Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to hang. When the sentence is finally carried out, Iraq and the world will be better for it. And it will be America that made it possible.
That is the lesson to be drawn from the death sentence Saddam received yesterday after an Iraqi court convicted him of ordering the murder of 148 men and boys, all civilians, in reprisal for a failed assassination attempt in 1982. The Iraq War has never been more unpopular among Americans than it is now. We don’t expect this to change with the conclusion of Saddam’s first trial. (He has yet to answer on charges of massacring more than 100,000 Kurds in the 1980s.) But we do hope that, on this occasion, Americans will remember both why the war had to be fought and why fighting it was just.
The verdict reminds us why the war had to be fought because it represents the irreversible end of Saddam’s ability to threaten America. That threat was real. As Democrats and the media tell things, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in post-Saddam Iraq proves that the war should never have been waged. But its justification always depended as much on the weapons Saddam might build as on the ones he already had built. In the years following Saddam’s removal from power, mountains of documentary evidence have proved that he had every intention of reconstituting his WMD programs once U.N. sanctions were lifted. Given that the sanctions regime had crumbled beyond repair prior to the invasion, the choice was not between containing Saddam and confronting him. It was, rather, between resigning ourselves to his eventual possession of WMD and removing him from power. Whatever his mistakes in implementation, President Bush made the right choice, with the result that the Middle East and the world will forever be free of Saddam’s menace.
As to the war’s morality, it should be enough to recall that Saddam tyrannized the Iraqi people — impoverished them and massacred them — and was subject to no law but his whim. Now he has been held accountable for his atrocities in an open and transparent trial. He was granted procedural rights that allowed him to mount a vigorous defense. His judges will publish all of the evidence and testimony on which they based their decision. And he will receive an automatic appeal of the verdict. Nothing like this has ever been seen in the Arab world. For decades, the Left has damned American foreign policy for propping up dictators simply because they were “our” sons of bitches. Accordingly, one might expect to hear the Left voice its approval when America delivers one such dictator to the demands of impartial justice. We’re still listening.
Saddam’s trial had its flaws — not least the former dictator’s thuggish bombast, which will surely continue throughout his appeal. Amnesty International and similarly myopic groups have complained that it didn’t look exactly like business at the Hague. But they are asking that Rome be built in a day. An aggressive and destabilizing tyranny has been replaced by a democracy struggling to walk on its own two feet. It would be nice if the perfectionist critics devoted as much energy to condemning the forces in Iraq and the region that want democracy to fail as they do to nitpicking the legal procedures in Baghdad.
None of this is to minimize the dire challenges that Iraq still faces. The verdict has apparently not “open[ed] the doors of hell” with new sectarian violence, as Saddam’s chief lawyer predicted it would; but violence as usual is bad enough, and threatens to destroy the new Iraq in embryo. With Saddam’s end coming into sight, Iraq’s people have a chance — with our assistance — squarely to face the future. We gave them that chance.