A curious piece of writing and reasoning published by the lefty AlterNet.org flashed across my screen less than 24 hours after Saddam Hussein’s rat hole was unearthed. Mocking the capture of the former dictator as “the final scenes of a John Wayne Western,” Detroit-based writer David B. Livingstone lamented that the significance of the snatching of Saddam was being inflated by the “media factories.” His capture shoved aside what seemed to Livingstone to be stories more worthy of the attention of the American people. Specifically, the story that broke last week about Halliburton possibly overcharging the Pentagon $60 million for gasoline. Saddam came along “just in time,” Livingstone wrote, “to deflect all eyes” from the incipient contracting scandal — a story he described as a “news item . . . no less interesting” than the bagging of Hussein.
It didn’t surprise me to read in this writer’s bio line that he is also a member of something called BabesAgainstBush.com. It’s always dangerous to define your politics solely by what you’re against and not what you are for. And Livingstone’s AlterNet editorial is Exhibit A of a way of negatively responding to Saddam’s arrest. It makes the already difficult work of fighting for peace that much harder.
Make no mistake. The arrest of Saddam justifies neither the initiation of the war in Iraq nor the ongoing occupation. It doesn’t tamp down the perilous wave of Islamic anger against American policy. It doesn’t vindicate the Bush administration’s prevarications about the basis of the war (the now almost forgotten claim about weapons of mass destruction), nor does it excuse the still-escalating expenditure of American blood and treasure. Nor does it necessarily mean a lessening of the current conflict.
But to assert, as Livingstone does, that Halliburton overcharging 98 cents a gallon is somehow as significant as the arrest of one of the most blood-bathed fascists of our time, that this momentous event is, in fact, not much more than a “news item,” truly boggles the mind and roils the soul.
This sort of argument is as unilateral as is current White House foreign policy. It implies that the only consideration that matters in sizing up any political issue is whether or not it is good or bad for Bush. Period. Remember those who could not bring themselves to rejoice over the Fall of the Wall, because while, of course, they said they abhorred totalitarian rule, they were nevertheless saddened by the disappearance of a counterweight to American imperialism? As if the 400 million human beings who languished under Stalinist dictatorships should have no greater aspirations during their time on Earth than to bedevil the U.S. State Department.
What ever happened to the internationalist traditions of the left? What of the welfare of 26 million Iraqis? Why can’t we openly celebrate the dead-ending of a murderous fascist?
When Saddam’s trial begins, the Bushies will certainly milk the parade of witnesses who have survived the former Baath regime’s scorched-earth campaigns, massive political murders and systematic torture. None of that makes the 320 mass graves unearthed in the last eight months any less real or horrifying. Nor does it bring back to life any of the hundreds of thousands of dissidents, students, socialists, trade unionists, political liberals, Shiah and Marsh Arabs consumed by the Butcher of Baghdad. Nor does it replenish the southern Iraqi marshes that were literally drained (of water and people) by the despot who ruled by naked fear and terror for three decades. Indeed, whether it benefits Bush or not, Saddam’s trial must be the first major step used to restore and return Iraq’s collective memory back to its people.
It will be rough going for anti-war forces over this coming year, because Hussein’s capture comes as a sweet victory for Bush. It does improve what were already his good chances for re-election. This moment could and should be used by the White House to de-Americanize and internationalize the occupation, but it most likely won’t. Most probably it will stoke rather than restrain the arrogance of the neocons.
Meanwhile, more than a few Democrats have been tossed overnight into a confusing tizzy. Note the despicable gyrations of Senator John Kerry. Immediately before Saddam’s capture, he chided Howard Dean for not being authentically against the war. But the morning after the arrest, Kerry was back dumping on Dean, but this time for having been soft on the invasion and thereby soft on Hussein.
We who oppose the reckless policies of the Bush White House have to be better than this — better than the naked opportunists like candidate Kerry or the morally clouded likes of David Livingstone. Knocking out and bottling up Saddam has no downside. His capture takes Baathism off the table as any sort of viable political option for Iraq and helps clear the historic path toward a more just and humane society for the Iraqi people. That Bush benefits from this is lamentable. Consider it collateral damage.
The good souls who gather in America’s anti-war movement proclaim themselves to be advocates of both peace and justice. Peace, unfortunately, remains elusive. George W. Bush has thrust us into a bloody patch in Iraq from which there are no easy or immediate exits. But catching up with Saddam, cornering him in the rat-infested pit so consistent with who he is, and dragging him out in shackles to stand public trial for his heinous crimes against humanity is most certainly justice. I believe that is something we should actually be for. Irrevocably and unreservedly for, no matter how flawed the circumstances of Saddam’s arrest or the details of his coming trial. (Please, let’s not get bogged down in some pointless debate over the trial venue.)
Soon enough we can turn attention back to scrutinize Cheney’s cronies over at Halliburton and — more importantly — accelerate the debate on how to get out of Iraq and how to get Bush out of the White House. But first let us celebrate — at least briefly — the demise of the dictator. We owe the mountains of dead who mark his legacy at least that much.