Saturday, December 30, 2006

On empty victories

I don't have much to add about Saddam Hussein's execution that hasn't been said already. But it's worth noting that while any prosecution of a leader deposed from the outside is bound to have some air of victor's justice, Hussein's trial and execution have always suffered from a deeper problem.

Unlike in the case of the Nuremberg Trials, the question isn't simply whether the defeated side is treated fairly after conflict has effectively come to an end. Instead, Saddam has served as a distraction from the real, ongoing civil war in which the U.S. can't plausibly claim to be achieving anything.

As a result, it's far too likely that the U.S.' goal in trying Saddam was to bolster the first half of the "victor's justice" equation rather than the second. The aim never was to accord remotely fair treatment either to the defendants themselves, or to those who suffered at the defendants' behalf - because for the U.S., any reasonable treatment of Saddam and his inner circle would have been seen as a sign of capitulation to the one group which it's managed to decisively defeat in Iraq. And indeed it seems all too plausible that the U.S. was happy to accept some of the more farcical elements of the trial as proof of just how thoroughly it had managed to win out over Saddam himself: surely the more glaring the injustices which don't go unpunished, the greater the victory the winning side must have achieved.

Naturally Saddam's execution, like his capture and the toppling of his statue in the past, is already being seized on by Bushco as evidence of positive accomplishments in Iraq. And indeed for those who don't worry too much about fair trials or punishments that were long since outlawed by the civilized world, they're probably the most tangible scraps of success to be clung to in the sea of violence that is Iraq today. But now, they won't have Saddam to kick around anymore...and it may not be long before they're wishing he was around both to answer for his more severe crimes, and to offer continued distraction from the U.S.' own decisive defeat when it comes to improving the lives of Iraqi citizens.

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