Friday, December 29, 2006


What Josh says...

"Bush administration officials" are telling CNN that Saddam Hussein will be hanged this weekend. Convention dictates that we precede any discussion of this execution with the obligatory nod to Saddam's treachery, bloodthirsty rule and tyranny. But enough of the cowardly chatter. This thing is a sham, of a piece with the whole corrupt, disastrous sham that the war and occupation has been. Bush administration officials are the ones who leak the news about the time of the execution. One key reason we know Saddam's about to be executed is that he's about to be transferred from US to Iraqi custody, which tells you a lot. And, of course, the verdict in his trial gets timed to coincide with the US elections.

This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur -- phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us.

Try to dress this up as an Iraqi trial and it doesn't come close to cutting it -- the Iraqis only take possession of him for the final act, sort of like the Church always left execution itself to the 'secular arm'. Try pretending it's a war crimes trial but it's just more of the pretend mumbojumbo that makes this out to be World War IX or whatever number it is they're up to now.

The Iraq War has been many things, but for its prime promoters and cheerleaders and now-dwindling body of defenders, the war and all its ideological and literary trappings have always been an exercise in moral-historical dress-up for a crew of folks whose times aren't grand enough to live up to their own self-regard and whose imaginations are great enough to make up the difference. This is just more play-acting.

These jokers are being dragged kicking and screaming to the realization that the whole thing's a mess and that they're going to be remembered for it -- defined by it -- for decades and centuries. But before we go, we can hang Saddam. Quite a bit of this was about the president's issues with his dad and the hang-ups he had about finishing Saddam off -- so before we go, we can hang the guy as some big cosmic 'So There!'

Marx might say that this was not tragedy but farce. But I think we need to get way beyond options one and two even to get close to this one -- claptrap justice meted out to the former dictator in some puffed-up act of self-justification as the country itself collapses in the hands of the occupying army.

Marty Peretz, with some sort of projection, calls any attempt to rain on this parade "prissy and finicky." Myself, I just find it embarrassing. This is what we're reduced to, what the president has reduced us to. This is the best we can do. Hang Saddam Hussein because there's nothing else this president can get right.

What do you figure this farce will look like 10, 30 or 50 years down the road? A signal of American power or weakness?


Anonymous said...

I think it will look like at least one thug among so many other finally got what he deserved. I think it will look that even if democracy never flowers in Iraq, at least one crazy bastard dances on the end of a rope for his trouble. I think history will ask us in 50 years why the hell we didn't hang even more.

As for the rest of his characterization of the war and the subsequent insurgency, the history will be whatever gets that particular author published enough to achieve tenure.

I do not understand this aversion to mess in any case. If people really wanted order they would have the NAZIs or the Bolesheviks have another go.

I say put all the fascists on Neighborhood associations boards and leave the communists in academia where they will flourish.

Much like he accuses his adversaries of pumping up the opposition, the idea that any of the current players on the global stage measure up to the villiany and skullduggery of their predessors is the height of self-agrandizement.

troutsky said...

he's right about the "one thug among so many" part but even i don't desire the hanging death of Bush,Cheney,Feith, Wolfowitz or Perle. Well... maybe Cheney.

I think the point you make about the embarrasingly tawdry nature of the Spectacle before us, like a Mexican soap opera with particularly low production vaalues, is spot on. Frank Zappa (RIP)had a great song called Cheapness about Japanese monster films. Pretty well captures our times in general.

troutsky said...

UPDATE: BBC just reported the deed was done, the Wicked Witch is dead!

helmut said...

C'mon, anon. The point is not "messiness" or that "stuff happens." The point is incompetence, lying, and mass deception of a putatively democratic citizenry. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the Iraq War. For what? One thug? That is insane.

But then to say that it's either "messiness," on one hand, or Bolsheviks, on the other is a wild move characteristic of black-and-white thinkers on the right. That's what makes for such screwed up policy in the real world.

Anonymous said...

So the point is that no matter the deeds clearly the worst is Bush's supposed incompetence, deception and lying? Oh please. Let's keep our eye on the ball people.

