After Saddam

Posted: Dec 17, 2003 12:00 AM

So what does the capture of Saddam Hussein mean for Iraq, America, Howard Dean and the price of tea in China? The specialists came out of their spider holes in Washington and elsewhere to start weaving their intricate webs of analysis. For allegedly thoughtful people, it is wondrous how little thought they needed to precede commentary. By about 9 a.m., Sunday morning, every network had panels of these specialists explaining this remarkable event so that even we simple-minded non-area specialists could know for certain what the future would hold.

There were some differences of opinion. But, by and large, those specialists, who one suspects were against the war in the first place, saw dark implications for America and President Bush. For them, the man who, 12 hours before, was our greatest danger, was, by, say noon, Sunday morning, a meaningless figure who might not know anything much about Iraq. For these specialists, the world had already passed Saddam by -- and in fact, the resistance was only likely to increase. Pro-war specialists were more hopeful.

Obviously, it is too soon for empirical, scientific measurement of the event's impact. Even the early polls mean little. The polls taken of Americans during the day on Sunday couldn't help but capture a more positive public view of President Bush. Whether that uptick (or, arguably, surge) will weather the following weeks and months of typically rough press coverage, who can know. Likewise, whether Saddam cooperates and gives us vital information or not is -- at this early point -- still unknown, even to Saddam himself. After all, it is in the nature of professional interrogation to elicit useful information from unwilling subjects. We can't know the future. But we can assess the event itself for its inherent nature.

In that regard, Saddam's arrest is a singular moment of perceived justice. Except for the most devoted Saddam loyalists amongst his Iraqi fellow tribesmen and Euro-American left-wing Bushophobes, the fact that this awful mass killer will face the consequences of his actions in a court of law is a deeply heartening assurance that the world is not completely unjust. We should not underestimate the significance of this fact. In a world filled with daily evidence that wickedness and brutality usually reward people far more than modesty and charity, the idea of justice accomplished can be very powerful. We are, after all, homo sapiens -- thinking men. Ideas matter. The Soviet Union, with all its nuclear weapons, tanks and millions of soldiers, collapsed when the idea took hold of them that their system couldn't compete.

Not since the Nazi leadership was shipped off to Nuremberg has so major a world villain been brought to justice. This fact makes the Iraq war a far better thing than it was. Whether or not it turns out to be a geo-strategic success, the Iraqi war has accomplished something very good -- it has delivered a deeply deserved and yearned-for justice. Howard Dean's line -- that it was the wrong war at the wrong time -- has lost its thundering righteousness. Anyone with a sense of justice and decency would be embarrassed to continue reciting that line after Sunday morning. On Monday, Mr. Dean continued to thunder away. But even if one agrees with his technical analysis (such as it may be), the moral quotient has been subtracted from his message -- and his persona. Either he doesn't fully believe what he continues to say, or, if he does, we must think less of him for it.

The other useful idea that Saddam's arrest has presented the world is that America cannot be stopped. By our sheer magnitude and organized persistence, we will eventually find all enemies and accomplish all objectives. The Romans sometimes were opposed by better generals and equally courageous warriors. The odd legion might even be massacred. But they maintained a Roman Peace for half a millennium by the perceived certainty of their ultimate success. Finding one rat in a hole in the ground in the middle of a vast land cannot help but be a vastly dispiriting fact to many of our current enemies.

Thus Saddam's arrest discloses to the world that America is both an instrument for exemplary human justice and a remorseless, inevitably successful enemy if we are opposed. That's not a bad day's work for the Fourth Armored Infantry Division.