The capture of Saddam was one of those moments in US political history when only one emotion is permitted, and anyone who dares break from the official line is The Enemy. The theme is always the same: we are to celebrate whatever the state does, and condemn its enemies as nothing short of incarnate evil. Only the details change. Everyone knows that dissent is not allowed, not even in private conversation.
Of course everyone also knows that silent dissent exists. It is lurking out there somewhere. The enforcers are on the lookout for anyone dumb enough to voice a hint of disagreement, and are ready to pounce. The first one to break the taboo is shouted down and jeered, so as to make an example of anyone else who would dare do so in the future — the American equivalent of Stalin’s sending the first person to stop clapping after one of his speeches to the Gulag. At some point, however, the clapping will have to stop. And at some point, someone will have to dispute the self-evidently ridiculous pap coming from the government. And for finally losing it, be made an example for others.
The capture of Saddam was one of those moments. Everyone freezes and mouths the usual clichés, and then it takes weeks before there is any rational discussion. The first to break the silence this time, and early, was Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. “I felt pity to see this man destroyed,” he said, with the military “looking at his teeth as if he were a cow…. Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him.”
Compassion for Saddam? Imagine that, an actual human emotion applied to US foreign policy, which is supposed to be about the cold, hard reality that the US state is good and anyone who opposes it evil. It seems that Martino has a different view. Oh how the bloggers loved this one. Instapundit blasted away, National Review attributes such crazy thoughts to the disease of anti-Americanism, and the Dynamist said she could never “respect the authority of such idiots.” Clearly, we are required to believe that because the US says so, Saddam deserves nothing but derision and death, the sooner the better. If you might think that Martino has a point, you will be treated to the same level of derision, pending some more extreme solution.
The pundit class during a war is never more insufferable. Lacking guns and uniforms and a foreign foe to kill, they target the people they really hate — civilian war dissidents — as a means of advancing their pet political agenda. It is unseemly to see intellectuals using their talents toward such anti-intellectual ends as national chauvinism. But we’ve seen that many times in history, as the career of Heidegger shows. Never believe that intellectuals are above it all; when the right circumstances present themselves, they are ready not only to goosestep with the best of them, but also to write the manuals and administer the prison camps for those who refuse.
Just for the sake of review, let us just state the obvious points that one is somehow not allowed to mention. Iraq under Saddam was known as the most liberal Arab state. There was relative religious freedom. Women had rights. You could get a drink. You could own private guns. There were symphonies and arts. Fundamentalists had no power. The place was prosperous and enjoying immigration.
He was a despot, yes, but that hardly distinguishes him in the region. He owned some nasty weapons, yes, mostly sold or given to him by the US government, on whose behalf he waged war on Iran. He also made war on the attempted secessions of the Kurds and the Shiites. Unfortunately, he believed in the Union. But outside of war, when hyenas rule, his dictatorship was authoritarian not totalitarian (using the Jeanne Kirkpatrick taxonomy). It consisted not so much in controlling the people as keeping political competition at bay. Everyone in the region knows this, if most Americans do not.
For reasons that are still not entirely clear, the US decided it did not like Saddam. Iraq went from ally to enemy so fast that it even took the Iraqi regime by surprise. Bush Sr. waged war, then imposed sanctions, while Clinton continued sanctions and almost daily bombing, and threatened full-scale war, and finally Bush Jr. threw away more than $100 billion of other people’s money to wage unilateral war and get rid of Saddam on grounds that he was involved in the 9-11 attacks and owned WMDs — neither of which turn out to be true in any respect.
The Iraqi regime tried every means to prevent war — its 12,000-page weapons declaration to the UN was accurate, for example — but Bush had to have war, and so war there was. Iraq spun in chaos, tens of thousands are dead, and Islamic radicals are poised to take power.
Oh the joy of liberation! And don’t you dare disagree with the claims of the imperial wizard in the slightest respect. Never mind that the US denies pro-Saddam protesters the right to assemble and speak, and shoots them. Never mind that violence and bombers have become more common after his capture. Never mind that the main group cheering the capture in Iraq was pleased that an impediment to an Islamic state had been removed. No, the US says this is all great news and you had better believe it.
Under what authority does the US decide that the foreign head of state should be overthrown and decapitated? The authority of power and no other. The US has the guns, period. And isn’t it preposterous that anyone in the world should take issue with that? And while we are mentioning absurd questions raised about the moral doctrine of Might Makes Right, who can believe that there are still people in Iraq not entirely happy with the rule of a foreign military conqueror who speaks a foreign language and worships a foreign god?
The military occupier, failing to kill Saddam and still dealing with irrational “resistance” to its rule, hunted and hunted him. Once it caught him and, passive and compliant, he said what he has said all along: there are no WMDs. Can you believe this guy? So on came the cameras, on went the surgical gloves, on went the flashlight, and his mouth was examined in close detail, with the pictures broadcast around the world.
There was once a document known as the Geneva Convention. It said such things as: “Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated”; “prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity”; “prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour.” Such sentiments followed the massacres of World War II, when humanity lost millions upon millions due to governments that cared nothing for human rights.
The punditry class might ridicule such sentiment today in favor of the great god DC. All the bloodshed backed by power and arbitrary political judgment has somehow dulled their humanitarian sense, and turned bloggers and editorialists into uncritical cheerleaders of anything and everything the US state wants to do.
If you disagree, you had better find a spider hole somewhere.