Back in those contentious days immediately succeeding the execution of Saddam Hussein, I began to speculate on possible alternative courses the events might have taken. This was occasioned by the fact that, against my own wishes, I found the execution to be a strangely maudlin display. It wasn’t that Saddam did not deserve his fate; it was that we, his conquerors, did not pay him the honor of killing him ourselves, but remanded him instead to the custody of his sectarian enemies. For me, this made an end to any pretenses of nobility that clung to the Bush Doctrine. The result of Saddam’s capture and trial could not have been more to the liking of the Brussels crowd, and it would have been had they not already held such an irrational animus against Americans and Republicans. But in permitting it to transpire thus, Bush implicitly validated the premises on which the Transnational Left at least nominally bases its positions: international law, international peacekeeping forces, world-jurisdictional courts, and other such-like extravagancies. I suppose this was done out of some misguided attempt to engender an outcome that was both useful and politic, but in that case it miscarried badly. Politically speaking, Bush’s popularity at home could scarcely have been worse (and might have been a bit better) if he had simply flown to Iraq and personally cut Saddam’s heart out. And as for usefulness, I fear we have only sent the message to dictators around the world that, when dealing with America, surrender is no longer an option. Better to fight it out and die like a man than to be thrown like meat to your home-grown jackals. Saddam was “marked for death,” as it were: he could not fight, could not sue for peace, could not surrender, and could not win. He couldn’t even run away. It is an outcome that perhaps the game-theorists in the Pentagon would love, but it is anything but noble. I wondered if there was a better option.
Hence my excursions into alternative history. One of the possibilities I explored (and not exactly one I endorse, by the way) was to accord Saddam the dignity proper to a conquered Head of State, and allow him to live out his days in exile in America—under guard, of course, but retaining a semblance of his former wealth and status. I could picture him placed under house-arrest in some capacious South Florida mansion, marveling over the ironies of his fate. I suspect that, once the initial novelty had passed, the American public would grow accustomed to having a Saddam in their midst, and might even come to regard with amusement some of his peculiarities, just as they have the recent antics of Charlie Sheen. How long do you think it would be before he was inking his memoirs and appearing in Pizza Hut™ commercials, or dropping in via satellite on the Sunday news shows? I cannot but think that his commentaries on the escalating events in the Middle East would be pored over with great interest.
This was fantasy, of course. Notwithstanding the security difficulties of maintaining an opulently caged Saddam, it would simply be unjust to allow him to live in peace and comfort while his country was going through the agony of war and restructuring. The funny thing is, it seems like something similar actually figures to happen to Khadaffi. The lessons of the Iraq War provide us with several possible strains of analysis, some of which cross-cut and contradict each other; and I’m not sure how the final symmetries will actually shake out. In the meantime, however, I offer the following analogies as food for thought.
1) The Obama Administration, despite the distance which Obama tried to put between his own position and the Bush Doctrine in last night’s speech, has succeeded not only in recapitulating that doctrine but even in magnifying its errors. Where Bush refused to try Saddam himself, Obama refuses even to fight Khadaffi himself. Where Bush handed Saddam over to his rebellious factions to be hung, Obama hands Khadaffi’s rebellious factions the rope. Where Bush led a loose but internationally recognized coalition of the willing, Obama trails an internationally tendentious consortium of the desperate. And while the Left in this country bemoaned Bush’s lack of an exit strategy, when it came their turn to fight they fecklessly refused to propound even an entrance strategy. The actions of the present Administration evince no clear goal beyond justifying the President’s existence in the White House.
2) Even though that vituperative little maggot, Sarkozy, seems to be prosecuting the Libyan War with more than the usual French bitterness, would anybody think it at all absurd if Khadaffi simply fled to the Riviera, with a full military escort, and died a natural death there while awaiting a skillfully delayed trial at the Hague? The subsequent successes of French and Italian national corporations in Libya, with the notable cooporation of the remnants of Khadaffi’s regime, being of course entirely coincidental?
Or perhaps I’m being too cynical. Time will tell.