ford ever comment on the Clinton impeachment?

    Co-authored an op-ed with Jimmy Carter asking Clinton to accept censure and the Senate to drop the matter. *shrug*

  7. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Ed: Yes, you see it on many blogs. As soon as the talk gets a tad too critical of Israel, they emerge from their caves with pitchforks. With “friends” like these, Israel needs no enemies.

  8. Bulletin News says:

    Cool blog post covering Saddam is But a Footnote, Now! Always love this write ups.

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  10. Miller says:

    that is the great point you disscuss Tony.

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