- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

Imagine if a bearded, disheveled Adolf Hitler had been found cowering in some hole in the ground and dragged out to face trial at Nuremberg. Without a struggle, without a shot being fired. The whole mystique of the Nazi Superman would have been shattered, and the still fascinating riddle of Hitler’s rise to power demystified.

Now Iraq’s little Hitler has been captured. The beard, the mud hut, the pistol and the $750,000 in U.S. currency he had on him, nothing availed. He is now where he belongs: in Custody. His mystery has been shattered. There may be justice in the world after all.

A pause for perspective: The balance of forces in what the analysts call an asymmetrical war has not been altered. On paper, it is still a few thousand suicidal zealots vs. a superpower and a coalition of the willing. The fighting will go on even after this mission, too, has been accomplished.

But psychologically everything has changed. And psychology can be everything in war as it is in peace. It was Karl von Clausewitz who pointed out that the objective of war is not the capture of territory — not even the capture of the enemy’s capital or its leader. The decisive objective in war is to break the will of the enemy. With the capture of Saddam — alive, without a struggle, in circumstances that make a mockery of the Arab code of honor — the war appears in a new light.

Saddam can now be seen for what he is: a cornered rat. And all his talk about The Return turns out to be just talk. There are some things that not even whatever remains of his Ba’ath Party will be able to depict as a great victory. Saddam has been denied even martyrdom.

A cloud has been lifted from the horizons of the Iraqi people, or is it peoples? The Kurds and Shi’ites will be delighted, the Sunnis sobered by this new reality. All can see their way more clearly now, even if that way remains hard and uncertain.

Not just in Iraq have things changed. Throughout the Middle East, terrorism has been dealt a psychological blow. Difficult and uncertain as this postwar period has been, here is another sign the Americans, for all our naive faith in freedom and democracy, for all our stumbling and bumbling, are serious about this. Iraq will not be another Somalia or Lebanon, where Americans lost heart and crept back to what we only thought was safety.

Beyond the Middle East, Saddam’s capture represents a victory on the most decisive front, the home front. The Vietnam Syndrome — or is it the Dean Syndrome now? — has been dealt another blow. Morale back home took a leap up with the news; it was suddenly a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

More reverses are surely in store as this war winds down or gears up — that is the nature of a war against terror — but this was an unambiguous victory — for Iraqis, for Americans and for all the forces in the Arab world that yearn for democracy, progress and stability in the Middle East.

Once again the armed forces of the United States have come through, this time not in a lightning advance on the enemy’s capital or in some other display of old-style military might, but through a different kind of shock and awe. This was a victory in the unconventional kind of warfare Americans were supposed to be ill-prepared for.

The capture of Saddam Hussein was not just a singular feat in itself — like finding the dirty needle in a haystack the size of California — but a good omen for the war on terror in general. Americans are learning to excel at it, too.

Even more impressive than American triumphs in combat has been the armed forces’ flexibility, their willingness to adapt to new and ominous threats, to learn from setbacks, adopt new tactics and fight a new kind of war. This is a war in which intelligence, analysis and psychology take the place of massed armor and artillery.

All honor to the officers and men, commanders and grunts, of the First Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, henceforth known as the Great4th Infantry Division.

These soldiers not only fight, but they think. Tell us again, Gen. Wesley Clark, that what’s needed in Iraq is more boots on the ground. What’s needed is the kind of skills these soldiers have just shown. For this is a war not just of numbers but intelligence. Intelligence in at least two meanings of the word: information and the ability to make sense of it and act on it. In this case, the result was the arrest of Iraq’s public enemy No. 1.

Yes, it was a hopeful day for the new Iraq. And for the new U.S. Army. And for lovers of freedom and justice everywhere. Now it’s one down and Osama bin Laden to go.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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