A number of readers have disagreed with my previous post disapproving of the then-impending execution of Saddam, which provokes further reflection on the subject.
I must confess that I thought allowing the execution right in the middle of our own Christmas season was in execrable taste.
It’s true that old Saddam was a brigand, and I’ve remarked before that the United States would have been justified in executing the old scoundrel out of hand when we reduced him to possession in the aftermath of the second war he provoked. But, the difference is, at the time, it would have been in hot blood.
I find the practice of housing and feeding and medicating a prisoner for years, and then cold-bloodedly turning him over to his approximately equally barbarous political adversaries for a farce of a show trial, followed by a rapid hanging, shabby behavior for a great power.
Saddam’s regime doubtless was a ruthless dictatorship, which suppressed revolts with brutal violence, but our own experience in Iraq seems to suggest that Iraqis are in general a bunch of belligerent and bloodthirsty primitives, bigoted, unruly, and inclined to violence. Preventing wholesale participation in the favorite local sport of homicidal feuding probably would require anyone in charge to resort to a fair quantity of brutal violence just to get the locals’ attention.
Saddam was, doubtless, a bloody-handed villain, but there do not seem to be a lot of leaders from the school of non-violence operating successfully in the Islamic Middle East these days. As thugs and villains go, Saddam was not really the worst of the lot. Nobody hanged Yassir Arafat (which seems a great pity to me). They gave him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Compared to the Ayatollas of Iran or Arafat, Saddam struck me as rather comical. He loved weapons, and obviously delighted in posing as a military leader, but he was spectacularly incompetent. Saddam resembled the perennial “loudest Mick in the bar.” He was the kind of overly-keen, self-admiring bully who makes a point of picking fights with larger and more talented opponents.
In his wars with the United States, Saddam presented a truly remarkable combination of hyperbolic braggadocio and complete military non-performance. He would say everything possible to provoke his adversary’s uttermost wrath, then do absolutely nothing effective at fighting. But, like Monty Python’s Black Knight (to whom Armed Liberal yesterday compared AP), Saddam persistently refused to acknowledge that he was defeated.
When you’ve knocked your adversary flat, and he is at your mercy, and time has gone by, and your temper cooled down, it seems unchivalrous to me to do what was done here.
If the US really wanted to execute Saddam, we should have done it ourselves, and we should have done it right away.
Turning a helpless old man over to his cowardly political rivals to be slaughtered, so as to spare oneself responsibility was, I thought, a cowardly form of trimming typical of leaders of modern democracies.
Saddam was, I thought, at his best, at his execution. He held up manfully in the face of death, and I liked his final contemptuous snort of derision at the hostile crowd’s chanting of the name of that jackanapes “Muqtada.”
Personally, I think hanging Muqtada, and breaking up that Mahdi Army of his, would have been a great deal more to the point than taking poor old Saddam out of his cell and dispatching him.
Saddam may have been guilty of sufficient crimes against the United States to justify our executing him. But we neither immediately condemned him upon capture, nor tried him and proved a case against him ourselves. He may have been guilty of crime against Iraq, but this Iraqi government is full of homicidal criminals, and it is the sheerest hypocrisy to treat that trial as a meaningful process. The shouting mob at the hanging, and the shouting mob at the trial, the hangmen, and the court official were all the same mob.