Published on Friday, January 5, 2007 by The Age / Australia
Rattled America Will Find It Can't Spin Itself Out of This One
by Bob Ellis
George Bush will be hard put persuading three, four or five
thousand American soldiers, marines and reservists who have already
been there to go back to Iraq this year, to face 4 million Sunnis
displeased by the Saddam hanging. Hard put too to persuade Nuri
al-Maliki to stay in office, and stay alive, till they get
In the meantime the spinning of the killing of Saddam continues. The US had nothing to do with it; we merely guarded him for three years, then took him to the house of death and flew his coffined body to Tikrit. We tried to stop it happening so soon. We would have "handled it differently". What's all this fuss? The last 60 seconds of a tyrant's life matter less than the first 60 years. We've killed his two sons and his 14-year-old grandson and we'll kill his half-brother tomorrow, so the "process of national healing" can begin. Has any "process of national healing" been so mismanaged in world history? Has any filmed event won fewer hearts and minds? JFK's killing perhaps, though it pleased a good few Southern schoolboys, who cheered at the news.
If we only look at the politics of lynching a warrior-hero, abusing him on the gallows, keeping him awake the night before by banging on his cell door and flaunting before his bleary eyes the hangman's rope, we can see just how dim the whole plan was. What Sunni will pose beside Maliki now? What Arab leader, Sunni or Shiite, will praise his political skill?
And who will trust the Americans now, after this and Abu Ghraib and hurricane Katrina, to get any process right in any country including their own? Not the British soldiers on the ground in Helmland Province, Afghanistan. Not the Australian "security guards" in downtown Baghdad. Not the Iraqi dentists, doctors, nurses, restaurateurs and university lecturers daily fleeing the country. Not the children with toothache. Not the pregnant women with nowhere to go to give birth. Not the grandmothers of dead babies in humidicribs whose electricity gave out. Not the middle-class parents afraid to put their children on school buses lest they never see them again.
And who in the US will trust the American Army, the State Department and the current American rulers of Baghdad either? Not the 30,000 boys and girls wounded, nor their families. Not the 13,000 or 15,000 parents and siblings bereaved. Not the mayors of the towns the 3000 dead kids came from. Not the Democrat local members Bush is now asking for more soldiers, more weapons, more money, more patience, more time in a Long War as long, perhaps, as the Cold War.
The US is facing outright defeat and worldwide contempt as never before because of the Saddam gallows Grand Guignol and the secular Golgotha his jeering, black-hooded captors turned it into. And none of this need have happened. All the cluey US spin-men had to do, after consulting a few legal experts, was yield him up to lengthy trial by the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague; let him give big speeches the media would soon tire of; and let him grow very old and sad in jail.
But they didn't, and the consequences are dire and daily mounting. Soon they'll have Tariq Aziz to deal with. He's a Christian, a friend of Pope John Paul, and literate, well-spoken, Anglicised evidence of how broad-based a secular government Saddam ran, and how much 4 million university graduates, civil servants, medical professionals, lawyers, judges, soldiers, police and schoolteachers miss him now, in a world of veils and checkpoints and daylight kidnappings and suicide bombings and 10,000 policemen killed in two years.
Will Tariq Aziz hang? Will his breaking neck and open eyes and slowly swinging corpse be telerecorded too? Will he be allowed his beloved P. G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie paperbacks in his cell on death row? Will he get a final press conference? Will he be allowed to wear a suit and tie? What questions will he be allowed to answer?
In freedom's name we have helped the US start this barbarous process. In freedom's name we too are called barbarians now, by fairly civilised peoples who may have a point.
And we Australians are in the thick of it. Staying on, to "finish the job". The job may not be all that's finished by the time we're done.
Bob Ellis is an author and commentator.
Copyright © 2007. The Age Company Ltd.