The capture of Saddam Hussein is a splendid achievement, and a wonderful
Christmas present–whoops! I mean, of course, “Holiday present”–for all
Americans. However, the prospect of a formal trial, which now seems
inevitable, fills me with dismay.
It is now a commonplace to say that the Arab world is in a state of collective
mass neurosis, induced by its failure to build any viable modern
societies. We are now attempting to do that job for them. That’s fine, and
worth attempting; but the wound to Arab racial pride is very great. “The
hated infidel is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves…” We see
this clearly in the attitude of many Arabs to Saddam’s arrest. Now imagine
Saddam, cleaned up and well fed, with nothing at all to lose, shouting
defiance across a courtroom at his judges in the style of Madame Mao
Tse-tung at HER trial. “Who are you to pass judgment on me? Collaborators!
Lackeys of the infidel Crusaders! Who put you there to speak for the Iraqi
people? And what law did I break? Before the Americans came and stole our
country, I WAS the law!…” Etc. Etc. Or he might opt for the calm,
dignified Charles the First style, politely refusing to interact with the
court because it has no jurisdiction over him.
And of course this will go on for ages, as the trial of Milosevic has, an
open running sore on Arab racial pride. (Remember that Saddam’s pitch was
racial, not religious. He was never an Islamist, though he paid lip service
to Islam when it was expedient to do so. He presented himself as the
champion of the Arab people, riding to their rescue on a white stallion.)
It is hard to see anything good coming of it, and all too easy to imagine
Saddam’s fierce pride, or haughty disdain, sowing a new crop of dragon’s
teeth among impressionable young Arabs.
This business of victors’ justice is always tricky. After WW1 Britain had
an election fought (partly) on the slogan: “Hang the Kaiser!” In the
event, Kaiser Bill lived out his life peacefully in retirement in Holland,
beyond Britain’s jurisdiction. With Napoleon the Brits were luckier: the
French simply refused to have him back, so Britain just parked him on the
remotest island they possessed and forgot about him. Hirohito, who
certainly bore some of the guilt for Japan’s mid-century aggressions, was
left alone by the US occupiers after WW2 for excellent political reasons.
Probably the best option of all would be to just shoot these vermin out of
hand as soon as you catch them, and apologize later–it would soon blow
over. No chance of that, in a culture as obsessed with courtroom process as
ours now is.
(Actually, my favorite story of victor’s justice is the treatment given to
the defeated Sultan Bayezid “the Thunderbolt” by Timur after the battle of
Ankara in 1402. Bayezid was pulled around in a cage in Timur’s baggage
train till he died, and his wife was forced to serve naked at Timur’s
banquet table. This is probably a bit impractical in modern circumstances.
I am not even sure that our President HAS a baggage train….)