Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Saddam and Bush

Evidently liberal antiwar bloggers like myself are being chastised for failing to do due penance before the altar of the Mighty Babbling Bush in the wake of Saddam Hussein's capture. It seems the right somehow views the event as a kind of vindication of the invasion and the administration's phony justifications for it, as well as the conduct of its continuing endeavors there.

Well. I don't see how anyone with a drop of decency can say that Saddam's capture was anything but a good thing -- a very, very good thing. Indeed, many of us have been looking forward to the day Hussein was brought to justice for many long years -- well before, I might add, even the first President Bush did anything but hand him weapons and enable his atrocities.

Moreover, like the folks at Amnesty International, I think it's absolutely vital that Hussein face a criminal tribunal that at the very least meets international standards -- and as Joe Conason argues, preferably by an international tribunal. But the Bush administration's antipathy to the international courts is well documented as well. If the White House insists on allowing the court being set up by the neocon puppet Salem Chalabi (who enjoys zero credibility among Iraqis) to control hold Hussein's only trial, there will be numerous long-term harms inflicted. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch has poignantly described the far-reaching effects of Saddam's butchery, and why he needs to stand trial for all his crimes:
To do these victims justice, their plight should be recorded in a court of law and their perpetrators properly judged and punished. But the Iraqi Governing Council, taking its lead from Washington, last week established a tribunal that is to be dominated by Iraqi jurists. Despite the superficial appeal of allowing Iraqis to try their own persecutors, this approach is unlikely to produce sound prosecutions or fair trials. It reflects less a determination to see justice done than a fear of bucking Washington's ideological jihad against any further enhancement of the international system of justice.

... Despite the obvious merits of an internationally led tribunal, Washington is adamantly opposed, which largely explains the path chosen by the Iraqi Governing Council. But Washington's opposition reflects its ideology, not concern for the Iraqi people. The Bush administration calculates that a tribunal of Iraqis selected by its hand-picked Governing Council will be less likely to reveal embarrassing aspects of Washington's past support for Saddam Hussein, more likely to impose the death penalty despite broad international condemnation, and, most important, less likely to enhance even indirectly the legitimacy of the detested International Criminal Court.

It certainly is in any event a great relief to know the man is permanently out of power, and like every other decent American, I'm pleased that he is alive and will face trial.

That said, the next logical observation is this: The capture is in the long run inconsequential. The problems that America faces in Iraq right now and for the foreseeable future have nothing to do with Saddam Hussein. They have almost everything to do with George W. Bush.

Jim Lobe recently nailed this with a fine analysis for the Inter Press Service News Agency:
The Axis of Incoherence

Lobe zeroes in on the administration's most notorious recent screwup: the one in which the Pentagon announced that certain nations were being blacklisted for Iraq reconstruction projects -- a day before James Baker was in Europe, pleading with the leaders of those same nations to rewrite their Iraq debts:
Wednesday's embarrassing and potentially costly snafu is symptomatic of a larger problem faced by an administration that seems increasingly at sea over what to do about Iraq and whose constituent parts are trying desperately to protect their own interests.

This has become especially clear over the past month in Iraq itself where the U.S. military has adopted much more aggressive counter-insurgency tactics in order to reduce insurgent attacks against its own forces, even at the expense of the larger struggle waged by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to win the "hearts and minds" of Iraqis, including the residents of the so-called "Sunni Triangle".

On the one hand, the CPA's job is to convince Iraqis that U.S. troops are there to help them to rebuild and make a transition to democratic Iraq.

On the other hand, the military, which lost a record number of troops to hostile fire last month, is now embarked on a military campaign in the region that increasingly apes Israeli tactics. Razor-wire fences, checkpoints, night-time raids and roundups, bombing, and the demolition of houses and other buildings have never persuaded Palestinians that Israeli soldiers are in the West Bank to help them.

The CPA and the military now have "opposing goals", noted ret. Rear Adm. David Oliver, who just returned from a high-level CPA job. While Gen. Ricardo Sanchez's forces are focused on "tactical and immediate" goals of hunting down suspected guerrillas and maintaining order, CPA chief L. Paul Bremer is trying to win the confidence of the Iraqi people. "The military's goal has nothing to do with the (Coalition's) success," Oliver said.

This incoherence -- or rather the exasperating difficulty of reconciling military tactics to strategic goals -- was best expressed this week by Lt. Col. Nathan Sussaman, the commander of a battalion that that has surrounded the town of Abu Hishma with a razor wire fence. "With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects," he told the New York Times, "I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them."

I'm very glad Saddam's been captured. But from what I can see, it's a band-aid over a festering pustule.

[The Lobe piece via Cursor.]

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