The Fox News crew was breathless the morning Saddam’s capture broke. Of course, when I had last been watching, some Fox babe was breathless about Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, or whoever was threatening our way of life at the time, so it took me a moment to figure out what was happening. Then mark my words, warbots, and make hay of them quickly an unpleasant feeling set in.
It wasn’t sympathy for Saddam, and thank goodness for that. Cardinal Renato Martino lit his Zippo too close to War Party methane last week when he voiced compassion for Don Rumsfeld’s old buddy. Dynamist bore Virginia Postrel branded Martino and his colleagues “idiots.” Blogger Glenn Reynolds bashed the Vatican the way he does everything else by linking to better spokesmen for death and destruction. Noted theologian Bill O’Reilly barked a profession of faith: “[Y]ou can afford to feel compassion for Saddam, Cardinal, because the USA protects the Vatican from the forces of evil.” Let us kneel toward the Pentagon and pray.
I won’t be praying for Saddam, though. As I watched the endless loop of that lice-ridden senior having his fillings checked, I felt pity not for him, but for us. The same “conservatives” who had just spent a week lashing John Kerry’s tongue were ramming our republic feet-first into the meat grinder. Hurrah for empire! Witness the rapid militarization of civil society and the collectivization of the leader’s will. Dubya hates Saddam for allegedly trying to kill his daddy, so we must hate him, too. Saddam offered to settle all this mano a mano, but the emperor refused. That’s what we citizens are for to be his echo, fund his whims, and fight his fights.
And no, this isn’t some bleeding-heart tirade against vengeance. Revenge may be morally suspect and ugly to watch, but I can’t fault victims for wanting it. I can understand (without condoning) an Israeli who has lost a loved one to a suicide bomber cheering the demolition of the bomber’s family’s home; I can understand (without condoning) a Palestinian who has lost a loved one to an Israeli attack applauding a checkpoint bombing. The cultivation of such unintended, though entirely predictable, grudges should be reason enough to avoid mass conflict, but if it isn’t, then let’s dispense with the phony shock at the results. Saddam is a case in point: after all he has done to “his people” (a telling phrase) and his neighbors, he should expect plenty of animosity.
We must, however, distinguish the truly aggrieved parties from those who merely savor the stench of carrion. Many Iraqis, especially the Kurds, understandably wish a nasty end on their old oppressor. That some of those Iraqis, such as the PKK and the Communists, are loathsome characters does not diminish the validity of their grievances. Ditto for the Iranian government, which wants Saddam to be tried for war crimes. Don’t let the plaintiffs ruin your appreciation of the suit. These people have a right to extract whatever portion of Saddam’s hide they find satisfactory.
“With some difference in the details, Saddam’s fall is in essence the story of Ceaucescu.
“But the comparison poses grave consequences. Iraq is not an isolated Rumania. It is surrounded with equally brutal regimes with their terrorist organizational extensions. The greater detail on that Sunday morning was the global wave stirred by the capturing of the Baghdad dictator. For beyond the frustration of shocked Pan Arabists and Islamists around the region, the most dramatic tribulations rocked the leaders beyond Iraqi borders. Saddam preferred to flee his palaces and hide in a hole, but he was found by the coalition of the willing. But in Tehran, Damascus, Tripoli and Khartoum, the masters of the Palaces know very well that the next time dictators would be extracted from holes, it won’t necessary [sic] be by ‘infidel’ soldiers. The power of the example has no parallel.”
What, precisely, about the U.S. capture of Saddam would make the “masters of the Palaces” fear a homegrown revolt? The lead in Ceaucescu’s brow came from his fellow Romanians. In Saddam’s case, even the least believable and most capable “victims” in the neighborhood, the Israelis, decided to sit back and let America do the dirty work.
And empire is dirty work, both abroad and at home. Immediately after Saddam’s capture, the domestic belligerati began hunting down the insufficiently ecstatic. You are obviously a Ba’athist/Fascist/Nazi if your reaction to the news was less garish than, say, John Derbyshire’s:
"[M]y favorite story of victor’s justice is the treatment given to the defeated Sultan Bayezid ‘the Thunderbolt’ by Timur after the battle of Ankara in 1402. Bayezid was pulled around in a cage in Timur’s baggage train till he died, and his wife was forced to serve naked at Timur’s banquet table."
Never mind that, back in March, we all expected Saddam’s head on Dubya’s desk within weeks. Never mind that no one opposed the war for fear that Saddam might escape. Never mind that his capture did nothing to stop the violence in Iraq, and may actually increase it. Just so long as Derbyshire can fantasize and Peggy Noonan feels fuzzy inside, no sacrifice is too great including our republic, our liberty, and our tenuous grasp on civilization itself.