Après la Capture

The big story is out there, the obvious one. Maybe you want the EuroSavant opinion on the capture last Saturday night of Saddam Hussein. I think . . . that that was a Good Thing.

“That won’t cut it, MAO!” perhaps you object. Ah, but allow me to remind you of what you could term the “EuroSavant essence”: It’s not necessary for me to pontificate on these pages. (Although that can also occasionally happen; actually, I feel another expatiation coming on now, but not on this Saddamned subject: stay tuned for the next entry.) Rather, my function is to lead you daily (or whenever) on a merry traipse through the motley landscape of one or more of the various European presses – a landscape in which, to extend the metaphor, the lay of the terrain as well as most of the bright and curious flowers to be found within it would remain unknown and incomprehensible to you without my (free!) services as surveyor, geologist, and naturalist.

Translation: I just need to find other writers, writing in one European language or another, to pontificate on the topic of the day, and tell you what they’re saying. Since Mr. Hussein was such a good customer of France back in his glory days, let’s see if the French press can comment on his capture in ways that transcend the obvious.

And indeed, there’s plenty of material there in the French on-line press, as you could well imagine. But most of it repackages the details of his capture that we’ve all read elsewhere for the most part: spider-hole, medical examination video, betrayal by some family member, dancing in Iraqi streets to the beat of automatic weapons fired into the air, etc. What calls for examination is rather the considerably-smaller subset of editorials, in which thinkers try to gauge the significance of Saddam’s arrest and what it might mean for Iraq’s future.

Here, the premiere French newspaper Le Monde disappoints with Fall of a Dictator. “First of all, [there’s] satisfaction,” the article begins, and continues with “It’s not so frequent in history that one of the most ferocious tyrants of his time is put in a situation in this way of having to render account.” He has a serious account to answer for, the paper notes, launching into a mini-history which reminds us of Saddam’s ruining of a country that could otherwise have functioned as one of the “motors of modernity” for the entire Arab region. Only at the end, after remarking that the capture will likely not stop the violent resistance to the occupation, does Le Monde ask “How to try the author of crimes which are worthy of those of Slobodan Milosevic?” The answer: a trial by the United Nations, because “there is no serious Iraqi judicial tradition.”


There’s much better going on over in Le Figaro, which features a veritable commentary festival, with multiple writers giving their account of the significance of Saddam’s capture. We can start with staff writer Charles Lambroschini’s contribution, George W. Bush’s Second Chance. It’s his second chance because, although he won the war, he was losing the “peace” that was supposed to come after it. Now that the Iraqi population need no longer fear Saddam’s eventual vengeance, they should all rally behind the idea of “Iraqisation,” of gradually leaving Iraq for the Iraqis to take care of so that America and her allies can finally go home. But “Iraqisation” won’t work, Lambroschini says, no more than “Vietnamization” worked in the Vietnam War or “yellowing” French troops in Indochina after World War II (again, by introducing more and more natives into the ranks of the French Army) prevented Dienbienphu. In all cases the problem was the same: each respective occupying authority was fighting a strong local nationalism that regarded those natives working with them as collaborators.

As for what to leave behind when they finally do leave, the Americans will not have many encouraging patterns to use for re-building a peaceful, prosperous nation out of all the different ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. Only Lebanon has managed to find the “miracle solution” of a government in which similarly-different groups have been able to work together in the national interest – but Lebanon is still subject to domination by Syria, whose army lies in wait to re-cross the border to impose order again should that become necessary.

Finally, Lambroschini observes that at least Saddam’s capture also offers a second chance to France, and all other countries which resisted the War in Iraq, to make their peace with the Coalition, now that President Bush is back in a position of political strength from which he can extend the hand of reconciliation. For it’s in the interest of all Western nations that Iraq not be abandoned in anarchy – and, now that his personal nemesis is under arrest, Bush might very well be tempted to take Clark Clifford’s old advice about Vietnam: Declare victory and go home.

