Just a quick note on the execution of "the Butcher of Baghdad." Like most everything in the Iraq fiasco, this was badly botched. I never quite understood what the multiple-but-selective trials of Saddam were supposed to accomplish. (When I asked one of the experts on this subject, who I'm sure was consulted along the way, he couldn't explain the purpose, either.) If the trials were about making a record of Saddam's atrocities, then cherry picking a few atrocities, but omitting others that might be politically embarrassing to the Bush administration or to the United States, undercut a complete accounting. Also, if you want to make a historical record, you don't let Saddam take over the trial. He doesn't even have to be there. Today, I heard General Kristol saying that the trial was about "justice" and "due process." But critics of the execution point out that the Kurds were denied justice, because they never got their day in court. The irregularity of the proceeding itself undercuts "due process," in my opinion, although I won't belabor the point.
This isn't to say that Saddam didn't deserve execution. He certainly did. But . . .
Executing Saddam for the murder of less than 200 people, which is what he was convicted of, means that his supporters can always say that Saddam was never convicted of all his "so-called crimes." That means, they will say, that he was not really so bad, that his reputation has been attacked by his enemies, Shia and Kurd and American, but they couldn't really make the case that he was a "war criminal" or whatever, so they killed him on a much lesser charge.
The thing to remember is that political loyalty is durable. I've been reading Tony Judt's Postwar
history of Europe, and Judt makes the point that public support for Nazism remained strong into the 1950s. Indeed, a sizeable percentage of Germans (West Germans) agreed with the statement that "Nazism was a good idea, poorly implemented," even in the 1950s. (I've been pondering that for a few days, and I'm not sure what it would mean to agree with that statement, in practice.) Hitler still had supporters among the German people, folks with a "positive" view of him, into the 1950s and beyond.
Part of the reason for this, of course, was the Allies short-circuiting of de-Nazification. But even a more comprehensive effort at this would have come with a cost--even greater resentment against the Allied powers. That seems to have been the result of Bremer's de-Baathification order. Reading Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City
, my sense is that the de-Baathification order, coupled with the disbanding of the Iraqi army, led directly to the creation of the Sunni insurgency. Instead of coopting these folks, like the Allies did, we rejected them. That was a much bigger error than the Allies' in 1945-46 (btw, the Communists were much more aggressive in coopting Nazis; they found that Nazis made great Communists). In other words, I think that there was, once, a chance to win the support of some of Saddam's former supporters. Not now.
At this point, the execution of Saddam would seem to make any reconciliation with his (former) supporters impossible.
I know that the argument is that, once fear of Saddam's return is eliminated (with Saddam's death), that reconciliation becomes more, not less likely. But if I'm right, and a large percentage of the Sunni insurgency already resents the American occupation and the trial of Saddam, then the execution makes this worse, not better.
I should add that Chandrasekaran makes the point that, for most Iraqis, almost all of them but certainly the Sunnis, life was much better under Saddam than it is now. So his supporters have that argument, too.
But why would you expect anything else from the gang that can't shoot straight, despite the fact that they're all straight shooters.