Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Two Op-Eds

Two op-eds caught my eye yesterday for vastly different reasons.

First, is Peter Wehner's piece in the Wall Street Journal, "Revisionist History",which dispels several myths about the war that have unfortunately become conventional wisdom. (I wrote a 40+ page "White Paper" on this while at DoD, that unfortunately never saw the light of day).

The second piece is by Richard Cohen on the trial of Saddam Hussein. Although Cohen makes some very good points about the contradictions by those who oppose the liberation of Iraq yet support intervention in Darfur, he buries this insight in a broader rant against the Bush administration's conduct of the Saddam trial.

Cohen writes: So we are stuck with a trial that has become a microcosm of the way the Bush administration planned and executed the war itself. On most days, it has been a sputtering charade, which somehow has managed not to highlight the many crimes of Saddam Hussein but to obscure them. This is an important point, for behind the stated reason for the war itself -- ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction -- was the repellent nature of Hussein's regime. It was no mere run-of-the-mill Middle Eastern dictatorship, like that of next-door Syria or, in its own way, Iran, but a place where the state could murder casually and with impunity -- and often did.

Cohen, of course, blames the Bush administration for the trials shortcomings, even though it is a sovereign Iraqi court that is trying Saddam. I'm not saying that the administration and the Coalition haven't made mistakes in Iraq over the past three years, but to make this argument Cohen has to willfully ignore the inconvenient fact that the trial of Slobodan Milosevic was an equal or greater farce. Each day the Serbian strongman mocked the court, delivered tirades against the West, and tried to call Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Kofi Annan, and others as witnesses. And this was in a trial that was officially sanctioned by the UN at the Hague War Crimes Tribunal. (In other words, it would have easily passed John Kerry's "Global Test.") Fortunately/unfortunately, Milosevic died before he could bring the travesty of his planned defense (he was defending himself) to its culmination.

In Saddam's case, there actually has been substantial discussion of his crimes, only the Western media is more attracted to the spectacle of his tirades than the substance of the case against him. (A surprising exception is the BBC's web coverage.) Cohen also fails to mention the fact that this case is rather limited in that it only deals with the summary execution of 148 Shi'a from the village of Dujail, rather than the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions that he may have killed. Those atrocities, for which it is more difficult to prove Saddam's direct culpability to a legal standard, will be dealt with at another time.

Clearly, genocidal dictators deserve the harshest punishment possible. (And unlike Cohen, I have no problem with executing monsters such as Saddam). But it is sadly the nature of the these trials that allow the defendants to turn them into "charades," not any decision made by the Admininstration.

Cohen deserves credit for highlighting two important issues. Unfortunately, his pathological need to blame the Bush administration undermines his sincere effort to highlight the crimes of Saddam's regime.

Update: When I first posted this, I missed a typo that said that Saddam was on trial for the execution of 14 Shi'a in Dujail. The correct number is 148, and has been edited above.