Sunday, December 21, 2003

Well, that Vietnam-style quagmire seems to be getting worse, doesn’t it?

Not content with their laughably unconvincing Bush Thanksgiving photo-op, last week the administration stuck Dick Cheney in a ZZ Top beard and pathetically tried to pass it off as some kind of good news.

But assume, for the sake of argument, this is the real Saddam Hussein. What happens now depends on his state of mind. He may say nothing. Or it may be that, after eight months on the lam, bumping around in the back of donkey carts, sleeping in smelly hovels, short of sycophants, deprived of the company of his fellow psychopaths Uday and Qusay, his chums in Moscow and Paris refusing to accept any collect calls, pining for the metaphorical full Monica he used to get from visiting Western shills like British leftie MPs Tony Benn and George Galloway — after all that he may be grateful for a chance to yak about this and that to various A-list interrogators.

He knows surely that it is his last chance to play the big shot, before trial by his former subjects, and then jail and (I hope) execution.

The evidence to date suggests he either managed to squeeze a surprising number of filing cabinets down that spider hole with him or that, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, he has been singing like a canary. Either way, coalition forces have made some interesting arrests in recent days.

Meanwhile, perhaps concerned that their old pal might get too chatty, the French, Germans and Russians have done an instant about-face on the matter of forgiving Iraq the massive debts its former tyrant ran up with his European buddies.

A good week, I would say, for cowboy “unilateralists.”

Certain columnists, whom modesty prevents me from mentioning by name, have painted an eerily accurate picture of his living conditions these last six months. Even so, there’s something almost exquisitely apt in the circumstances of his capture, pulled up out of a hole he had dug for himself.

The Democrats, the French, the European media and the various other parties who have invested in the Bush-quagmire story have also dug a hole for themselves. Al Gore briefly emerged from his own pit of obscurity a couple of days before Saddam to denounce the Iraqi operation: “My friends,” he said, “this nation has never, in two centuries and more, made a worse foreign policy mistake.”

On the morning itself, the most pitiful of the “serious” candidates, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, couldn’t resist digging himself in a little deeper: “This is not just about one man,” he complained, urging that now would be an excellent opportunity to hand everything over to the United Nations, The Hague, the Arab League, the Westchester County League of Women Voters and other respected bodies.

Mr. Kerry doesn’t get it: If it had been left to Kofi Annan, the French, Germans, Russians, Canadians, Arabs and all but two of the nine Democratic presidential candidates, Saddam Hussein wouldn’t have been getting inspected for lice by American medics; he would still be sitting on his solid gold toilet in his palace, reading about the latest massive anti-Bush demonstrations in Le Monde.

The Iraqi people don’t want to place their future in the hands of an “international community” that found it more convenient to allow Saddam to go on torturing them.

As for this being “not just about one man,” don’t bet on it. In May, I was sitting in a restaurant in Ramadi just west of Baghdad, chewing the fat (very literally, alas) with various Iraqi chaps, all of a Sunni disposition.

“Hey, things are gonna be great from now on, right, guys?” I said, by way of an icebreaker.

They shrugged gloomily. “Where is Saddam?” said one, pointing at the BBC News on the TV in the corner. “Where is Saddam? He has money, he has friends. He will be back.”

In the months since, Saddam has been all but irrelevant to any active coordination of the so-called “resistance,” But the fact he was still on the run, somewhere out there, meant that, in theory, he could be behind it, and that made it easier for the Ba’athist dead-enders and the imported terrorists to lean on communities in the Sunni Triangle for support and cover.

The sight of Saddam looking like a department-store Santa who has been sleeping off a bender in a sewer for a week will deal a fatal blow to the Ba’athist thugs’ ability to intimidate local populations. The insurgency will continue for a few weeks yet, but it will peter out, like the dictator, not with a bang but a whimper.

As for the Western naysayers, let me go back to what I wrote in July, after the killing of Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay, and the Democratic Party reaction: “If they’re still droning on like this on the day Rummy’s passing out souvenir vials of Saddam’s DNA, they’ll be heading for oblivion.”

Well, we’re not yet at the souvenir DNA stage but the inability of a serious political party to resist the siren songs of the Noam Chomsky/Michael Moore/Euro left is showing signs of becoming terminal. Madeleine Albright’s suggestion last week that the administration was holding Osama some place in order to spring him on the American public at the most electorally advantageous time is only the latest manifestation of how the fringe nutters have infected the mainstream.

“What happened this week,” I wrote back on Uday-Qusay Tuesday, “is a foretaste of what the party can expect in the next 15 months: Reality will keep intruding, and if the Dems keep moving the goalposts ever more frantically, pretty soon they’ll be campaigning from Planet Zongo. Recently, Sen. Tom Daschle insisted Uday and Qusay were all very well, but where was the Big Guy? Why hadn’t that slacker George Bush caught him yet?

Next question, Tom?

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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