Josef Stalin died in power, and the old Communist mass murderer avoided punishment -- at least, punishment exacted in this mortal world.
Contemporary Russia still suffers from the long-term effects of Stalin's evil depredations. Unlike Germany and Japan, two other nations once run by mass-murdering cliques, Russia didn't benefit from a postwar American military occupation. Check the empirical record: Those history-breaking American endeavors demonstrably hasten a country's rise from the hell of sociopathic tyranny.
This past Sunday, former Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein received a death sentence for his role in the murder of 148 people in the Iraqi town of Dujail.
As these complex affairs go, the ex-tyrant got a fair trial. The overwhelming evidence of murder and mayhem made the outcome a foregone conclusion, but "foregone" doesn't automatically mean unfair.
Dictators tout some of their crimes. Saddam's Dujail murders were a public lesson similar to one the Nazi murderers laid on the Czechs at Lidice in 1942. The dictator's message: Cross me, and I'll kill you en masse and indiscriminately.
Arguably, the trial was too fair to Saddam, given his thrashing antics and political theatrics. But antics and theatrics (designed to play to sensationalist media) and murder of judges and lawyers (traditional dictator and mob boss methods) were his best ploys, considering the evidence against him.
While serving in Iraq in 2004, I asked several Iraqis what they thought of Saddam's then-impending trial and its potential outcome. My "anecdotally polled" Iraqis all knew about Dujail (as well as other big-time crimes), and they all agreed that Saddam would be convicted and killed. One fellow added: "We Iraqis should try him and not the U.N. The U.N. would never reach a conviction. Besides, he committed his crimes against us." By "U.N.," I believe the man meant the international court in the Hague.
Saddam rejected Sunday's verdict with his usual bluster, arrogance and anti-American tripe. Still, a hangman's noose may slip around his hoary neck as early as February 2007.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said: "The verdict placed on the heads of the former regime does not represent a verdict for any one person. It is a verdict on a whole dark era that was unmatched in Iraq's history."
"Unmatched in Iraq's history" can be extended a bit to read, "unmatched in Mesopotamian history."
A history-breaking, tyranny-shattering event -- but few in the sensationalist media have noticed it. Since the verdict, we've already heard a few talking heads sob about "Saddam as victim" and the court exacting "victors' vengeance." Though Iraqis ran the trial, the "Western judicial imperialism" charge is circulating among the usual media and academia suspects.
But this grand story is about belated justice, a justice once thought impossible to reach by the Iraqi people, who were Saddam's real victims. It's also about the slow, difficult birth of a democratic society in a region caught in the terrible ying-yang of tyrants and terrorists -- a nation moving from the whim of the Big Man and the fear of terrorist bombs to the rule of law and democratic polity.
I know, The New York Times and John Kerry have told us Iraq is a disaster. Not true. There's a democratically elected government in the potentially most powerful (predominantly) Arab Muslim nation, a government trying to learn to govern and administer under the most trying conditions. It's a government that is learning by doing -- and learning often by failure. However, as long as the United States and coalition remain around to coach, train and respond to crises, Iraqi failures will be controlled failures.
Yes, fostering the development of choice in the Middle East -- a choice other than tyranny or terror -- is a tough process.
On Tuesday, judges reconvened Saddam's trial for the murder of 185,000 Kurds in 1987-88. He'll be convicted of that mass crime, as well, because it happened and he ordered it.
But on Tuesday, the antics disappeared. Saddam told the court he wanted "reconciliation" in Iraq.
The offer could be a clever stratagem on Saddam's part. To whit, Saddam will "reconcile" Sunni and "former regime" holdouts if the Iraqi government lets him live. The problem with this potential deal is estimating how much sway he actually holds.
However, the opinion of the Iraqi people is the only one that matters, and I strongly suspect they favor hanging him high.