Right Hook

Getting giddy over Saddam: Taranto says bring on the millions of angry Arabs; Frum declares God wants Bush reelected. Plus: Why Saddam is the next Che Guevara.

By Mark Follman
Published December 18, 2003 1:24AM (EST)

Anyone with even a basic knowledge of Saddam Hussein's nightmarish 24-year rule should have been glad to hear the news Sunday that U.S. forces had pried the former dictator from his "spider hole" in Iraq. His capture is a symbolic victory of the greatest magnitude, and a powerful shot of encouragement for weary U.S. soldiers. Most important, though, it's a triumph for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people who were brutalized by Saddam's cruel regime. Because Saddam was taken alive, his victims -- at least those still alive -- may now get the chance to see justice served for the tyrant's crimes against humanity.

But in reaction to the news, many conservatives eschewed thoughtful analysis of Iraq's future in favor of taking potshots at the left, or what they perceive to be the left. Of course, they made no mention of the ways the United States dirtied its hands in support of Saddam for more than a decade, before turning against him when the dictator invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

Some conservatives are now predicting almost certain reelection for President George W. Bush, with Saddam's capture coming on the heels of the passage of Bush's Medicare bill, and with the U.S. economy showing some signs of life. But the major U.S. victory over the weekend, while undoubtedly a key turn toward a better Iraq, could prove more elusive if Saddam's capture sets off a darker scenario on the ground: According to the Associated Press, Saddam supporters unleashed their rage throughout Iraq on Monday night and Tuesday. An armed crowd of Sunnis rioted in a Baghdad neighborhood, exchanging fire with police, while attacks on U.S. troops continued elsewhere in the country.

The timing of Saddam's capture this week was striking in another light. Just as evidence was blowing up in the Bush administration's face that Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, has been bilking U.S. taxpayers for tens of millions of dollars with its exclusive contract to rebuild Iraq's oil and gas infrastructure, the news of Saddam's capture expunged that story from the headlines. (Maybe the National Review's David Frum is right: Perhaps God is orchestrating global events on President Bush's behalf.) And conservatives who began attacking Democratic front-runner Howard Dean more aggressively following his endorsement by Al Gore wasted no time in spinning Saddam's capture as clear proof that Dean sits on the wrong side of the war debate.

James Taranto, editor of the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal, helped kick off the post-Saddam party on Sunday afternoon.

"Thank goodness Saddam surrendered peacefully, so none of the American servicemen who took him were injured or killed. There may, however, be some casualties on the home front. We wouldn't be surprised if Saddam's capture causes some members of the Angry Left to choke to death on their own bile."

On Monday Taranto followed up with equal gravitas in his analysis of the post-Saddam era. After spending his time hunting down a small handful of lefty nut jobs (the ones who equate Bush with Hitler) who had posted their reactions to Saddam's capture on Howard Dean's campaign blog, Taranto chased after an angry Palestinian kid quoted in the Jerusalem Post:

"Jihan Ajlouni, a 24-year-old university student, said, 'This is a big loss for the Arab nation. Saddam was one of the great Arab leaders who supported the Palestinian people and many Arabs. We feel very sad today, and we say to all the traitors and collaborators: Don't rush to celebrate because there are millions of Saddams in the Arab world.'"

Apparently Taranto decided that was an accurate assessment; he countered by echoing President Bush's sophisticated foreign policy credo:

"A million Saddams? All we can say is bring 'em on! Come out of those holes with your hands up!"

But at least he tempered his vindictiveness with a slight nod to how the Bush administration distorted America's understanding of the rationale for going to war.

"We don't know for sure that Saddam Hussein was directly involved with the attacks of Sept. 11, but in at least one respect his capture allows Americans to enjoy a measure of revenge. Remember how Palestinians whooped it up on that infamous day, dancing in the streets and handing out candy, unable to contain their joy over the mass murder of Americans? Well, they're pretty bummed right about now, and it serves them right."

