Three years ago this weekend, Saddam Hussein was captured by US forces in Iraq. Do you remember the news headlines in the pro-war media the following day? Neo-con hacks told us that as Saddam had been "orchestrating" the insurgency, "the war is over" (The Times' columnist Tim Hames used those actual words).
Are these people ever right about anything?
Here's a piece I wrote for The Australian newspaper (published 17th December 2003), on why the triumphalism of the war-mongers was misplaced.
It didn't take long for the capture of Saddam to be hailed as a great triumph by coalition leaders and the pro-war lobby. The news we are told, will be a powerful boost for President Bush's re-election prospects, and will increase public support for the hard-line positions of both John Howard and Tony Blair. In the short-term this may well be true. But if we look beyond the next few weeks, there are strong grounds for believing that lastweekend's dramatic developments will only add to the coalition's problems.
Firstly, the unpalatable fact for those crowing most loudly over Saddam's capture, is that the worst of the crimes the former dictator is likely to becharged with, took place at a time when he was enthusiastically sponsored bythe West. If Saddam does receive an 'fair and open trial', as both President Bush and the Iraqi Governing Council have promised, it will surely reveal just how much support, both moral and material, the Iraqi dictator received from Washington and its allies during his murderous heydays of the 1980s. Details of how the U.S. encouraged Saddam to attack Iran in 1980 and start awar which would cost a million lives, and how the US Defence Envoy Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad in December 1983, not only to assure Saddam of continued US support in the Iranian war, but also to tout the case of a specific American co-operation for building a new pipeline in his country. And most embarrassingly for the present government of Israel, details of howRumsfeld carried on his 1983 visit a letter from the then Israeli PM Itzak Shamir offering to sell arms to a man whose capture Israel now regards as great news 'for the democratic world and for the fight for freedom and justice'.
Gerard Henderson, claims that 'without intervention an appalling regime would still be in power'- conveniently overlooking the fact that without theassistance of the CIA, the 'appalling regime' would never have come to powerin the first place.
Secondly, it is clear that from his hidey-hole in the ground near a deserted farmhouse, the haggard-looking Methuselah we saw paraded on our television sets at the weekend was not, as was claimed on repeated occasions this year, co-ordinating the Iraqi resistance to the US-led occupation. Tim Hames, a columnist on the London Times believes that after the weekend's developments 'the war is over'. But with Saddam under lock and key, and the prospect of a return to his dictatorship gone for good, the non Ba'athist section of the Iraqi resistance is sure to become even more emboldened and we are likely to see an escalation, and not a reduction, of hostilities on coalition targets. The bombing of police stations in Baghdad after Saddam's capture is yet more evidence to back up the conclusion of a recent C.I.A. report that 'the resistance is broad, strong and getting stronger'.
Globally, of course, the main terrorist threat to the U.S. and its allies was never posed by the secularist Iraqi dictator and his government, but by the religious fanatics of al Qa'eda, whose global operations will be unaffected by Saddam's seizure. Saddam may have been a domestic tyrant, but aside from his payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, the man denounced by Osama bin Laden as a 'socialist infidel' had no connection to international terrorist networks and his violence was strictly not for export.
Thirdly, we must remind ourselves, that in spite of this week's headlines, the war against Iraq was not fought in order to capture Saddam Hussein. As late as last February, John Howard and Tony Blair were both still insisting that if Saddam 'came clean' on his WMD programme, there would be no need forwar, and that regime change although desirable, was not a casus belli. Now, it appears, that, lo and behold, the war WAS about the Iraqi leader after all.
Despite the triumphalism of the last few days, Saddam's capture in no way diminishes the arguments against war, as Gerard Henderson and others contend. On the contrary, the case against war, strong enough in March, grows more compelling with each passing day. The coalition may have Saddam (hardly a Herculean achievement considering the $25m bounty on his head) butthere is still not a scrap of credible evidence that Iraq possessed the WMDs that, in John Howard's words were 'capable of causing death and destruction on a mammoth scale'. That Saddam Hussein was a brutal and ruthless dictator is not in doubt. That he posed a threat to our security which justified an illegal, $100bn war that has killed thousands and made the world an even more dangerous place than it was before- most certainly is.
COPYRIGHT: Neil Clark/The Australian 2003