The Corner

What to Do With Saddam

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….)

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