Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- The race is over. The Oscar for Best Documentary, Short Subject, goes to ... ``Saddam's Dental Exam.''

Screenplay: First Brigade, U.S. 4th I.D.

Producer: P. Bremer Enterprises, Baghdad.

Director: the anonymous genius at U.S. headquarters who chose this clip as the world's first view of Saddam in captivity.

In the old days, the conquered tyrant was dragged through the streets behind the Roman general's chariot. Or paraded shackled before a jeering crowd. Or, when more finality was required, had his head placed on a spike on the tower wall.

Iraq has its own ways. In the revolution of 1958, Prime Minister Nuri as-Said was caught by a crowd and murdered, and his body was dragged behind a car through the streets of Baghdad until there was nothing left but half a leg.

We Americans don't do it that way. Instead, we show Saddam -- King of Kings, Lion of the Tigris, Saladin of the Arabs -- compliantly opening his mouth like a child to the universal indignity of an oral (and head lice!) exam. Docility wrapped in banality. Brilliant. Nothing could have been better calculated to demystify the all-powerful tyrant.

It was a beautiful sight. But it was more than that. It was a deeply important historical moment. More than the fate of a man is at stake here. At stake is the fate of an idea, an idea of singular malignancy that has cost the Arabs not just countless innocent lives, but a half-century of progress.

Saddam was the most aggressive and enduring exemplar of a particular kind of deformed Arabism, a kind that arose in the post-colonial era, appealed to the greater glory of the Arab nation and promised a great restoration. Ironically, its methods and ideology were imported from the West, the worst of the West. The Baath Party was modeled on the fascist parties in early 20th-century Europe. Its economics were Western socialism at its most stifling and corrupt. Saddam then created the perfect fusion of the two, producing a totalitarianism of surpassing cruelty modeled consciously on Stalin's.

Saddam's destiny is important because he was the last and the greatest of these pan-Arab pretenders, though he gave it a psychotically sadistic character unmatched anywhere in the Arab world. This stream of Arab nationalism brought nothing but poverty, corruption, despair, torture and ruin to large swaths of the Arab world. The mass graves of Iraq are its permanent monument.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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