Over at conservative bellwether the Weekly Standard, executive editor Fred Barnes was a little more upfront about his Bush-boosting agenda -- and smarter about tempering his exuberance in terms of what Saddam's capture might lead to in Iraq:

"Let's be crass and assess the politics of the capture of Saddam Hussein. No one is boosted more than President Bush, the beneficiary of so much good news this fall (surging economy, 10,000 Dow, Medicare drug benefit). For him, only one more thing has to fall into place to assure re-election. That's a sharp turn for the better in the twilight war against the Baathist diehards and their motley allies in the Sunni triangle of Iraq. The grabbing of Saddam, a pathetic, cowardly Saddam, could lead to exactly that -- but not necessarily. A turning point was declared when Saddam's sons were killed last July, only to be followed by an increase in the terrorist attacks on American troops and Iraqis."

But Barnes has no problem waxing sanguine over Howard Dean's presidential prospects.

"Dean has embarked on an image-altering effort so he'll be seen as a centrist on foreign affairs. In interviews with the Washington Post and New York Times, he insisted the differences between himself and Bush are not great, mainly about style, not substance. He offered this amazing statement to the Times: 'It's all about nuance.' In truth, there's rarely been a presidential candidate with a less nuanced approach to foreign affairs."

He says Dean is a raving European at heart:

"Dean demonstrated this once again in his response to Saddam's capture. He praised the capture, then claimed that it had created 'an enormous opportunity' to adopt what amounts to the Iraq policy of France. First, do 'everything possible' to bring the United Nations, NATO, and others into the effort in Iraq. In other words, turn the Iraq situation over to those who not only favored keeping Saddam in power, but also sought to undermine the American policy of regime change in Iraq from the moment it was first announced by President Clinton in 1998."

Contrary to what American conservatives might otherwise think, Canada is not entirely populated by antiwar loonies. In Toronto's National Post, columnist Colby Cosh gleefully mocked doves-cum-conspiracy theorists both north and south of the border following Saddam's capture.

"There is no credible way to spin Saddam's capture as a disaster -- which isn't to say people won't try. Indeed, I am surprised, writing these words on Sunday afternoon, that war opponents have been so slow to recoup. Saddam is unwounded and basically healthy, according to the American military authorities. Doesn't this mean that the 'shock and awe' assault on his compound in the first days of the war was a catastrophic failure, one presumably planned by a sinister cabal of neoconservatives and oil-company executives? You're behind in the script, fellas!"

Cosh, too, took a swipe at Dean (is there a pattern emerging here?), whose blog supporters surely must be speaking directly for the former governor himself on foreign policy.

"On the Dean for America Weblog, the main Internet hangout for the Governor's supporters, there was shock and awe all around. Punters' sentiments ranged from 'HEY GUYS WAKE UP!!! THERE IS NO SUCCESS EXISTS IN THE UNJUSTIFIED WAR WHOEVER WAS CAPTURED!!!' [sic] to 'I'm crying here. I feel that we now don't have a chance in this election.'

"The latter Deanie Baby should cheer up a little; it's a long trek yet to the 2004 election, the public's attention span grows shorter with each new bit of bandwidth piped into our homes, and the appearance of a military and administrative 'quagmire' can still be reconstructed by Baathophile journalists, even with Saddam in custody ..."

Cosh also insisted Saddam's capture will permanently hamstring the wimpy Dems -- at least until they can be served Osama on a platter, too:

"Saddam's capture will still place an onerous yoke on the soft-anti-war Democrats. They forgot to expect the unexpected, and are now going to have to tolerate a few days of gleeful Republican hazing. From here on out, everything the Democrats say will have to be processed through a filter of scrupulous caution. Every candidate and prominent figure will have to ask himself the question 'What can I say here so that I still look good, even if Osama bin Laden's head arrives at the White House in a FedEx parcel tomorrow morning?'"