It's this shades of grey crap that has you convinced of some sort of moral equivalence. Even if all you believed about the President was true he's clearly not even in the same class as your average dictator let alone the body counts stacked up by his predecessors if it happens to be all a numbers game to you.

Maybe when Chavez declares himself Pope you'll wag your finger at his pandering to all those superstitious savages.

helmut said...

"Shades of gray crap" is nonsense. Look, I'm a professor of ethics, policy, and political thought who lives in Washington, DC and is in constant contact with politicos, policy people, etc. (A world mostly excluded from the blog - I taught a seminar at the CIA, for instance, this past semester - can't write about it).... Nobody - nobody - in policy, politics, or among political thinkers, regardless of political leaning, believes that the world is black and white. That status is reserved for those who think about politics through what politicians say. Political rhetoric is all about black and white, which usually has little to do with actual policy-making and political choices of any significance. It has everything to do with convincing citizens that the choices are stark and your politician is making the only possible right choice. Don't call the gray area "crap." That's the area where the real stuff gets thought about, deliberated, decided. It's the "messy" area.

It's obviously not about numbers. That's basically the kind of stupid economic thinking we here at this blog rail against. The point is, rather, that if you take some time to reflect on the kinds of moral judgments applied to people like Saddam Hussein that justify treating him as the tyrant he was, there's a rather uncomfortable symmetry, morally speaking, with the Bush administration. That's what you might be reflecting on rather than the reactionary "you're Bush-haters" bit you've been doing.

Anonymous said...

What is uncomfortable about the symmetry you see is that it is not symmetrical and the intellectual hoops you must leap through to make it so have addled your brain. How many political adversaries has the President assassinated? Which Blue State cities did he gas? How could he makes his bones with the Party when Saddam was out at least trying and failing to assassinate the Iraqi prime minister and young George couldn't even be troubled to drop a bomb on Hanoi or even drop a plane of in country for someone who would?

You claim it is not about numbers but you ask your readers to make a calculation as the the relative worth of complicit in the killing a hundred thousand to remove one thug.

I understand you make your living off the grey area and I'll respect your need to believe in it. I'll even allow that many ethical questions require great thought and contemplation. Tolerance for dictators is not one of those questions.

I'm not the one who has to stretch whatever non-progressive is in office onto the worn out fascist template. When there are so many authentically evil men in the world, I don't need to invent more.

And if you had the morals political or otherwise that you speak of you would act not engage in an intellectual circle-jerk with only your like-minded chums.

What does disturb me is the resigned quality with which you pronounce that politicians say one thing and believe another. Perhaps that's why the President disturbs you so greatly, he announces ahead of time what he plans to do and then does it.

You claim he deceives but you, of course, are too clever to be fooled. In that you are deceiving yourself. You sit with your cynical and oh-so-clever inside the beltway friends, and absolve yourself of all responsibility by routinely pleading guilty to all manner of offences commited by the United States and minimizing each and every positive outcome and imagining yourself as a modern-day cassandra among the indifferent Trojans behind the wall.

Clearly Helmut you need to get out more. :) You and your policy wonk chums have been under the policy dome way too long.

The benefit of the democracy, which you seem to believe too complicated for anyone but a progressive to master, is that your personal Great Satan wanders off to Crawford almost 2 years from now and that you will all be talking about a new satan or messiah by the end of January 2009.

Quit sitting around waiting for the guy on the white horse and do something productive with your life. Build water filters for African villages, doesn't matter. Just don't tell me that mapping out this complex gray area from which you appear to derive your self-worth will ever lead to a decision-making process that results in any progress (progressive or otherwise).

helmut said...

Sigh, anon.... Your comment is so wrong-headed, mischaracterizing, and pointless, it's difficult to know even where to start. Why don't you write these things in shorter bits?

Anonymous said...

"It's this shades of grey crap that has you convinced of some sort of moral equivalence. Even if all you believed about the President was true he's clearly not even in the same class as your average dictator let alone the body counts stacked up by his predecessors if it happens to be all a numbers game to you."