Also writing in Le Figaro (The Real Battle Starts Today), Antoine Basbous (Founder and Director of the Observatory of Arab Countries think-tank) is more pessimistic about the capture’s ultimate effects. He calls for a “Baathist Nuremburg,” one presided over by the United Nations, to enable Iraqis to “finally exorcise the consecutive trauma of years of terror and bloody violence, and benefit from shock therapy enlarged to national scale.” But that won’t stop the violence; indeed, Saddam’s supporters will have been enraged all the more by the humiliating circumstances of his capture and his display-on-video by the American forces. But the main issue at stake in Iraq, to Basbous, is the Islamization of the Middle East; Osama bin-Laden has already ordered the transfer of 350 of his fighters from Afghanistan to Iraq, and “all the operations taking aim at American forces in Iraq have probably been perpetrated by bin-Laden’s men,” (which is where, to me, Basbous loses all his credibility) who are hoping to turn Iraq into une terre de djihad – “a land of jihad.”


Regular EuroSavant readers will know that the newspaper of the French Communist Party, L’Humanité, is a particular favorite of mine – not because I’m at all pink at the gills myself, but because of the combination of predictability (in point-of-view adopted) and yet surprise (in giving voice to it) that I’m always likely to find on that newspaper’s website. I can give one of L’Humanité’s first articles to appear about Saddam’s capture, by Pierre Barbancey (End of the Line for Saddam Hussein) some points for writing-style, at least. Commenting on Saddam’s post-arrest appearance, Barbancey notes “His eyes were haggard, his beard was white like Père Noël’s [that’s what they call the brothers making up the local unions of shopping-mall Santas in France], his hair was at battle [en bataille, which we can assume means rather unruly].” In short, he looked like a clochard – a bum. And Barbancey has a outlook on the Iraqi resistance that I find a bit more credible than that of M. Basbous above: namely, that it is hardly homogènes, “homogeneous,” but composed out of a wide variety of personnel, from inside Iraq and out, united only in their desire to cause American casualties. That implies that no one need think that Saddam’s capture will have any effect on the tempo of their attacks.

Better yet is the companion piece in L’Humanité by Michel Guilloux (A Tyrant in Jail, A People Rejoicing). Paul Bremer announced the capture of Hussein to the international press “in an arrogant manner.” (There we go! This is the L’Humanité that I know and love!) And then:

Hussein in jail still doesn’t settle the question of the illegitimate character, in violation of UN Resolution 1442, of the invasion of a country by a coalition under the protection of the starred flag. [He must mean here the Stars-and-Stripes; the UN’s flag, for example, doesn’t have stars but a globe, and while the EU’s flag does indeed have nothing but stars, it’s hard to believe that he meant that as the flag of the Coalition.] It doesn’t settle the fallacious character of the of reasons invoked to do this and the debates that that leads to in the world and in Great Britain and the United States themselves. It doesn’t settle the current conditions of an occupation that kills 50 soldiers of this coalition per month and kills or wounds – for each of them – 23 Iraqi civilians. It doesn’t settle the way that the ‘reconstruction’ of the country is carried out to serve the interests of groups that brought all their weight to bear, sonnant et trébuchant [sorry, I can’t translate this: “sounding out and stumbling”?], to elect George Bush, under conditions that we know all too well. It doesn’t settle either the manner in which the butcher of Baghdad will be judged.

And Guilloux also calls for Saddam to be tried by an international tribunal under the UN.

Finally, Serge July, writing in Libération (A Turning-Point in the War), talks about all the ways that Saddam’s capture is such a turning-point. Psychologically: It’s an important turning-point especially for Iraqis, who no longer have carry the (irrational?) fear of the eventual return to power of a vengeful Saddam, gunning for revenge on all those who helped the allied Coalition. Politically: It’s a turning-point especially for the Americans, since it is an important milestone towards “winning the peace” in Iraq after winning the war there; it also, in July’s estimation, “without a doubt” is the prelude to George W. Bush’s re-election as president. And the capture is also a turning-point in the international politics surrounding the Iraqi occupation, since now betting on American failure in Iraq seems a rather unwise wager. Those countries which opposed the invasion and have continued to be less-than-fully-cooperative with the Americans on Iraq (and so have tended to have their companies shut out of eligibility for bidding as primary contractors on reconstruction contracts) can maybe now see the light and get more cooperative. As for Saddam’s trial, July is yet another Frenchman who argues that an international tribunal under United Nations authority makes the most sense; yet the Americans, still in the driver’s seat, have seemingly chosen for an Iraqi trial with the help of international experts, and that will be that.

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