When I learned of Saddam Hussein’s execution last night, the first thought that popped into my head was “that should make the wingnuts happy.” And they do seem to be happy, or at least excited. Michelle Malkin, for example, has broken out the boldface and asterisks and anticipates finding the official execution video on YouTube. (She has not gone overboard with exclamation points, however, which suggests she’s moderating her excitement for the sake of decorum.)
Convention dictates that we precede any discussion of this execution with the obligatory nod to Saddam’s treachery, bloodthirsty rule and tyranny. But enough of the cowardly chatter. This thing is a sham, of a piece with the whole corrupt, disastrous sham that the war and occupation have been. …
… This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur — phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It’s a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us. …
… This is what we’re reduced to, what the president has reduced us to. This is the best we can do. Hang Saddam Hussein because there’s nothing else this president can get right.
As Josh points out, Saddam Hussein was in American custody until yesterday, when he was transferred to Iraqi custody for execution. One suspects the dictator’s end was less about serving justice than about serving the whims of George W. Bush. Indeed, the saga of how the dictator came to an end — from his capture in the “spider hole” to the trial and now to the execution, has had a contrived, low-production-value quality, like some direct-to-video film.
The very inauthenticity of the whole farce amounts to Bush Administration fingerprints. The confusion of pageantry and progress, of substituting photo ops and symbolism for actual accomplishment, is a hallmark of the Bush Administration. Yes, they’re all about covering up their ineptitude, but I wonder if at least some of them (like the President himself) honestly don’t know the difference.
Earlier this week the New York Times editorialized,
A carefully conducted, scrupulously fair trial could have helped undo some of the damage inflicted by his rule. It could have set a precedent for the rule of law in a country scarred by decades of arbitrary vindictiveness. It could have fostered a new national unity in an Iraq long manipulated through its religious and ethnic divisions.
It could have, but it didn’t. After a flawed, politicized and divisive trial, Mr. Hussein was handed his sentence: death by hanging. This week, in a cursory 15-minute proceeding, an appeals court upheld that sentence and ordered that it be carried out posthaste. Most Iraqis are now so preoccupied with shielding their families from looming civil war that they seem to have little emotion left to spend on Mr. Hussein or, more important, on their own fading dreams of a new and better Iraq.
What might have been a watershed now seems another lost opportunity. After nearly four years of war and thousands of American and Iraqi deaths, it is ever harder to be sure whether anything fundamental has changed for the better in Iraq.
Just as the rush to end the trial and hand down a sentence just before the midterm elections seemed, um, convenient, so too the rush to execute the dictator just before the new Congress is sworn in seems convenient as well.
Bush knows he has unlimited authority, and has already extended a giant middle finger to the incoming Congress by removing one Secretary of Defense, and then replacing him with another individual whose sole job is to escalate the very war which the public has just repudiated.
Riverbend also wonders what the Bushies are trying to prove by hanging Saddam:
What has me most puzzled right now is: why add fuel to the fire? Sunnis and moderate Shia are being chased out of the larger cities in the south and the capital. Baghdad is being torn apart with Shia leaving Sunni areas and Sunnis leaving Shia areas- some under threat and some in fear of attacks. People are being openly shot at check points or in drive by killings… Many colleges have stopped classes. Thousands of Iraqis no longer send their children to school- it’s just not safe.
Why make things worse by insisting on Saddam’s execution now? Who gains if they hang Saddam? Iran, naturally, but who else? There is a real fear that this execution will be the final blow that will shatter Iraq. Some Sunni and Shia tribes have threatened to arm their members against the Americans if Saddam is executed. Iraqis in general are watching closely to see what happens next, and quietly preparing for the worst.
This is because now, Saddam no longer represents himself or his regime. Through the constant insistence of American war propaganda, Saddam is now representative of all Sunni Arabs (never mind most of his government were Shia). The Americans, through their speeches and news articles and Iraqi Puppets, have made it very clear that they consider him to personify Sunni Arab resistance to the occupation. Basically, with this execution, what the Americans are saying is “Look- Sunni Arabs- this is your man, we all know this. We’re hanging him- he symbolizes you.” And make no mistake about it, this trial and verdict and execution are 100% American. Some of the actors were Iraqi enough, but the production, direction and montage was pure Hollywood (though low-budget, if you ask me).
That is, of course, why Talbani doesn’t want to sign his death penalty- not because the mob man suddenly grew a conscience, but because he doesn’t want to be the one who does the hanging- he won’t be able to travel far away enough if he does that.
Maliki’s government couldn’t contain their glee. They announced the ratification of the execution order before the actual court did. A few nights ago, some American news program interviewed Maliki’s bureau chief, Basim Al-Hassani who was speaking in accented American English about the upcoming execution like it was a carnival he’d be attending. He sat, looking sleazy and not a little bit ridiculous, his dialogue interspersed with ‘gonna’, ‘gotta’ and ‘wanna’… Which happens, I suppose, when the only people you mix with are American soldiers.
My only conclusion is that the Americans want to withdraw from Iraq, but would like to leave behind a full-fledged civil war because it wouldn’t look good if they withdraw and things actually begin to improve, would it?
Riverbend, btw, writes that Iraqis have come to believe America is trying to destroy Iraq deliberately.
This last year has nearly everyone convinced that that was the plan right from the start. There were too many blunders for them to actually have been, simply, blunders. The ‘mistakes’ were too catastrophic. The people the Bush administration chose to support and promote were openly and publicly terrible- from the conman and embezzler Chalabi, to the terrorist Jaffari, to the militia man Maliki. The decisions, like disbanding the Iraqi army, abolishing the original constitution, and allowing militias to take over Iraqi security were too damaging to be anything but intentional.
Thomas Ricks’s book Fiasco, however, reveals the Bush Administration to be something like a perfect storm of utter incompetence. I have no doubt the plan, at least in Bush’s mind, was to have a glorious little war, kick Saddam’s ass, and go home to a victory parade.
By now even Bush may realize there won’t be a parade. Instead, he and his war culties had to settle for the next best thing — an execution. I’m sure they’re enjoying the video.