Sunday, December 14, 2003

I've decided to do what relatively few bloggers are going to do because so many bloggers are obviously going to do it (if you know what I mean): Write a long post with my thoughts about Saddam. (Also, it's still early and a Sunday in the U.S., so not too much has been said yet.)

Josh Chafetz on Oxblog writes:

I think guerilla attacks will intensify before they fade away, but I think this is basically the death knell for the opposition. With Saddam gone, the locals should be less afraid of turning the guerillas in -- there was clearly fear among many that Saddam would return to power and punish those who had aided the coalition. Saddam's capture will also make it harder for the guerillas to recruit any new members...
Let's hope. But...

The other day I was chatting with a journalist friend of mine (Theo Schwinke, who expressed chuffedness last night about his previous "cameo" on this blog) who’s been doing some research for an article about Iraq and Scott Ritter and the American Voices Abroad conference in Prague and that sort of stuff.

And Theo cited some article that appeared in a somewhat credible place (maybe he can help me out here) that pointed out something very, very interesting, especially given recent developments in a spider-hole inside a lean-to next to a mud-hut somewhere near a farmhouse 15 kilometers from Tikrit.

Here’s that interesting thing: The reason a good number of Iraqis are not supporting the insurgency isn’t because they actually like the Americans or because they think killing is wrong. They’re not supporting the insurgency because they hate Saddam and are afraid of him coming back to power.

So, Theo asked me, totally hypothetically: "What happens if Saddam is captured tomorrow?" (I’d like to say that this conversation took place yesterday or Friday, but in fact it was earlier this week.) The insurgency becomes an actual popular uprising? The U.S. says "job done," hands over a few decrepit voting booths they’re not using any more (let’s give them the ones from Florida) and high-tales it out of Iraq? And then what?

Suddenly this isn’t so hypothetical anymore.

It’s important not to underplay and poo-poo the capture of Saddam. As CNN’s Christiane Amanpour told the anchor who threw her a skeptical question: Don’t down play this celebration. This is huge -- certainly more tremendous that the fall of Baghdad. And to be sure, it’s great news for the Iraqis. The way it happened was rather extraordinary, too – Saddam taken prisoner without a shot fired, looking complacent, resigned, even talkative and cooperative; from the look of things, he was relieved that this was all over.

The fact that he surrendered without giving up a fight is already making some Iraqis ask why he didn’t turn himself in months ago, thus sparing us all the agony of uncertainty. He's been revealed on Iraqi national television as the self-serving cowardly brute that he is, he’ll be tried in Iraq for crimes against Iraqis (though I wonder how the Serbs are going to feel about that one) and there’s hope for a peaceful future and all that jazz.

I remember something this guy once said during a class on Ancient Greek History when I was in college: The nice thing about studying the classics is that there’s such a limited amount of primary source material, you’re really down on your hands and knees alongside the so-called “experts.” Got Herodotus? So does everybody else, and that's about it. As arrogant as this may sound, I often feel the same way about the Iraq situation: If you follow the news, there’s a pretty good chance you have as good a view, at least of the big picture, as anybody on up to George W. Bush.

So one question that remains unanswered, in my mind: Is this really such great news for the Americans? I'd love to think so, and there’s a chance that the rosiest predictions will come true: The "resistance" dies, Iraqis join common cause in establishing a liberal democracy. They elect a moderate, boring government stacked with technocrats and slimy self-serving pols, just like in "normal" countries, but slimy pols that at least are friendly with their neighbors and the U.S. Ten years later, some loud American backpackers will be hanging out in a Baghdad café saying, "Can you believe how cheap the beer is here?"

Everything worked out, what a happy end!
Americans and Iraqis are friends again
So let's all join hands, and knock oppression down!

-- a misquote

Let’s just say I would not be terribly surprised if it doesn’t work out that way.

Here’s what I think Saddam's capture -- and the way it happened, with a cooperative Saddam literally climbing out of a hole in the ground without any shots fired -- shows: He’s not been in charge of the insurgency. He’s probably not even connected to the insurgency. The last man who had any faith in him abandoned him long ago. How could anybody stay loyal? This is a man who has spent his life lying to those closest to him, most likely abandoning his own sons to their fate, enforcing "loyalty" with manipulation, betrayal and a state apparatus of terror.

Looking at those pictures, let's just say I get the feeling he’s not really cut out for guerilla life. Saddam, you’re no Che Guavera – or Osama Bin Laden, for that matter.

And yet all we keep hearing, especially during that last few weeks, is that the insurgents' attacks are becoming increasinly coordinated and sophisticated. Ergo, somebody's been calling the shots and we can reasonably assume that person or persons still is calling the shots.

Try this one on for size: The insurgency has nothing to do with Saddam, and the fact that he was still on the loose was only limiting its appeal.

Mickey Kaus is waiting to catch the first commentator trying to spin this to say it's actually good news for Howard Dean. Right now, I don’t see how it could be, although it could prove an opportunity for Dean to articulate a stronger Iraq policy. With Bush's primary war booty in his hands and the economy on the upswing, this greatly increases the chances of a Bush victory in 2004 -- or at least that’s the way it seems at the moment.

But everything depends on how events over the next few weeks unfold.

At the very least, here’s hoping that Saddam’s capture clears up a lot of the muddle that’s surrounded the Iraq issue, on both the doves' and the hawks' side. Politicians can (and should) start making some clearer indications of what they think should be done next. I also think you’re going to start seeing greater evidence of the weird collusion of interests between the Bushies and the former Baathists, both of whom want the U.S. out of Iraq "as soon as possible" regardless of what that actually means for the Iraqis.

P.S. Why did they name this “Operation Red Dawn”? After the most jingoistic American Cold War movie of the 1980s, the one where the Russians parachute into a mid-western town, massacre all the school children, and then raid the local gun ownership registry to round-up all the gun owners, leading Patrick Swayze to flee to the mountains to establish a homeland guerilla resistance movement?


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