November 5, 2006 | National Review Online
Symposium: Saddam Hussein’s Verdict
Clifford D. May
Upon being sentenced to death, Saddam Hussein played to both his key constituencies. Militant Islamists heard him shout: “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is Greatest.”). For the benefit of his Baathist followers, he added: “Long live the glorious nation!”
One might have expected that Saddam's conviction would have been an occasion for the media to remind people of his crimes and cruelty. But if the major media this weekend were featuring footage of Saddam's mass graves and rape rooms, if they were conducting interviews with innocent Iraqis whose arms and ears he ordered amputated, or survivors of his poison gas attacks, I missed it.
In any event, there was something anti-climactic about a jury now, finally, coming to the conclusion that Saddam was indeed a mass murderer. Perhaps that's because the trial has dragged on so long (about as long as World War II, no?) and because it became such a circus, with Saddam blowing whistles and cracking whips in the center ring.
There also is the hard fact that Saddam's defeat remains incomplete. His legacy endures in the violence televised nightly on Baghdad's streets. Day after day, innocent Iraqis are slaughtered, as are Americans attempting to defend them. A growing body of opinion responds by demanding that America abandon Iraq to those dispatching the killers.
For these and other reasons, I'd be surprised if Saddam's conviction has a discernable impact at the polls on Tuesday. Minds will be changed when it becomes clear that America has the will and the means to defend itself and defeat its enemies; or when it becomes apparent that America is no longer equal to such a task.
Clifford D. May is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Unfortunately, the pronouncement (as opposed to the execution) of the death sentence for Saddam Hussein will have negligible impact on the current situation in Iraq. It is significant for the war, but it will have no effect on the U.S. elections.
The crucial thing would be Saddam's execution. That would put him forever out of commission — including in the eyes of Baathist insurgents who harbor dreams of a comeback. But we are a long way from execution. The verdict was widely expected, and all it means for now is that appeals automatically begin. Even if unsuccessful, those appeals will go on for many, many months. Iraq is deteriorating now — it may not have many, many months. As long as Saddam lives, he maintains the same importance to the insurgency, whether he's convicted or not.
Plus, to the extent we are told that the new government's main challenge is the inclusion of wary Sunnis and allegedly rehabilitated Baathists, the death sentence has already occasioned rhetoric from Maliki (“the martyrs of Iraq now have a right to smile”) which is sure to remind Sunnis that the prime minister is a longtime Shiite activist whose first role in the new regime was to purge Baathists. As expected, the announcement of the verdict instantly prompted fighting in some Sunni areas. That's not encouraging, though it shouldn't be overstated since the insurgents need no excuses to rabble-rouse.
Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.