Instant headlines, instant reaction. That’s the way of the news cycle these days, and in that spirit the guilty verdict on Saddam is being carved up at speed on TV and online into a debate over how many are dancing in the streets, who is threatening seas of blood, why the EU and UN might be irked by capital punishment, and whether the headlines out of Iraq might affect the U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday.
Saddam’s death sentence is about a lot more than any of that. As Roger Simon notes, there is no way we can grasp instantly the full implications of this once-feared and murderous tyrant being forced to his feet to hear himself condemned to hang for his crimes. But we do know this. The aim in invading Iraq was not solely to stop the re-arming of Saddam (who, it seems, did have dangerous plans for building nuclear bombs, and was spending heaps of stolen relief money to re-stock his conventional arsenal).
The overthrow of Saddam was part of a much broader strategy of breaking the mold of modern tyranny, most immediately in the Middle East, but also worldwide. In the burgeoning global bazaar, nations ever more easily export their systems and values. In the case of the worst tyrannies — whether they constitute an axis, a daisy chain, or a shifting brotherhood of evil — this works to deadly effect for the rest of us. Changing the rules of this game is vital to the survival of the Free World, and to the fate of the many among the unfree who would like to join us.
News of the trial and guilty verdict for Saddam is now spreading around the world. Despite efforts by despots elsewhere to hide and twist it, this news will seep into some of the darkest places. It sends an important signal that being a tyrant does not make a man invincible; that justice may be possible. We are hearing right now, in full cry, immediate reactions in Iraq, the U.S. and Europe, along with the usual squeaks from Turtle Bay. We are not hearing, however, the private thoughts of people living under despots in places where double-think and careful locutions are required merely to survive — in countries such as Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Turkmenistan, China, Vietnam, North Korea. We are not privy yet to the real stirring of ideas this trial and verdict might engender, or the speed with which the ripples might spread. In the U.S., we are struggling on many fronts with the tendency of our own institutions and bureaucrats to favor the status quo and resist any change that might unsettle what passes for “stability” — much as some of our statesman weaned on the Cold War were most unbecomingly afraid during the endgame of seeing the Soviet Union collapse.
Any violence that might now follow the verdict in Iraq will surely be aired ad absurdum in some quarters as an instant bottom line — especially with U.S. midterm elections in the offing. No surprise there. Politics ain’t beanbag. But what needs remembering is that in the slower simmering of history, this death sentence for a tyrant adds to the global pot a strong taste of justice. Especially in parts of the world where tyrants still prevail, that is a potent ingredient.