Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Anne Applebaum on Saddam

As usual, Anne Applebaum's sharp intelligence cuts through the nonsense. Her points:

1) Saddam belonged to the well-known species of 20th century totalitarian dictators who begin by terrorizing their own people and then spread that terror to others (e.g., Hitler, Stalin).

2) We collaborated with him in his devastating war against Iran, not recognizing the threat he offered - we being the U.S., Germany, France, Russia, and others. (Compare the appeasement of Hitler by the French and British).

3) The U.S. and other countries did not recognize his regime for what it was (the horrors of internal terror) until he invaded Kuwait (just as, for example, we did not recognize the Nazi regime for what it was until the German invasion of Poland in 1939).

4) We're arguing now about what his death means to us, not to the Iraqis - "Write that Saddam really was an evil man, and you'll be thought an apologist for George Bush. Write that Saddam's regime resembled Stalin's, and you'll be called a right-wing ideologue."

5) Someday Iraqis may be able to have an objective discussion about the damage Saddam's regime did to their country.

6) "Maybe someday Americans or Europeans will also find ways to discuss Saddam as something other than a pawn in their own games or as a figure in their own political debates. But I doubt it."

Monday, January 01, 2007

Saddam's execution

Stephen Bainbridge, a law professor at UCLA, presents an interesting Catholic perspective on whether Saddam should have been executed. Despite my conflicted feelings about the death penalty, I do not think it was wrong to execute Saddam for his crimes, just as I do not think it was wrong for the State of Israel to execute Adolf Eichmann in 1962 for his part in the Holocaust.

I do, on the other hand, question why he was executed now, before his trial for genocide against the Kurds had been completed. Without diminishing the tragedy of the deaths of the men of Dujail who were murdered after an assassination attempt on Saddam (his conviction on this charge led to the death penalty), I think that it would have been much better if the full range of his crimes had been dealt with through several trials.

Iraq, Saddam's Execution

The New York Times today ran an interesting (and depressing) article about the rush to execute Saddam Hussein. It portrays the American authorities in Iraq as attempting to moderate the Iraqi government's haste to hang him as soon as possible. Another article (For Sunnis, Dictator's Degrading End Signals Ominous Dawn for the New Iraq) describes how the way that Saddam was execute is a threatening omen to Sunnis, and how the Iraqi government now seems to be an instrument of Shi'ite attempts to wreak vengeance on Sunnis.

When I read articles like this, I feel despair. What role can, or should, the U.S. be playing in Iraq? Should we just pull out? I'm afraid that if we do, then there will be massacres of Sunnis, who are after all a minority in the country. So is our task to mediate between the parties to a civil war? When I was talking to friends in the last couple of months, I said to them that if Iraq is consumed by a civil war, we should just leave - this to friends who opposed the war from the very beginning, with whom I disagreed fiercely. Other friends said to me before the war that they opposed our invasion of Iraq because it would lead to hideous chaos - and they have been proved correct.

I had some hope that the Iraq Study Group would have some useful suggestions for what we should do in Iraq - but now it seems that President Bush is completely ignoring their recommendations, and will probably approve an increase of American troops being sent to Iraq (a "surge"). I don't see what this will do except result in more dead and grievously injured Americans. (For a chilling report on all 3,000 American troops killed in Iraq, see Faces of the Dead in Iraq).