December 23, 2003 | The Miami Herald

Hussein Capture, Gadhafi Move are ‘Geopolitically Significant’

It has been a great week for the United States and an extraordinary time to be in Israel. The amazing capture of the Butcher of Baghdad in a rat-hole near Tikrit was followed quickly by the surprise pronouncement of Libyas terrorist leader, Moammar Gadhafi, exposing his secret and well-developed weapons of mass destruction program and promising to dismantle it.

While some have tried to downplay the importance of Saddam Husseins capture and have misjudged the lessons learned from Gadhafis sudden WMD surrender, both are geopolitically significant.

These events are already sending shock waves worldwide. Their effect is especially evident here in Israel, where some argue that by reinforcing the American and Israeli strategic position regionally, they may help resuscitate the moribund peace process. The terrorize-and-wait strategy of the increasingly isolated Yasser Arafat is crumbling.

Ariel Sharon's offer of some concessions last week along with the threat of unilateral disengagement and Mondays surprise visit to Jerusalem by the Egyptian foreign minister attempting to jump-start the peace talks demonstrate the changing strategic equation.

Of course, many cynical Iraq war critics, despite months of asking ''wheres Hussein?'' immediately began looking for the dark cloud behind his captures silver lining. First they questioned his role in leading the Iraqi insurgency and then disingenuously switched the subject to an almost farcical campaign for an international tribunal — versus an American or Iraqi one — to try the tyrant.

Some claim (almost hopefully) that his capture wont change things on the ground in Iraq because the insurgents are not Hussein loyalists but part of a nationalist wave fighting foreign occupation. While that may be true of some, within a week, attacks on Americans dropped dramatically to pre-Ramadan (the recently ended Muslim holy month) levels.

Information gleaned from the raid on Husseins safe house has resulted in the arrests of hundreds of insurgents and several key guerrilla cell organizers, including a major general. And successful U.S. counter-insurgency raids prompted by that intelligence continue throughout the Sunni Triangle and as far afield as the border with Syria.

Psychological effect

While this may be only a temporary lull in the fighting (Christmas revenge attacks are expected), Husseins capture has clearly had a tremendous psychological effect within Iraq as tens of thousands cheered their former leader's humiliating surrender, and fear of his return has been replaced by an increased willingness to ''rat-out'' more of his henchmen. Many see the event as another major tipping-point in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Husseins trial — preferably run by Iraqis with American and some international assistance — should focus on his war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in excruciating detail. It should not — in typical international tribunal form, la Slobodan Milosevic — be allowed to become a public-relations circus for the mass murderer. If conducted properly, Husseins trial can only further legitimize the war on humanitarian grounds and continue to isolate the insurgents.

More important, his dramatic capture clearly has had a great effect outside Iraq. There is suddenly a new willingness among European war opponents to acquiesce to U.S. requests and forgive pre-war Iraqi debt. And though the French and their misguided allies, in a feeble attempt to justify their self-interested pacifism, claim that the Libya WMD coup is a victory of diplomacy over war, strategic experts here in the region dismiss that as nonsense.

More dominoes

Gadhafi reportedly began negotiating in earnest in March as coalition forces swept into Baghdad. He closed the deal just after Hussein was captured. This was no coincidence. A keen observer of war and politics, Gadhafi sees no U.S. quagmire in Iraq. A shrewd survivor, he knows that the balance of power has shifted decisively in America's favor.

While we should press Gadhafi even harder, coercive diplomacy using the Iraq wars demonstration effect was probably the key to Gadhafi's sudden change of heart. The remaining WMD ''axis of evil'' — North Korea and Iran — are now under increasing pressure to follow suit.

As things progress in Iraq, expect to see even more dominoes tumble.

Paul Crespo is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Miami and a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. His columns can be read at