God: Reelect Bush for president
Promising to offer more prolix wisdom about Saddam's capture later in the week, National Review Online contributor David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, pointed to the confluence of Dow 10,000 and Saddam's perp video in support of his brief gospel on Sunday:

"For now, let's say that while the President's opponents have made much sport of the idea that God called George [W.] Bush to the presidency, it's becoming increasingly difficult to doubt that God wants President Bush re-elected ..."

"The odds of President Bush's re-election have just shot up from good to almost overwhelming. Even if the Democrats belatedly come to their senses and capsize Howard Dean, the Angry Elf from Vermont who has indelibly stained his party with his extremist defeatism."

Perhaps Frum wanted to sound that one-note refrain about Dean one more time before the former governor gave a major foreign policy speech in Los Angeles on Monday.

But after Dean stated in his latest speech that "the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer," nationally syndicated radio host and Fox News regular Hugh Hewitt didn't need to hear anything else from the Democratic front-runner.

"Some stupid things matter much more than others, particularly those said by leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination ... Ask yourself: Is anyone stating such a thing qualified to be President?

"This statement is so obstinately ideological and so completely and transparently false, that even the MoveOn.org crowd must have said to themselves, 'Whoa. That's pretty weird.'"

Hewitt is seriously worried that the Bush camp may have lost its favorite Dem opponent for '04.

"I think Dean may have jumped the shark with this one. And I deeply regret it. No single person better embodies the spirit of the delusional and crank-infected left in this country than Howard Dean. He is the voice of Streisand and all political comics; he is Al Franken with better clothes; he is Congressman McDermott and Senator Leahy; he is the crowd in front of the A.N.S.W.E.R. rally, and he genuinely represents about 25% of the American electorate which is a majority in the Democratic Party."

How valuable is Saddam's head?
It may have looked rather mangy on television, but "Wretchard," author of the Belmont Club blog, believes the dictator's noggin is utterly priceless -- though Western politicians might pay a pretty penny to keep the mouth on it shut tight.

"Saddam Hussein stands at the nexus of decades of terrorist conspiracy and global corruption. American intelligence probably has a fair idea of which Western politicians were in Saddam's pocket; what the state of cooperation was between the Iraqi secret service and Al-Qaeda, and where the precusors to the WMDs went. But the key pieces, indeed the critical pieces, may all be in Saddam's head. Therefore they will coddle that head carefully, with as much loving care as a mother for her newborn babe, because the secrets in the tyrant's head mean all the difference between life or death for thousands. For the same reason, hundreds of unctuous politicians, all donning the garb of humanitarianism, will plead leniency or indeed call for his exculpation, the better to avoid mention in his testimony."

Saddam, meet Che and Mumia!
"Lexington Greene," a regular contributor to the Chicago Boyz blog, fears that all liberals -- a group he pins down as "the French, the left, the ACLU" and Bush-haters of any stripe -- will make a hero out of Saddam. They won't be looking for due process in Saddam's trial out of concern for international law and standards, says Greene, but because they're hopelessly blinded by 1960s-style idealism.

"Saddam is going to have allies and supporters to help him. Watch what is going to happen now. The French, the Left, the ACLU and everybody of that ilk are now going to make Saddam their darling, their hero, a man denied due process, a man being railroaded. French lawyers will try to go to Baghdad to represent him. American lawyers will argue that he should immediately be brought to The Hague. He will be the new Mumia. Even the way he looked when he got captured will help him with the Left -- he looked like a cross between a homeless person, Karl Marx and Che Guevara, all icons of holiness to those people, images which touch the deepest wellsprings of their sentiments. And anybody who is fighting the American army starts to look like a 'resistance fighter,' like the Sandinistas or the Viet Cong, and hence a heroic figure to the Left. Moreover, anybody who is Bush's enemy must be OK. This is going to lead to more and more grotesque configurations."

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Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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