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EXTRA! Commentary on Saddam's Capture
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The Future-Sans Saddam
By Mark Kittel

Saddam was bad. He was a very bad man. He did bad things in Iraq. Capturing Saddam was good. Iraq will now be free. Iraq will now be a democracy. Everyone should agree and cheer for our president. Our president won. Saddam lost. Saddam lost because Saddam was bad.

Now that weve exhausted the second-grade level understanding of world affairs thats being played out on the neo-conservative radio stations, and were all agreed that Saddam was a bad man, lets take a more thoughtful look at what impact, if any, Saddams capture has or may have on the future. It is critical that we do so now, because there are many on the neo-conservative end of the spectrum that expect this victory will silence Bushs critics, quickly crush the hopes of anyone that has been seeking to defeat Bush next year, and affirm the neo-conservative ideology of using military power to assert American power and policy in all other countries. The most obvious question is, does this end the war in Iraq? It ends the war to the same extent that Bushs declaration to the end of the war in May ended the war: it doesnt. It may put some Iraqis fears of Saddams return finally to rest, and will certainly be cause for celebration throughout the country. It will not end the violence in Iraq; that was confirmed just one day later with two separate suicide bombings. There are many that thought Saddam was controlling and guiding the resistance fighters in Iraq; take a look at the man, look at the conditions he was living in for the past several months, look at how easily he surrendered to American troops, and you can quickly conclude that Saddam had little or nothing to do with the continued violence in Iraq. Other nations, other leaders, other people in the Middle East are responsible for the continued attacks on our troops and on Iraqi citizens. They are not fighting to bring Saddam back; they are fighting to get us out of Iraq. The war does not end here.

This will be a disheartening reality for our troops and the families of our troops to face in the coming months. The capture of Saddam seems like it should be the end of the road for this war; shouldnt the troops come home now, shouldnt the rest of world put in their fair share of rebuilding Iraq? No, our troops cannot simply leave now; that has been the clear message from both the Bush administration and from several Democratic contenders, including Wesley Clark and Howard Dean. Our troops are needed so long as there are threats to the new government from Iraqs neighbors and from within Iraq itself. But we will not get the cooperation of other key nations with the current administration in place, simply because Bush thumbed his nose at them in order to invade Iraq and now these same nations have adopted the attitude, You got yourself into it, you get yourself out. So it will continue to be up to our troops to provide police duty and suffer the casualties for it. Capturing Saddam does not shorten the road home for our soldiers.

Perhaps capturing Saddam wont have much impact on the war itself, but doesnt it mean a brighter day for Iraq? Doesnt this mean that Iraq will be a free democracy? In short, no. Certainly the vast majority of the country is celebrating Saddams capture, and with good reason. But as an old song says, Nothing changes on New Years Day. When the party is over and people return to daily life, they will find that little has changed. The Shiites in the south will still hate the Sunnis to the north and will still resent America for abandoning them after the first Gulf War; they still want to build a conservative theocracy in Iraq, exactly the type of government that none of Iraqs neighbors, with the exception of Iran, want to see rise up. The Kurds will still want to be a separate nation from the rest of Iraq, and no one will want to give them their independence, least of all the United States and its staunch ally, Turkey. The provisional government still is only as strong as the United States is willing to allow, and will only grant power to those it wishes to grant it to meaning the Kurds and Shiites will continue to be shut out. All of this was true on December 12th, before the capture; it was still true on December 15th. Real democracy in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States, because we know very well that if we actually let the Iraqis choose their own leaders and their own course, the Shiites will take power (being in the majority) and the Kurds will immediately separate from the country, and we will be left without an ally in the Persian Gulf that we can reliably control and use to our advantage. The move toward democracy in Iraq was not being hampered by the failure to capture Saddam; it cannot be helped by his capture, either.

Surely I could agree that, if nothing else, Saddams capture is a good thing simply because it means that one of the worlds most brutal dictators will finally be brought to justice? Id like to believe thats true. There is no question at all that Saddam enforced law and order through fear and torture, and there is no question that he should stand trial for his crimes. Ideally, we would do exactly what many think we should do hand Saddam over to the Iraqis, let them be his judge and jury and executioner, keep our hands clear of the whole matter, and justice would thus be served.

