Ancient Babylon flourished in Iraq's real "green zone" -- the Mesopotamian canals connecting the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Babylon, even in its current state of ruin, reflects Iraq's splendid history: the Eden of city-states, the consolidator and exporter of the Agricultural Revolution.
The modern mound above old Babylon's grand decay is another matter. At a distance, the white stone edifice on the hill isn't so hideous. But approach it, on foot or in a Humvee, and you'll see Saddam Hussein's Babylonian palace for the cruel marble kitsch it is.
Saddam's marble mound begs comparison to the poet Percy Shelley's trunkless stone leg eroding in the desert. "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings," Shelley's long-dead tyrant declared. "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Disgust, however, was my response when I examined Saddam's architecture. Perhaps money skimmed from the United Nations' corrupt Oil for Food program didn't pay for his Babylon playpen, but I'll guarantee its final price included a sea of Iraqi blood.
Unlike the lost victims of Shelley's despot, Saddam's victims aren't forgotten. Saddam's trial for mass murder in Dujail, Iraq, gave the survivors and the victims' relatives a forum to establish the facts. His trial for the murder of 180,000 Kurds in the late 1980s serves the same historical purpose. Despite Saddam's execution on Dec. 30, 2006, that trial for genocide will continue into 2007.
And well it should. For decades, Saddam's secret police silenced Iraqis. He used the tools of tyrant and terrorist: torture, assassination, mass murder. But now his victims testify, witnesses speak and the documented evidence mounts.
The next to last thing Saddam ever expected was a hangman's noose. The last thing he expected? A fair trial based on law and evidence.
Saddam got both. Despite Ramsey Clark's clucks and howls, Saddam's trial was fair. The evidence was presented. The toppled tyrant got to pose and parade and accuse, just like Serbian mass murderer Slobodan Milosevic did during his U.N.-sponsored trial for genocide. Saddam mimicked Slobo's courtroom antics and theatrics, then added his own "big mustache" brand of arrogant tirade. Saddam certainly got more than his fair share of global airtime.
With Saddam's execution, the myth of the Strong Man takes another major hit. We should all be thankful. The Arab Strong Man, the Serb Strong Man, the Soviet Strong Man, the fill-in-the-blank Strong Man -- the thugs in charge claim that obedience and submission lead to ideological or ethnic or nationalist or tribal or fill-in-the-blank victory. It's a scam, of course, a scam to sustain personal power. Ultimately, the tyrant's show is narcissism maintained by ruthlessness and the secret police.
The Strong Man expects to die in one of two ways -- with a 9 millimeter ballot (i.e., assassination or suicide) -- or old age. Hitler went by his own hand; Stalin and Mao succumbed in bed. A public, legal trial followed by court-sentenced execution? That isn't going to happen unless ... unless a democracy replaces a tyranny.
This has happened -- and it's history-altering news. For terrible centuries, the yin-yang of tyrant and terrorist has trapped the Middle East. In 2003, the U.S.-led coalition began the difficult but worthy effort of breaking that tyrant's and terrorist's grip, and offering another choice in the politically dysfunctional Muslim Middle East.
Saddam's demise serves as object lesson and example: to avoid Saddam's fate means political liberalization. The message extends beyond the Middle East. At some reptilian level, destructive despots like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe also understand it.
At one time, Saddam compared himself to Babylon's Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar. Now, the man who threatened the Mother of All Battles turned out to be a frightened, petty scoundrel. In late 2003, Saddam surrendered without firing a shot; he faced the rope with strange surprise and a strain of fear.
Western peaceniks and other tyrant-enablers will call Saddam's execution the "further humiliation of Arabs" or "injustice and revenge." As usual, they are wrong. It's a political signal that it is possible to escape the dismal oppression of autocratic killers.
Let the tyrants look upon Saddam at the end of the rope -- and despair.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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