The ultimate weapon of mass destruction has been captured in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a "hole in the ground," like the rat that he is, in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Tikrit. His end came not as a self-styled heroic leader of millions, but as a wimp who resembled a bedraggled homeless man, unable to muster the nerve to take his own life with the gun on his hip.
The arrest of Saddam is a triumph for the long-suffering Iraqi people and, depending on the reaction of Iraqis and whether insurgents can be defeated, it could be the ultimate triumph of the Bush administration's policy of preemption.
The critics - political and journalistic - who said the administration's efforts were failing have been proved wrong. These would include not only the United Nations, but also France and Germany and much of the liberal media establishment, especially the virulently anti-Bush and anti-American British press. Critics of American intelligence were also wrong. This was classic police work as U.S. forces slowly and systematically interviewed people who provided pieces of information that led to other interviews and ever-closer steps toward their objective.
The immediate debate will be over how to bring Saddam to justice. For political reasons, he will probably be tried in an Iraqi court and not a Nuremberg-type tribunal. Some will call for a trial before a "world court." Given the weakness of the Arab nations and much of the rest of the world and the reluctance of most European countries to confront Saddam when he held power, it is unlikely they could muster the fortitude necessary to give Saddam his just deserts.
France and Germany must be nervous about what a trial could reveal about their complicity in enabling Saddam for three decades. American companies and politicians might also be concerned because their policies and decisions could also be made public. Good. Embarrassment should not be a reason for any cover-up. Like those in the West who enabled the Soviet Union for seven decades and provided gas and armaments for Hitler's Germany, whoever helped Saddam in his murderous ways should be exposed to the light of public accountability.
As important as the capture of Saddam Hussein is, the war against terror is far from over. President Bush said as much in a statement from the White House on Sunday (Dec. 14). He again declared this is a different kind of war, and he reminded Americans that it will continue to be conducted "capture by capture, cell by cell and victory by victory." The president wisely warned the public that Saddam's arrest "does not mean the end of violence in Iraq." Evil dies hard.
The hatred of all things Western, Jewish, Christian and modern is deep throughout much of the Middle East. Children are taught to hate before they learn to walk. The Arab and Palestinian media are packed with anger and vituperation against the United States and the West. The danger, though, is to think evil is incarnated in a single leader. Saddam Hussein is just one of many tyrants that are threats to the freedom and existence of all humankind. Just as other mass murderers rose to power after Hitler's demise, so, too, will new tyrants step forward to inherit Saddam's bloody mantle.
Politically, Saddam's capture creates a predicament for the Democratic presidential candidates. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Howard Dean "has gotten smaller" and is "the big loser." Dean has been sharply, even personally, critical of the president for his Iraq policy and the "failure" to find Saddam. Only Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) can claim a measure of support for the administration's Iraq policy, but it is doubtful he will receive a political boost.
The man who has the most to worry about now - aside from Saddam Hussein, who it is hoped will be executed after he is confronted by relatives of those he tortured, raped and murdered - is Osama bin Laden. The steps he hears may not be millions marching to his drumbeat, but the boots of American soldiers headed toward whatever hole he has dug for himself.