Once the crowing, gloating, chest-thumping and self-righteousness over the capture of Saddam Hussein begin to wear thin, sober observers will probably conclude that the best thing that could have happened would have been for Saddam to take a shot with his pistol at the G.I.’s who nabbed him and die in a hail of bullets in his spider hole. What sobriety ought to tell us is that his capture and trial may well turn out to be a problem for the United States and will have no good effect on the guerrilla war into which the Bush administration has dragged this country.
The United States has already decided that Saddam will not be tried by an international court, and that’s swell. International courts are of suspect legitimacy anyway, and the offenses of “genocide” and similar “crimes against humanity” are often mere masks for the judicial lynching of politically undesirable leaders. Moreover, the United States has every reason not to want Saddam to turn up as a defendant in any court in which judges from nations that opposed the war with Iraq would preside.
Saddam knows things. On trial, he might start talking about the things he knows—about the arsenal the United States sold him back in the 1980s; about what U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie said to him about his plans to invade Kuwait in 1990; about where he got the nerve gas with which he attacked “his own people,” the Kurds; about the non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” that provided a major rationale for the American war against him; about Iraq’s alleged ties to Al Qaeda that provided another rationale for the war; and even about which other countries in the Middle East also violate “human rights”and mistreat their ethnic minorities. As far as U.S. interests are concerned, it might be a lot more convenient if Saddam Hussein just died while trying to escape.
Indeed, the Americans have already started laying the groundwork by which anything Saddam says can be discounted. President Bush, smirking triumphantly over the capture, told reporters at the White House that the deposed Iraqi dictator is “a deceiver, he’s a liar, he’s a torturer, he’s a murderer…. I would be very skeptical of anything he said, one way or another.” Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also dismissed Saddam’s credibility: “He’s the king of denial and deception.” No doubt, but even a clock is right twice a day, and Saddam might just tick too loudly for American comfort.
As for the insurgency, the early predictions that it would fade quickly after his capture were never based on any substantive analysis. Saddam himself has already denied he was leading the guerrilla war, and it seems likely that’s true. It’s hard to lead much of anything from a six-by-eight foot hole in the ground. Moreover, there’s more going on in Iraq today than what Saddam was capable of leading, much less of creating.
His capture may well deflate the Baathist wing of the insurgency, the guys who really liked and supported Saddam and his government, profited from it, and now have absolutely nowhere to go (except perhaps into the American puppet government already set up in Iraq). But the armed resistance to the U.S. presence in Iraq has already moved beyond the Baathists.
The cutting edge of the war is being pressed by Islamic fundamentalists of one kind or another—people, many of them not even from Iraq, who identify with Osama bin Laden or similar figures far more than with Saddam, always one of the most secularized leaders of one of the most secularized regimes in the Middle East. The fundamentalists indeed can now say—and with some plausibility—that the secularism and modernism Saddam practiced and the corruption that went with them were the reasons for his failure and fall. Only if Iraqis now follow the true path of Allah can they expect to destroy the infidel (namely, us).
What Americans should try to learn is that by going to war with Iraq as we did, we declared war not on “tyranny” or “torture” or “fanaticism” but on an entire civilization that regards what we think of as tyranny, torture and fanaticism as the norm. The result is that many of the people of that civilization are perfectly willing to fight foreigners of a different race and religion who try to destroy it, and not a few of them are perfectly willing to give their own lives in the process. Certainly we can fight such a war, at least for a while, but it’s doubtful the West can really win it, much less understand what it’s really about. Fighting for one’s own civilization is a habit the West, or at least its leadership class, has long forgotten.