The Saddam Dilemma


The capture of Saddam Hussein poses some interesting dilemmas, not just for the Bush administration, but for Democratic presidential candidates, the Democratic congressional delegation, and for ordinary Iraqis.

For Bush, the dilemma will be how to deal with Hussein. Captured by the Americans, he could be treated as a U.S. prisoner of war and held under U.S. jurisdiction. If that were done, he’d probably eventually have to end up in a cell beside Yugoslavia’s deposed dictator Slobodan Milosevic facing war crimes charges at the Hague. Alternatively, the White House could decide to hand Hussein over to the puppet Iraqi government. If that were to happen, Hussein would probably be executed in fairly short order. No Iraqis would want him hanging around for long.

The advantage of having Hussein in U.S. custody is that he would be humiliated in public over a long period of time, giving the Bush administration plenty of great publicity heading into the November presidential election–a kind of living trophy on the White House wall that Bush could point to even when things were going badly in Iraq. The disadvantage would be that Hussein would be able to talk himself, and might embarrass the administration by revealing the many links and deals he had with current Bush administration figures like Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Perhaps the best solution for the Bush administration, which is anxious to get clear of Iraq before next fall, when the presidential campaign will be in full swing, would be to toss Hussein to the Iraqis, and to walk out of Iraq, saying “mission accomplished” yet again. The country could still fall apart into civil war and anarchy, but if Bush waited until say, September or early October to release Hussein from U.S. custody, not much could happen before election day, and afterwards, it wouldn’t matter.

Turning Hussein over to Iraqis sooner than that would pose serious problems though. If he were summarily executed, it would make a joke out of claims that a new democratic society system was being established in Iraq. If he were to linger in custody, he’d likely become a focal point for some Baathist guerrillas, who could be expected to try to spring him or at least wreak revenge for his capture and captivity.

Meanwhile, the capture of Hussein itself will put a several theories to the test. According to the White House (though not to many military sources on the ground in Iraq), the militant opposition to U.S. and other occupation forces in Iraq has primarily been coming from Hussein loyalists, and has been funded, directly or indirectly, by Hussein. With Hussein out of the picture, this theory predicts that violent resistance to the occupation and to the U.S. should quickly peter out. In the unlikely event that this happens–and the blast at the Palestine Hotel within hours of Hussein’s capture is clear sign that it won’t–Bush has essentially been handed a second term in the White House. If it does not, then the whole theory of who’s behind the resistance has to be rethought.

According to a counter theory, the resistance to occupation forces could now actually increase dramatically. This theory goes that many Iraqis resent and oppose the occupation of their country by western forces, but have shied away from joining the guerrilla insurgency because they also hated Hussein and didn’t want to contribute to his possible return to power. With Hussein removed as a threat, these Iraqi nationalists are now free to join in what could quickly become much more of a genuine national liberation movement.

Add to this the fact that the Shiite/Sunni rivalry does not go away with the capture and removal of Hussein. To the extent that Sunni Iraqis fear and will resist formation of a government run by Shiite Iraqis, it might be expected that with Hussein out of the way, there will be a surge in the number of Sunni fighters, who no longer have to worry that they might be helping to bring back Hussein.

As for the Democrats back home, they now have a problem. Do they sit on their hands and let Bush wallow in the media adoration that will inevitably follow this capture of one of the “evil ones.” While Hussein’s capture is a bit of luck for the Administration, its handling of the broader so-called War on Terror hasn’t been going so well. Reports suggest that efforts to shut down the funding of Al Qaeda have failed, the U.S. is no closer to catching Osama Bin Laden than it ever was, Afghanistan is collapsing into warlordism and the Taliban is resurgent, and Americans are growing increasingly uneasy about the war in Iraq and its cost in lives and money.

It’s long past time for the Democrats in Congress to call for an end to the U.S. occupation. Such a move, even if it failed to win a majority, would serve notice that at least henceforth Iraq a Republican war.

Dennis Kucinich, the strongest and most consistent opponent of the war among the Democratic presidential hopefuls, was quick to nail down a position. Hussein is captured, he said. Now the U.S. can pack up and go home, turning over Iraq to the Iraqis and the U.N. and letting Iraq and the U.N. deal with Hussein.

It will be interesting to see how many other of the candidates will sign on to this unambiguous position.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html


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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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