Before Saddam's Execution; He's Already Been Replaced by "Other Evils"
January 1, 2007
When Saddam Hussein was found in a spider hole in a village south of Tikrit three years ago, his capture was seen as a momentous event in both Baghdad and Washington. Ambassador Paul Bremer, then-administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, announced Saddam's arrest with three simple words, "We got him" — knowing full well that everyone listening would know exactly whom he was referring to. An ecstatic President Bush declared that "the capture of this man was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq."
Now that Saddam has been executed and buried not far from where he was found, the moment seems, at best, anticlimactic. In the years since he went into hiding, Iraq has drifted slowly toward anarchy and civil war. The troubled nation is hardly the beacon of democracy and stability that Bush had hoped for. And Saddam's hanging has more the feel of a footnote than a new chapter. In fact, some of the circumstances seemed all too much an echo of the past.
Saddam was rushed to the gallows by an Iraqi government that has been unable or unwilling to control Shiite death squads that capture, torture and kill Sunni civilians, just as Saddam, a Sunni, tormented Shiites and Kurds during three decades of murderous rule. A clandestine video of his hanging captured a taunting mob chanting the name of Muqtada al-Sadr, the powerful anti-American Shiite cleric whose militias are believed to be responsible for many of the killings.
If there is some deeper value to be drawn from the hanging, it may be in putting some doubts in the minds of other capricious tyrants contemplating murder as an instrument of public policy. Saddam was not the first dictator to be executed by his own people, but he was the first to be tried for his transgressions first.
The strategic impact for the United States and its allies, though, is more limited. For all the misery Saddam inflicted on his people, he was less a threat to the USA than was thought, particularly after the Persian Gulf War shattered his army and, as was learned too late, limited his ability to develop weapons of mass destruction. His capture, trial and execution solves far less than was once envisioned.
Here, perhaps, is a lesson on the mutability of evil. This world is regrettably filled with real threats to peace. When one falls, or recedes in importance, others rise up to take its place. As the trial progressed, the cruel and bizarre regime of Kim Jong Il in North Korea developed nuclear weapons. Iran assumed a more aggressive posture with its own nuclear program. The Taliban resurged in Afghanistan, and militant groups gained strength in Palestine and Lebanon.
It is difficult to see Saddam's removal from power and execution having any impact on these events. It is also difficult to see it having much impact in Iraq. For the Iraqis, it is a moment to reflect on how bad things were under Saddam, as they contemplate how bad things still are today. For the rest of us, it is but a passing event.