Well, the point is not that they even have to be in the same category. The fact is that, given the characterization of the U.S. as a democracy, it seems more morally repugnant for a democratically elected ruler (and particularly for those who elected him) to do the kind of things that some American presidents have done that what a ruthless, unelected dictator like Saddam has done. Apart from the fact that those wiped out in the "punishing" of Fallujah (destroyed after some of its inhabitants killed four mercenaries) and those dying from the effects of depleted uranium would probably disagree with yeah, there's actually some symmetry. Not a mirror image but symmetry nonetheless.


Anonymous said...

Helmut -

I have faith that if you take my points a paragraph at a time you will find short enough bits. I do apologize for the length but I was hoping that all the bandwidth would give you insight into my thought process. It seems clear I've only confused you more. As a scholar I thought you might be accustomed to longer passages.

In the past you've been somewhat dismissive of my shorter comments. If I apply myself I may be able to craft a brief enough response that will not be deliberately misconstrued.

In the interest of brevity I submit one question: Why is it beyond possiblity that my head may be "right" on this issue?

Pepito - Thank you for your response. It is the sort of answer I wished to elicit from Helmut. Hopefully your example will get him to expand on his own thoughts.

Your response suggests we have a higher standard to meet and I agree. However I would like to suggest that the acts have a rupugnance all their own and the authors of them democratic or not, are certainly wrong. I wonder if the point you are trying to make is that there appear to be two different offenses being committed.

The Dictator does not betray his ideals because he has none. (Offense #1)

The Democratic Leader (of which Hitler was one) betrays the ideals of the people he represents. (Offense #2)

While we can and will hold our own leaders responsible (at least at the ballot box) why is it so beyond the pale to suggest that someone ought to do the same for the Dictator when his own people, whose job this ought to be, are held captive by brutality?

Let's use FDR as an example. A democratically-elected president (for life as it turns out) here in the United States. He was certainly guilty of permitting even ordering many immoral things (aerial bombing comes to mind most clearly).

In the world Helmut describes Hitler, Churchill, FDR, and perhaps Stalin and Hirohito would be brought before the bar of justice. My question for you is what would be the penalties each should face?

Anonymous said...

"While we can and will hold our own leaders responsible (at least at the ballot box) why is it so beyond the pale to suggest that someone ought to do the same for the Dictator when his own people, whose job this ought to be, are held captive by brutality?"

I didn't said it's beyond the pale. Actually I have nothing against punishing Saddam, as long as it's made by way of a well-conducted trial. The same goes for everybody else. The problem here is, clearly, that the trial was deeply flawed, mainly because the U.S. wanted to make sure that its participation in Saddam's crimes wasn't mentioned. As already said I think there is symmetry here, and it shouldn't be dismissed.

"In the world Helmut describes Hitler, Churchill, FDR, and perhaps Stalin and Hirohito would be brought before the bar of justice. My question for you is what would be the penalties each should face?"

Hard to say. I'm usually against the death penalty, unless the crimes of the guilty party are really abominable (no doubt some of those committed by the people you mention are). What I am totally sure about is that the nationality or citizenship of the accused should not have any bearing on the application of the penalty (or on the plausibility of carrying out the trial).


Anonymous said...

Pepito -

So without the death penalty I presume then the penality will either be imprisonment or exile or both. Like Napoleon on Elba or Rudolf Hess in Spandau.

The logisics of effecting an arrest would mean some sort of armed police unit the head of which would have to be exiled frequently if he or his successor steps out of line. Which would mean an additional armed unit to watch the police.

There would also have to be a unit whose job it is to make it safe for the elite police unit to be inserted into whatever presidential palace they would need to enter.

Perhaps CSPAN and Court TV could cover the trial at its undisclosed location.

Then a humane prison system of some sort where folks don't get tortured even if they are really really bad. With lots of guards to keep offended parties out while the dictator eats chocolates and watches Oprah just like he did in his palace minus the gold toilets. (Bad Saddam no gold toilets for you!)

Then there could be a reality TV series called "Who wants to be the next dictator?" where winners get potable water and food and a nice dry place to sleep. That way the dictator supply is constant if and when the original offender dies of natural causes.

Sounds like a good plan Pepito! :)