Sunday, January 07, 2007

John F. Burns on the Hanging of Saddam Hussein

In a real sense, ever since his capture in December of 2003, Saddam Hussein had become irrelevant. The only issue was whether Americans and Iraqis could work together to establish the rule of law in Iraq to replace the madness that existed under Saddam Hussein. The trial was intended to subject Saddam Hussein to the rule of law while, at the same time, helping to establish the legitimacy of the new Iraqi government. Maliki is no Saddam Hussein but we are far from creating the democracy or the rule of law that was going to inspire the Middle East. And, unfortunately, the incompetence of Bush and his advisers, is increasingly exacting a price in Iraq and further damaging our foreign policy and our position in the world. Here's some excerpts from John F. Burn's story in The New York Times:
The taunts Mr. Hussein endured from Shiite guards as he stood with the noose around his neck have made headlines around the world, and stirred angry protests among his fellow Iraqi Sunnis. But the story of how American commanders and diplomats fought to halt the execution until midnight on Friday, only six hours before Mr. Hussein was hanged, is only now coming into focus, as Iraqi and American officials, in the glare of international outrage over the hanging, compete with their versions of what happened.

(snip)

It is a story of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, trying to coerce second-tier American military and diplomatic officials into handing over Mr. Hussein, first on Thursday night, then again on Friday. The American push back was complicated by the absences of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the top American military commander, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who were both out of Iraq on leave. The American message throughout was that rushing Mr. Hussein to the gallows could rebound disastrously, as it did.

It is a story, too, of the Americans disagreeing among themselves. After a final call to Mr. Maliki at 10:30 p.m. Friday, American and Iraqi officials said, Mr. Khalilzad concluded that there was no prospect of persuading the Iraqis to delay the execution and passed that message to Washington. The conclusion found little favor with the military, who were the ones who had to transport Mr. Hussein to the gallows.

For General Casey and Mr. Khalilzad, close partners here, the messy ending for Mr. Hussein was made worse by the confirmation this week that Mr. Bush will soon replace both men as he refashions his Iraq war policy.

(snip)

In interviews with dozens of American and Iraqi officials involved in the hanging, a picture has emerged of a clash of cultures and political interests, reflecting the widening gulf between Americans here and the Iraqi exiles who rode to power behind American tanks. Even before a smuggled cellphone camera recording revealed the derision Mr. Hussein faced on the gallows, the hanging had become a metaphor, among Mr. Maliki’s critics, for how the “new Iraq” is starting to resemble the repressive, vengeful place it was under Mr. Hussein, albeit in a paler shade.

The war in Iraq never made much sense and to this date it still remains unclear what we are trying to accomplish. It is also becoming increasingly clear that we are not in control in Iraq and we will become even less in control in Iraq as we hand off more responsibilities to the current government, such as it is. It is also becoming abundantly clear that our president and his advisers do not know what they are doing. There is even the embarrassment of a statement being issued in Bush's name last week (while he was sleeping) as if everything were in order when in fact the hanging was turning into a fiasco that is now symbolic of the larger war. There is now even the risk that the Bush Administration will topple the Maliki government which will only increase the chaos while perhaps committing us to crisis after crisis in the midst of a civil war. We need to leave.

We need to draw down and rebuild our foreign policy before Bush pulls us into a broader conflict. The president has nothing more to offer.

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