WASHINGTON, D.C. -- American soldiers trapped him like a cornered rat hiding in a hole. And when he was caught, Saddam Hussein, the blustering, bloody tyrant who asked others to die for him, didn't even try to try to defend himself with the weapons at his disposal.
Just days before the capture, I interviewed Major Gen. Ray Odierno, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division, for Fox News, who told me that his troops would find Saddam near Tikrit. They did. But what the general didn't predict was that the apprehension of this mass murderer would apparently drive many Democrats and their friends in the media around the bend.
The day after Saddam was videotaped being examined for lice by a U.S. Army doctor, Howard Dean, the front-runner among the nine Democrat presidential candidates, declared: "The capture of Saddam Hussein is good news for the Iraqi people and the world. Saddam was a brutal dictator who should be brought swiftly to justice for his crimes." All true. But then Dean, who once mused aloud about whether President Bush knew about the 9-11 attack before it happened, went on to say that he remains opposed to what we're doing in Iraq because, "The administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at an unbelievable cost."
The former Vermont governor followed this intellectual inconsistency with a schizophrenic assertion that: "The capture of Saddam is a good thing which I hope very much will help keep our soldiers safer. But the capture of Saddam has not made America safer." How America could be no safer with the Butcher of Baghdad behind bars was not explained.
Unfortunately, Howard Dean isn't the only Democrat with a peculiar perception of Iraqi reality. Two days after Paul Bremer proclaimed, "We got him," Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., accused President Bush of manipulating the capture of Saddam for political purposes. McDermott told a Seattle radio audience that U.S. troops could have captured Saddam "a long time ago if they wanted." He went on to posit, "It's funny, when they're having all this trouble, suddenly they have to roll out something."
Bizarre? No more so than Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's assertion to Morton Kondracke of Fox News, "Do you suppose that the Bush administration has Osama bin Laden hidden away somewhere and will bring him out before the election?" Asked if she was joking, Kondracke replied, "She was not smiling."
Media coverage of the capture has been as surreal as the Democrats' conspiracy conjectures. After watching jubilant Iraqis celebrating Saddam's apprehension, ABC anchor Peter Jennings saw only sadness and morosely concluded, "There's not a good deal for Iraqis to be happy about at the moment." Jennings "informed" the American public that life for Iraqi citizens is "very chaotic ... beset by violence ... (and) not as stable for them as it was when Saddam Hussein was in power."
The anchors and talking heads pondered Saddam's trial and concluded that it could be "embarrassing" to the United States.
CBS' Leslie Stahl taunted Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld about torturing Saddam. "Would we deprive him of sleep? Would we make it very cold where he is, or very hot? Are there any restrictions on the way we treat him to get him to cooperate more than he has been?"
NBC's Katie Couric said Saddam's capture was only "symbolic." She'd be proved hopelessly wrong less than 24 hours later, as the 1st Armored Division, acting on intelligence secured from Saddam's capture, rounded up three former Iraqi generals who are suspected of supporting the terrorist resistance in Iraq.
All of this twisted, blame-America Bush-bashing and mind-numbing negativism has obscured some very important facts that need to be re-emphasized:
Saddam is responsible for two horrific wars and the deaths of hundreds of thousands. His record is replete with the kind of atrocities that brought the United States into two world wars, a bloody campaign in Korea and the war I fought in -- Vietnam. He raped, tortured, robbed, starved and murdered his own people. He acquired and used weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors and countrymen. He attempted to assassinate an American president. He trained and supported Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizballah, and Muslim Brotherhood terrorists who killed Americans. Are we to believe that Al Qaeda was the only Middle Eastern terror group that Saddam did not support?
The image of Saddam as a filthy, decrepit, coward captured -- not killed -- by an American soldier is a powerful message to repressed people all over the globe that this is the way brutal despots go. Placing him on trial before the people of Iraq -- not in The Hague or somewhere else -- sends a clear signal to totalitarians be they in Damascus, Tehran, Pyongyang or Havana -- that they are accountable to the people they have tortured.
Now, the most committed followers of Osama bin Laden have cause to wonder if their bearded leader who wants them to die for his cause would ignominiously surrender himself to the tender mercies of the International Criminal Court to avoid an untimely demise.
Finally, the loopy leftist rhetoric in the aftermath of Saddam's capture obscures the extraordinary courage, training, persistence and discipline of the American soldiers who pursued and caught the Butcher of Baghdad. Rather than wasting time inventing crazy conspiracy theories and efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the Democrats and their media allies ought to simply try hanging around with these heroes for a few days. It would be good for their mental health.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.