American Enterprise Online
December 19, 2003
By Alan W. Dowd
Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq for almost 24 years—longer than Hitler controlled Germany, longer than Tojo dominated Japan. So total was his tyranny that the fall of his regime wasn’t enough to free his subjects. That didn’t happen until last weekend, when some 600 regular troops from the 4th Infantry Division and a few dozen Special Forces from Task Force 121 found him cowering in a hole.
Contrary to the chattering class, the capture of Saddam won’t end the guerilla attacks. Indeed, his arrival in Baghdad was greeted by car bombs.
The odds are it won’t bring Europe and America any closer together, either. We’ve heard that line before: when the World Trade Center fell, when President Bush went to the UN in autumn 2002, when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1441, when the statues tumbled in Iraq, when UN headquarters in Baghdad was bombed. Rather than narrowing the chasm separating Washington from Paris, Brussels and Berlin, Saddam’s capture could accentuate their differences. Indeed, the Europeans are already wringing their hands over the prospect of putting this mass-murderer to death.
Nor does Saddam’s arrest guarantee the president’s reelection. Eleven months is an eternity in the short-attention-span world of American politics. While the administration will get a deserved lift for netting Saddam, it remains to be seen if that will translate into a long-term political payoff. That will happen only if Saddam’s capture breaks the will of the guerilla fighters, only half of whom are Baathist leftovers. The rest are foreign jihadis, and they aren’t in Iraq to fight for Saddam. Like moths to the light, they will continue to come to Iraq, and kill and be killed by the dozens.
However, not all is unchanged by the surprise events of last weekend. Finding Saddam Hussein was a military feat akin to finding a needle among mountains of haystacks. And to take him alive, without firing a shot, helps to counter the fiction that US troops are assassins. To the contrary, they are just, honorable and incredibly restrained. The very fact that there are Baathist leftovers and ex-soldiers roaming the streets of Iraq is evidence of that restraint.
With Saddam in custody, the United States holds most of the cards (no pun intended). And that gives Washington a chance to be something it hasn’t been in awhile—the good cop.
First and foremost, Washington can play good cop with Saddam. Saddam knows, perhaps better than anyone else, that the US military is all that protects him from being torn to pieces on some Baghdad street or strung up like Mussolini. He knows TF121 or the 4th ID could have killed him in a hundred different ways by now. Doubtless, US interrogators are using that knowledge to their advantage. They should extract every shred of intelligence from him about the insurgent cells he was funding, everything he recalls about the European governments that aided and abetted his reign, every line connecting his regime to other terrorists, every Baathist agent overseas or at large inside Iraq, every hiding place for weapons of mass destruction, and everything he knows about the extent of Syrian and/or Iranian cooperation with him in the final days of his regime. (Published reports indicate that US interrogators are already reaping an intelligence harvest from Saddam.)
As a military commander, he’s being accorded the protections of the rules of war (and rightly so). By the same token, he should be required to issue a video-taped statement calling on his loyalists to lay down their arms. If getting these things out of Saddam requires the US military to make promises it cannot keep, that’s too bad for him. Saddam has no friends, no options, no future.
Washington can also play the role of good cop with the Iraqis. The surest way to “lose Iraq”—or at least to lose the good will generated last weekend—would be to hand Saddam over to Brussels or the UN, and the surest way to add fuel to the fire of Arab anger is to try Saddam in a US military tribunal and execute him ourselves. Bush should remind the Iraqi Governing Council that the Europeans are pressuring him to hand Saddam over to the Hague or some ad hoc court, that the Europeans want to steal the satisfaction of justice from them, that Paris and Berlin and the UN did not help them before or after Saddam fell. Bush’s message to the IGC should be simple and straightforward: “Give us time with Saddam, and we’ll give you Saddam.”
Finally, Washington can even play good cop with the French and Germans. They know the Iraqis want Saddam tried in Iraq; they know the Iraqis want the death penalty as a sentencing option—“like in Texas,” as one member of the IGC put it. But the Europeans are roundly opposed to that. Instead, they want Saddam sent to an international tribunal, where he would be shielded from execution. How pathetic but predictable: The very same governments that refused to do anything to save the Iraqi people from the torture chambers and mass graves now want to protect Saddam Hussein from the gallows.
As the good cop, Washington should tell the Europeans that the Iraqi people will not allow Saddam to be tried outside Iraq, and Bush should remind Schroeder and Chirac of their own words: The authority and sovereignty of Iraq must be transferred to the Iraqi people as soon as possible. By trying Saddam, the Iraqis will take a giant step in that direction. Since they bore the burden of his terror, they have earned this right.