December 18, 2003


THE RAT TRAP: Part 1: How Saddam may still nail Bush (Pepe Escobar, 12/18/03, Asia Times)

The Christmas blockbuster from the Pentagon studios was a dream. This was the new Roman Empire at its peak - better than Ridleys Scott's Gladiator: a real, captive barbarian emperor, paraded on the Circus Maximus of world television. The barbarian was not a valiant warrior - but a bum. He was not hiding in a nuclear-proof bunker armed to his teeth - he was caught like "a rat" in a "spider hole". He was nothing but a pathetic ghost taking a medical for the world to see. What the bluish pictures did not show, though, is that former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) asset Saddam Hussein is a reader of the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. An Arabic copy of Crime and Punishment was found in a shack near the "spider hole" where he was captured.

Saddam surely now know very well what he needs to do. He won't be consumed with remorse like Dostoevsky's character Raskolnikov, who committed murder. For the moment Saddam may be "taking the Fifth" - in the words of an American interrogator, referring the the fifth amendment of the US constitution under which a person has the right to remain silent until charged in court. But Saddam will wait until he gets some rest, a very good lawyer, and then he will start talking.

The capture of Saddam was the best Christmas gift that President George W Bush could expect from his foreign policy adviser - God. Or was it? AlJazeera television has quoted Egyptian writer Sayyid Nassar saying that "by shaving his beard, a symbol of virility in Iraq and in the Arab world, the Americans committed an act that symbolizes humiliation in our region". Revenge could be imminent - and it will pour in avalanches, not from Saddam of course, but from wounded Iraqi and Arab pride.

Unfortunately for them, the radical nature of the reformation that needs to occur in the Arab world requires such humiliation. They need to grapple with the fact that their civilization has failed and that their future lies in liberalization and democratization. This, for example, seems a more sensible take on events, A Tigris Chronicle: The Arab world grapples with Saddam's captivity. (FOUAD AJAMI, December 18, 2003, Wall Street Journal)
[T]he dictator's capture lends the process of "Iraqification" greater legitimacy. With Saddam on the loose, our options were limited. We had full possession of Iraq, and we were responsible for everything under the sun. We now have room for maneuver, and the Bush administration has the warrant to grant Iraqis more power over their own destiny. We have given the best of ourselves in Iraq. We are not miracle workers, though. We can't wish for Iraqis more national unity than they wish for themselves, nor can we impose it on them. It is their country that is in the balance. It is they who must put behind them the age-old tyranny of the Sunni Arabs, and their pan-Arabism which was but a cover for sectarian hegemony, while keeping in check those who would want to replace it with a Shiite dominion.

Iraq, we must admit, has tested our resolve. We have not found weapons of mass destruction, and we may never do so. We found a measure of gratitude, but not quite enough. What we found was a country envenomed by a dictatorship perhaps unique in its brutality in the post-World War II world. We can't be sure that our labor in that land will be vindicated. There is sectarianism, and there are undemocratic habits, and a good measure of impatience. But the abject surrender of a tyrant who had mocked our will and our staying power, and whose very political survival stood as proof of our irresolution a dozen years earlier, can only strengthen our position in the Arab-Islamic world. In those unsettled lands, preachers and plotters tell about America all sorts of unflattering tales. The tales snake their way through Beirut and Mogadishu, and other place-names of our heartbreak and our abdication. It is different this time. The spectacle has played out under Arab and Muslim (to say nothing of French and German) eyes. We saw the matter of Saddam Hussein to its rightful end. We leave it to the storytellers to make their way through this American chronicle by the Tigris.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2003 6:24 PM

Are we supposed to think that Arabs think like this: "I may be an illiterate, parasite-ridden, diseased, hungry, oppressed, backward, despised Arab, but until they shaved off some other guy's beard, at least I had my self-respect"?

As I wrote yesterday, they're mostly crazy.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 18, 2003 7:45 PM

You might be right, Harry - but I suspect that only the foreigners who fawn over the vaunted Arab street are the ones who really believe this sort of nonsense anymore. The Arabs themselves seem sort of resigned to the wackiness (although the Palestinians seem to have invented their own version of crazy since 1994).

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 18, 2003 8:07 PM

It's funny how the left stereotipes and demeans all components of the rainbow coalition to their hearts content when it suits a geopolitical anti-American thesis -- the atavistic crudeness of the Arab Street, the meaninglessless of Albania (as a coalition partner), the futility of self-governance in country X or Y (but not Haiti, apparently). Yet all it takes is Rush to say ... and all hell breaks loose.

Posted by: MG at December 18, 2003 8:41 PM

The bulk of Mr. Escobar's article are tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories.
Although amusing, and in large part true, the facts that Mr. Escobar says that Saddam will defend himself with are largely irrelevant. Americans won't care, and Europeans already believe the worst.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at December 19, 2003 12:36 PM
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