Within hours of Saddam Hussein's hanging, the drumbeat began -- as cable-news sages pronounced that the Iraqi scourge's execution will not improve the situation in Iraq. Or, as Newsweek intoned, "Little is gained by Saddam's demise."
These days, the first rule of war coverage is that nothing -- not even military victory -- will improve Iraq's prospects.
The second rule is that everything is botched. So Hussein's trial was not fair, the appeals process was too swift and the execution was insufficiently solemn.
In the 24-hour news cycle, you can kill your own citizens with impunity, subject them to starvation and lead them into an avoidable war. But, if later you are brought to justice, coverage of your trial will be not so much about the carnage as about the "deeply-flawed" trial.
It won't much matter that the defendant admitted that he ordered the deaths of 148 Shiite men and boys in Dujail in 1982. To the American press, justice would have been better served if it had moved with the slothfulness of a California death-penalty appeal. You would think it a good thing for Iraq if Hussein had more time to foment insurgency and thumb his nose at the families of his victims.
Indeed, critics are so busy trying to transform Iraqi prosecutions into an O.J. Simpson trial that they fail to notice that the families of Kurds and Shiites who were tortured and murdered for rebelling against Hussein now know that the Butcher of Baghdad can no longer hurt them. That's why there was dancing in Dearborn, Mich., home to a large community of Iraqi Americans who fled their homeland while under Hussein's rule. Hussein cannot come back, as he did in 1963 after he fled to Syria and Egypt. He will never terrorize his countrymen again. He will hold no more power on this earth. Somehow, that's no biggie.
Oddly, some human-rights groups have their big fiddles out. Or as Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program, said in a press statement: "The test of a government's commitment to human rights is measured by the way it treats its worst offenders. History will judge these actions harshly."
What nonsense. The measure of a government's commitment should be in how it treats its citizens. Hussein had countless Iraqis killed without a trial. He ordered the death of an 11-year-old boy because he thought it was "the right of the head of state." History will focus on his misdeeds, not the timely execution of a guilty despot.
If this execution were the martyr's end he sought, Hussein would not have greeted U.S. troops who found him in a hole in the ground three years ago with these words: "I am Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq. I want to negotiate."