Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month


December 16, 2003

So Saddam Hussein, who hasn’t broken any American laws, will stand trial under the supervision of President Bush, who has pretty much shelved the U.S. Constitution.

Saddam — we’re all on first-name terms with him — doesn’t deserve a lot of pity. True, it’s hard not to be touched at the thought of an old man suddenly going from a diet of lobster and caviar to baloney sandwiches every day; but he’s probably in no position to gripe about prison conditions. Anyway, he’ll always have Paris, so to speak.

“Good riddance; the world is better off without you,” said Bush, addressing Saddam rhetorically, and calling him a “murderer” and “torturer.” And? And?

What about those weapons of mass destruction?

Not a word. That was Bush’s obsessive rationale for the war — the “gathering threat” Saddam’s fearful arsenal posed to world peace. He talked of little else for months. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the UN Security Council about it in fearful detail.

Down the Memory Hole! The “gathering threat,” arrested like a street bum, looked pathetic, bearded, dirty, unkempt, haggard. He had no power, no followers, no more money than he could carry with him. And certainly no WMDs. He was taken without a struggle. What a threat.

[Breaker quote: Victors' justice, as usual]What will be the impact of his capture? “Throughout the Middle East,” writes a usually sensible columnist, “terrorism has been dealt a psychological blow.” Has the author of that sentence been living in a hole in the ground? It’s quite clear that Saddam has been a fugitive and effective nonentity for months; the Iraqi resistance has flourished without regard to him, let alone direction or inspiration from him.

He looks like a lonely derelict: completely out of it. The idea that his capture makes any real difference, or represents an American triumph, is ludicrous. If anything, it underlines how empty American war propaganda has been. Saddam had nothing to do with terrorism or 9/11 or any danger to the West. He was just a handy bogeyman of the War Party, who must now, in their hearts, find him something of a disappointment.

Now Saddam is a trophy prisoner. In a few months we’ll learn who’s going to try him and what the charges will be. At this point, all we know is the verdict: guilty.

And no doubt Saddam could be justly convicted of many crimes; the inevitable arbitrariness of his disposition doesn’t make him innocent. But we may also wish that some other people could be brought to justice too. We recall that the Soviets sat in judgment on the Nazis at Nuremberg. The charges had to be carefully phrased to avoid embarrassing our allies.

That’s how it goes in this old world. With the saints otherwise occupied, thugs may have to get their just deserts from other thugs. If it weren’t for revenge, there might be no justice at all.

As for Bush, consistency isn’t his long suit. Anyone who voted for him in 2000 probably expected a conservative president — opposed to more Federal spending, believing in limited government, favoring strict construction of the Constitution, scornful of nation-building abroad.

Bush has given us the opposite of all these things. And as with his switcheroo on WMDs, he doesn’t seem the least bit embarrassed about reversing himself or abandoning what he had presented as his settled convictions. After all, he has speechwriters and spokesmen to explain these things, to the extent his pollsters and strategists deem explanation necessary.

His assets include his Democratic opponents, who can’t get their act together. He knocked them off balance with a huge increase in Medicare spending, weakening their political base; they are afraid to oppose his war unequivocally, because it’s still fairly popular (though they hope that will change). The Democrats want to convey the impression that they strongly disapprove of Bush without really disagreeing with him.

Like Mr. Micawber, the Democrats are reduced to hoping that something will turn up; and, in politics, something usually does. Over the next year the Iraq war and/or the American economy may go sour. But at the moment it appears that the 2004 presidential election will be a purely partisan affair; whatever divides George W. Bush and Howard Dean (or whoever), it won’t be principle.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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