Realistically, that is one of the most dangerous options we could choose. There are many people crowing that this capture sends a strong warning of Youre next! to other dictators around the world. True, but thats not the whole content of the message. Remember that when we invaded Iraq, not one weapon of mass destruction that Saddam supposedly had was fired at our troops or at any nation. When Saddam was captured, he was taken peacefully and cooperatively. If we turn him over now to the Iraqis and let them carry out the inevitable barbarous execution, the whole message is, Youre next, and it doesnt matter whether you fire a shot, it doesnt matter if you resist us or not, it doesnt matter what terms of surrender you want to negotiate, were going to take you and turn you over to the people that want to see you die through painful torture. I cant think of any despots that would want to face this fate, but I can think of several that might decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against America and die fighting rather than die alone through execution. I can think of a few that actually have weapons of mass destruction and that have already been backed far enough into a corner that they might decide now is the time to go out in a blaze of nuclear glory. What is most frightening about this scenario is the neo-conservative element in the Republican Party that would respond with, Bring them on. Another problem with letting the Iraqis take complete control of the trial concerns what Saddam might say at his trial. Weve already seen an example of this with Milosevic, who has had the entire worlds ear for months now and has used the trial to expose many embarrassing secrets regarding Americas and NATOs involvement in Serbia. What would Saddam say, for example, about the military and monetary support he received from the United States up until the original Gulf War? What might he say about American corporations that continued to do business with him and with Iraq after the Gulf War? What could he tell us about his past relationships with the Bush family, what might he reveal about the ties between the president and the Saudi royal family and the bin Laden family? How much of this would the American press hear and report back to our country? Likely much of it would be passed off as the lies of a mad man, but no one in the current administration will want to take that chance. If there is a trial at all, it will be one that the United States controls in every detail, down to the questions asked and the answers given. There will be no mention of atrocities against the Kurds (since the United States silently approved of such measures in order to maintain control of northern Iraq) or of atrocities against the Shiites (who are, after all, just radical Muslims that want to see America burn in hell, not to mention that we silently approved of such atrocities in order to keep the southern Shiites in line like the Kurds).

In the end, I think well see the more rational and clear-headed minds in the Bush administration prevail, and we will see no more of Saddam Hussein in the near or far future. Perhaps he will one day face the same court that Milosevic has been facing for over a year, a court that is nearly powerless to carry out its purported mission. In the meantime, what well likely hear is that Hussein still has not divulged everything he knows, that we need more time to question him, and that we simply cannot turn him over to any Iraqi tribunal until we are sure we no longer need him. We wont know where Hussein is, we wont know whats being done with him, and justice will not be served.

About the only thing that Saddams capture truly affects is next years presidential election. I do not think the capture was orchestrated simply to boost the presidents ratings or popularity, but it will have that effect in the short term. If that boost is to carry over to the next election, however, Bush will have to do much more than boast about the capture come next November. Saddams capture does not solve our economic problems; it does not help put unemployed millions back to work. The capture does not stem the flow of jobs from America to India and China and Russia. It does not improve our health or our environment, it does not miraculously solve the impending Social Security crisis. It does nothing to improve our schools. Saddams capture does not make our nation more secure, it does not bring our troops home, and it does not improve our deteriorating relations with other nations. And, of course, it does not bring to justice anyone responsible for the September 11th attacks.

The Bush team has been quick to capitalize on every scrap of good news that can somehow be portrayed as a great achievement of the administration, and this is obviously the best news Bush could have ever hoped for, aside from the capture of Osama bin Laden (which, of course, still has not been achieved). But the fact that this is being welcomed as good news for the administration should tell Bushs opponents that the president is desperate for a solid platform to stand on next November. Bushs critics and Democratic opponents have been hammering the president for months on exactly the issues outlined above, and they must continue to do so. Saddams capture is not a defeat for Bushs opponents; it is simply welcome news that does not actually have any long-lasting impact on the core problems that the president has been ignoring or actively worsening.

So let the president have his moment, give our troops their due for a job well done, and then get back to work on what matters most to Americans and our country. In the end, Saddam will not matter because he has not mattered for the past eight months.

Mark Kittel is a contributing writer to the ModerateRepublican.

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