WASHINGTON -- We are preparing to vamoose Camp Victory just outside of Baghdad. There were once 505 bases for American troops sprinkled around Iraq at the height of our involvement, from whence an American army went out to pacify the bloodthirsty hordes. Now we are down to some 40 bases, and shortly, there will be none at all. Perhaps one or two headquarters will remain for a skeleton force of Americans training Iraqi police or military.
Camp Victory was the biggest of our bases. It was open to 46,000 troops at the height of operations. It had swimming pools, palaces and other improbable amenities for a military base thanks to its former inhabitant, Saddam Hussein. His presence there is shockingly diminished. Yet there remains a gaudy throne, a gift from the deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Actually, Saddam is deceased too, but there remains this appalling throne, with the tyrant's pomade stained on its headrest. I wonder how many people he condemned to death from that throne. And more, I wonder how many condemned victims he watched die a grisly death from that throne. That is the kind of sport he enjoyed.
America has taken down a lot of tyrants in the past century or so of our emergence as a world power, but Saddam is about as evil and cruel as any. In fact, I would venture that there is an absolute measurement with regard to tyrants, beyond which one cannot go. One can be a relatively benevolent tyrant, leaving only a few breaches of the law. Or -- more likely -- one can be a rather hideous tyrant. Panama's Manuel Noriega comes to mind and Benito Mussolini. But when a tyrant breaks into the big time, killing and butchering hundreds, thousands even millions, that is about as evil as it gets. I would put a Hitler, a Tojo and a Saddam in that league. I would also put Stalin, Castro, Pol Pot and dozens of less famous brutes in that category, but alas, America was not responsible for their deaths. Though, in the case of Castro, there is still time.
We are told that there is now some sort of debate going on between Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and certain senior military officials over how many troops, if any, should stay on in Iraq. Some military leaders say as many as 18,000 should stay, in case hostilities break out anew. Panetta is for 3,000 to 4,000 to serve as trainers on the ground. That is a debate for the experts. I only know that our policy in Iraq came out rather well considering how chaotic the place was four years ago and how eager certain Democrats wanted to turn Iraq into another Vietnam.