Politics & Policy

Captured!

A turning point in the war.

Saddam Hussein, the Ace of Spades in the Doomsday Deck, was dug out of a spider hole by the spec-ops guys today. Hiding in a farm house near Tikrit, the would-be Saladin surrendered without firing a shot, and was last seen submitting to a mouth swab for DNA testing, pulling on his scraggy beard. It’s a homerun for Task Force 21–the joint spec-ops crew that has been hunting him for months. We should celebrate, but only very, very briefly. The fact that Saddam has been caught changes the situation in Iraq in so many ways, but what happens to him and when it happens will keep many of the changes in limbo.

This is a big win for Mr. Bush and his team. Until Saddam was caught, the war wasn’t over. Now the win is almost in Dubya’s hands. But not quite. Saddam’s capture changes but does not end the insurgency. The ability of the remaining Baathists to terrorize the Iraqi people into cooperation will reduced enormously. As will their ability to be funded out of Saddam’s coffers. There must be others who have access to the funds that Saddam has been passing to insurgents, but those with access are now as likely to take the money and run as pass it to the insurgents.

Today we imposed an identity change on the insurgents. After Saddam’s capture, the insurgents can no longer be identified as Baathists seeking Saddam’s return. This is a turning point in the war because–if handled correctly–it can change the fight from a brewing ethnic civil war to one of Iraq and the Coalition against external forces. Some Iraqis will leave their ranks, and many others will stay in allegiance to various Shia and Sunni groups–and nations–that support them. Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia should be warned one last time that they will not escape any and all Coalition actions to stop their meddling in Iraq. This is not a quiet evening in Riyadh, Damascus, or Tehran. They hear footsteps, and they sound like American footsteps. None of those nations should be allowed to sleep soundly.

Those Saddam loyalists still out there will not want to give up, because they fear what he now faces: a war-crimes tribunal made up of the Iraqi people themselves. British P.M. Tony Blair said that Saddam will be tried by the Iraqis. He must be, and very soon. Saddam caught is not as valuable–to us and to Iraq–as Saddam dead. Those in the Axis of Weasels who are owed money will want to see him kept in prison, endlessly delaying his certain execution for mass murder. (Bad Vlad Putin must be looking into his fireplace about now, seeing images of $8 billion burning.)

France, Germany, and Russia’s main concern, money, gives them only two hopes. First is for Saddam to try to buy his way out of a death sentence. Fat chance. He’ll want asylum in some Arab country, and neither we nor the free Iraq can allow that. Their other hope is to corner the new Iraq into paying Saddam’s debts. This shabby little drama will play itself out over the next several years.

What remains of the Iraq war will still be both difficult and costly, but now the Dems will have less to say. For a while. Saddam in custody is still a dangerous man. A long media-driven trial would inevitably be a propaganda show for both sides. For every witness to mass murder, there will be two more saying how great he was, and how innocent he is of the WMDs and other elements of the casus belli we used as the rationale for his ouster. It could go on for months or even years. Look at the Milosevic trial. It seems to have begun right after the Eichmann trial in Israel in the 1960s, and the end is nowhere in sight. Justice delayed–especially in the case of Saddam and his ilk–is justice denied. This is so because so long as Saddam’s trial goes on, Iraq will be diverted from pursuit of freedom by the disposition of this criminal. No progress can be expected while the Iraqi Governing Council debates on what to do with their most important prisoner. No U.N. recognition of the new Iraqi government will be allowed by the Weasels while our betters scrutinize closely how the Iraqis handle this case.

One feature of a free society is its ability to dispense justice under an established system of laws through some type of courts. The Iraqi Governing Council–having taken too long–hasn’t produced either laws or courts. The proposed Iraqi constitution is too far off. What we–and Iraq–both need is for Saddam to be given a fair–no, make that fair enough–trial and be executed for his mass murders. The Dems and the Weasels will want to return it quickly to the Clinton context: crimes to be tried in court. For them, the International Criminal Court must be the venue for Saddam’s trial, because it allows him a stage for propaganda against his enemies, building a case for his retirement to the Saudi Retired Dictators Home. (After Idi Amin died, there’s an opening).

We cannot allow that. To deny the Iraqis ability to try and punish Saddam is to deny the legitimacy of their process of forming the new government. The proper way to handle Saddam is for the Iraqi Governing Council to appoint its own tribunal and apply to Saddam the basic laws against murder. Yes, it would be better for them to have a constitution, a system of courts and laws. But because they won’t manage all that in time–in a matter of weeks, not months–we can help them craft a perfectly legitimate tribunal for war crimes trials, of which Saddam’s should be the first. The Allies set up war-crimes tribunals to try Nazi and Japanese criminals, and we didn’t need the U.N. or some international court to do it for us. Dust off the Nuremberg rules, convene a panel, and get on with it. We cannot allow the Iraqis to do less.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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