My own article on BlogCritics produced more than a few comments that sounded completely sympathetic to Saddam. In many countries including Iraq, Saddam has gone from being a convicted criminal to a compelling and tragic figure. This week The New York Times has reported that images of his hanging are making Saddam Hussein a martyr.
I agree that video was unfortunate. It was produced from the same place that our original invasion was: vengeance rather than justice. I've never argued that Saddam did not deserve justice, but I have a hard time finding it here. The injustice to Iraq began with the hyping of pre-war intelligence. This was done in order to generate the collective rage needed to invade that country. You don't have to try very hard to understand how a people who value justice, who live in a region that has been treated so unjustly, now view this as another example disastrous Western meddling.
By standing up to the United States and its client government in Baghdad and dying with seeming dignity, Mr. Hussein appears to have been virtually cleansed of his past.
“Suddenly we forgot that he was a dictator and that he killed thousands of people,” said Roula Haddad, 33, a Lebanese Christian. “All our hatred for him suddenly turned into sympathy, sympathy with someone who was treated unjustly by an occupation force and its collaborators.”
Just a month ago Mr. Hussein was widely dismissed as a criminal who deserved the death penalty, even if his trial was seen as flawed. Much of the Middle East reacted with a collective shrug when he was found guilty of crimes against humanity in November.
But shortly after his execution last Saturday, a video emerged that showed Shiite guards taunting Mr. Hussein, who responded calmly but firmly to them. From then on, many across the region began looking at him as a martyr.
I say this with no satisfaction, but it does us no good to ignore current facts the way we've ignored Middle Eastern culture and history. Just prior to invasion an Iraqi exile had a long conversation with President George Bush explaining that there were, as it turns out, two sects in Islam. I suspect the President figured he had more important things to worry about. We were so confident that Democracy and freedom would trump history and culture that such minor details could hardly be worried over.
Just days before the war, on "Face the Nation", Dick Cheney said the fight would be "weeks rather than months. There's always the possibility of complications that you can't anticipate, but I have great confidence in our troops." Cheney also predicted the fight would "go relatively quickly, but we can't count on that."
Hours later on NBC's "Meet the Press," Cheney said, "I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." It was then he predicted that the regular Iraqi soldiers would not "put up such a struggle," and that even "significant elements of the Republican Guard . . . are likely to step aside." Asked if Americans are prepared for a "long, costly and bloody battle," Cheney replied: "Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way. . . . The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein, and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that."
It is time for us all to become realists. Hubris got us into this mess, maybe sober judgement can get us out. We glossed over incidentals, brushed aside reasonable concerns, and ignored the international community, all to take Saddam down. And, of course, it turns out we erred at almost every step of the way. We proved entirely unworthy to impart justice but we did anyway. Is that civilized? Is that an American? In fact it's so distasteful its creators are trying to slip out the back window unnoticed.
The American Conservative has published an incredible article entitled "Selective Amnesia" blasting neoconservative pro-war advocates for now changing their story on Iraq.
The article then goes on to crush Michael Leadon, a "Freedom Scholar" at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. I was also very happy to see Charles Krauthammer did not escape the article's wrath. Krauthammer, one of the most vocal pro-war critics, has recently written an article in the Washington Post calling Saddam's execution a travesty. Indeed, most reasonable people are compelled to view it that way. The real travesty, of course, has been the entire endeavor. The incredible implausibility of their ideas aside, how come more of these people didn't foresee the high possibility of failure by asking this administration to conduct an operation so complex, which required so much sensitivity?
The invasion would not have occurred had Americans not been persuaded of its wisdom and necessity, and leading that charge was a stable of pundits and media analysts who glorified President Bush’s policies and disseminated all sorts of false information and baseless assurances.
Yet there seems to be no accountability for these pro-war pundits. On the contrary, they continue to pose as wise, responsible experts and have suffered no lost credibility, prominence, or influence. They have accomplished this feat largely by evading responsibility for their prior opinions, pretending that they were right all along or, in the most extreme cases, denying that they ever supported the war.
I think it is one thing to have favored the war, and to have lent reason and rhetoric to the cause. I can excuse that, in a way, because perhaps their heart really was in it. You can see how their eyes glow when they talk of battalion and brigades, these Monday morning hawks. But notice how the war they once favored they are now distancing themselves from and reluctantly trying to solve. I love how they say, "I wasn't asked but here's how I would solve the problem.." as if it were someone else's evil creation and they had nothing to do with it. It is as if I, after years of watching on television, presumed to know how to run a football team and, after running that team into the ground, I confidently present my ideas to fix the problem.
They are done "carrying water" as Rush Limbaugh triumphant stated. But the most disturbing thing to me is that these people are still taken seriously. Maybe the greatest injustice is that these waterboys are given a chance to influence the team to such a powerful degree. Their previous ideas have not completely disqualified them. They should be viewed in the same way we view Pat Robertson: insane. Why is it considered crazy to call for the assassination of Hugo Chavez for rhetorical saber rattling about the United States, and not crazy to call for the invasion of Iraq for possession of WMDs? At least Robertson's belief is, incredibly, the reaction to a fact.
Consider Vice President Cheney again who, on "This Week" two days before the mid-term elections, pontificated on all kinds of things, confidently. Honestly, I have no idea where that kind of nerve comes from after being so completely wrong on so many things. I view him as I would someone who has just told me with utter confidence that he has just returned from the planet Tralfamadore. I will give Cheney credit on Haliburton though. A foreign affairs expert he is not. A keen businessman? Indeed. It's a sad day when those two priorities meet each other in back alley dealings.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that it is not the evil person we should worry about, but the person doing evil who thinks he is doing good. That person cannot be reasoned with. That person will never stop. This week the American Enterprise Institute has produced a publication entitled "Choosing Victory: a plan for success in Iraq". There is no shortness of nerve or lack of hindsight. I find it insulting. These are the words from the waterboys. The people who helped bring you an ill conceived war, which has led to the deaths of thousands and the creation of a Sunni martyr, are now offering you their plan to correct it all. They are, after all, from a "think tank." At least their plan has the obligatory colon in the title. That's Think Tank 101: If there's a colon in the title it can't be ridiculous.