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George W. Bush’s current adventure in Iraq began with a missile fired wildly into a Baghdad neighborhood, based, the president told us, on "darn good intelligence" that Saddam Hussein was on the premises.
We now know how much that "darn good intelligence" was worth.
The missile take-out order was to be the first of several numbfumbling blunders, or miraculous escapes, depending on your point of view, all of them accompanied by the deaths of innocent civilians cut down in the hunt for the Ace of Spades. While "coalition" troops complete with embedded journalists (and embedded corporations) scoured the countryside for him, Saddam turned up regularly on Iraqi TV, wading into adoring suburban crowds and smiling.
Bush, meanwhile, had it on very good intelligence that he had better not wade into any crowds, anywhere on earth, that hadn’t been hand-picked by Karl Rove.
Then came the statue-toppling photo-op and Saddam was said to have escaped into Syria. Next he was in a tunnel somewhere between Baghdad and Tikrit, like Dr. No or Goldfinger. Or driving a taxi in Mosul. Or moving from house to house, every two or three hours.
Wherever he is, he has been releasing more bootleg recordings than Dylan and the Dead combined, turning up almost every other day with a taped commentary on events. Think about it: he’s the object of an incredibly intense manhunt, yet he manages to be quoted on the news almost as often as Bush.
The Great Unificator, as if jealous of the spotlight, held a rare news conference this week and heroically came out … against gay marriage. Excuse me? Did we elect Pat Robertson president while I was out looking for Osama and Saddam? No, right, I remember now — we elected Al Gore.
Whoever claims to be president in Washington, Saddam was still at large as of this morning, and said to be wearing an exploding belt which he plans to activate whenever U. S. forces get close enough to kill or capture him. I know, it sounds a little like the time O.J. ran off in his white Ford Bronco and threatened to kill himself on the freeway. But if I were an Iraqi mail carrier, I’d tread lightly on my rounds.
With every day that passes in Iraq, the odds increase that unless he fastens a bad buckle getting dressed Saddam will leave this world, whenever it happens, on his terms and not on George W. Bush’s. Although the Pentagon has shut down its online terrorism futures trading board, the smart money says that the death of Saddam will be an even greater public relations fiasco than what happened with his sons Uday and Husay.
With those two, whatever the reality, millions of Iraqis were left convinced that the U.S. had hired Igor away from Dr. Frankenstein’s lab and sewn together some body parts until they vaguely resembled human beings. Did no one remember that Iraqis had seen these two on TV almost daily for many years and knew what they looked like? Not to mention the ruckus we raised when Arab TV showed pictures of American casualties just a few short weeks ago.
With Saddam the problem will be infinitely more complex. For one thing, he may escape yet again. For another, he may blow himself to smithereens, leaving the U.S. with no way to prove that he’s dead. If he is killed "cleanly," reasonably intact and still recognizable, Iraqis will believe it’s one of his many body doubles who bought it. (Or he may have escaped long ago, leaving us to chase shadows and stand-ins through the back-alleys of Baghdad.)
In any event this parading of corpses on TV is bound to have unintended consequences, not merely in Iraq and abroad but in our own national psyche. Televising the stitched-together versions of Uday and Husay broke new boundaries of savagery, presenting us with the kind of archetypal images that burn right down into the unforgetting areas of our brains, not to say our souls. It is one thing to show us war’s casualties, an armless boy, a blinded Marine, a weeping mother. It is quite another to display trophy pelts and blood-spattered human heads.
It reminds me of the scene in "The Last of the Mohicans," where the last image the dying British general takes with him into eternity is the sight of his slayer Magua, sitting astride him, eating the general’s own heart, freshly ripped from his chest.
Yes, Saddam’s sons were despicable monsters whom no one will miss. Nor will anyone mourn Saddam if we are able to get him. But we are supposed to be Americans. We don’t display the mutilated corpses of our enemies and crow about it. Even James Baker, who can stomach almost anything, now wants no part of an assignment to Baghdad.
I will never see the face of George W. Bush again without also seeing those horrifying photos of Uday and Husay. They are Dubya’s sons now, more than they were ever Saddam’s, the indelible images of a presidency that brought us a futures market in terrorism, a loss of civil liberties and new levels of barbarity.
DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, just released a scorching new CD, Way Down Here.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com