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A few weeks ago, I opined that in spite of the death sentence, and in spite of the rejection of his appeals, and in spite of the insistence that the execution be carried out within thirty days, there was absolutely no way the Iraqis would execute Saddam Hussein.

I would have bet a good bit of money that he’d live out his natural life, feebly wasting away in a sterile, white-walled cell, being fed greenish prison slop and barely lucid enough to wipe the excess from his own chin. Remember his medical exam? How completely disheveled and pathetic the once-proud dictator looked while being checked for lice? I thought for sure we’d have at least twenty more years of that.

Instead, we got the grainy cell phone images of his execution. Shows what I know.

I’m surprised not merely that the Iraqis executed him, but also that they did it as quickly as they did. Apparently, “within thirty days, no further appeals, no commutation” meant exactly that. What about getting more information out of him via plea-bargain? What about faking the execution, shipping him off to someplace secret and shooting him up with sodium pentothal? Or setting up a extremely-low-pH dunking booth, three balls for 1000 dinars and open to the public?

Whether it was right to execute him is distinct from whether it was beneficial to execute him. However history judges either aspect of the execution, I hope for at least one small benefit: that the next would-be tin-pot dictator sees this grainy, graphic, grotesque reminder of what could happen when his people get hold of him, and chooses a more benevolent path. We don’t have any verified pictures of Hitler’s charred corpse in the bunker, but we do have some gruesome images of Mussolini hanging from a meathook in Milan, Ceauşescu bullet-ridden in a ditch, and now Saddam dangling at the wrong end of a tight noose.

Of course, this is all assuming that during those twenty seconds between Saddam’s apparent drop through the trapdoor and his reappearance at the end of the noose, the real Saddam wasn’t whisked off to some undisclosed location to meet with Hitler’s brain, JFK, Osama, Elvis and Tupac for some nefarious purpose.

As an aside, how should Saddam’s execution fit into a death trifecta? “They go in threes,” right? The seemingly obvious one would be James Brown (December 25), Gerald Ford (December 26) and Saddam (December 30).

We can have a little more fun with it than that, though. How about Peter Boyle (December 12) of Young Frankenstein and Everybody Loves Raymond fame? Or Lamar Hunt, who did so much for American football and American soccer (December 13). Either one would be a fine choice to go with Ford and Brown.

If we wished to proceed thematically, we could choose a trio of dictators: The brutal Chilean general, Augusto Pinochet (December 10), the megalomaniacal President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein… and the merciless Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

Or we could go with influence in the world of cartoons: Joseph Barbera of Hanna-Barbera (December 18), Gerald Ford, who moved next door to the Simpsons after Bush 41 moved out, and Saddam Hussein, arch-villain of the South Park universe. How will South Park deal with the real-life death of one of its central characters?

6 Comments

1. gatorbob Says:
January 4th, 2007 at 12:54 PM
If it helps, I was as surprised as you were by the swiftness of Saddam’s execution. It seems as if the Shi’ite militiamen who hanged him were hell-bent on showing off the sectarianism at the heart the new Iraqi government. The execution footage has been a PR disaster for “The Coalition of the Willing.” It’s more evidence that what American taxpayers have paid half a trillion dollars for is a radical Islamic regime that the American military will no doubt have to destabilize in twenty years.

At the same time, Bush seems to have completely ignored the mid-term elections and the Baker-Hamilton report and will announce a new increase in troops (perhaps as much as 20,000) next week. He clearly doesn’t get it and only impeachment will stop him. If only the Dems had the cojones to get it done….

2. Doctor Hmnahmna Says:
January 5th, 2007 at 10:19 AM
About Bush’s plan for a surge . . .

I’ve had some discussions with one of my old college roommates, CPT “Davout”, who just got back from Iraq. His opinion that is that a surge is appropriate, but the number of troops Bush proposes is off by an order of magnitude. He believes 200,000 additional troops are needed to completely clamp down Iraq, and basically start over with estabilishing services, preventing reprisals, etc.

Other than the serious logistical issues, including the fact that the entire standing Army is about 500,000 soliders, lack of political and public will, other worldwide committments, and other potential threats, I believe that he is correct – which means that while it could be accomplished, cleaning up the mess isn’t feasible without serious sacrifice.

I personally have a hard time taking the Baker-Hamilton report seriously, considering it recommended bringing in Iran and Syria as partners for peace. These are two countries for whom continued chaos in Iraq is in their strategic interest, because it distracts from Iran’s nuclear program, it has sapped the American will for continued intervention in the Middle East, and it has worn down the American military.

The report also recommends linking a resolution to Iraq to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which needlessly complicates an already complex situation. In this context, Israel-Palestine is a red herring – solving that (intractable) problem would not resolve sectarian issues between Shiites and Sunnis. Bush did the right thing with that report – put it in File 13, circular.

And the last I checked, Congress has the power to declare war. If the new Congress really wants to make an anti-war stance, they can deny funding for continued operations and only authorize funding for a withdrawal. Somehow, I don’t see them making that choice.

That said, I believe that Iraq will eventually be seen as a strategic blunder – mainly because Iran will prove to be the larger threat. Seems like they really are working on the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction . . . though even the previous administration believed that Iraq had WMDs. So poor intelligence knows no political party.

3. gatorbob Says:
January 5th, 2007 at 9:10 PM
The U.S. military told the Bush administration today that there are only 9K more troops available for “the surge.” My feeling is that anyone calls for more troops to Iraq should be required to do at least one of three things:

1) Go door to door and recruit by explaining to families why they should sacrifice their sons and daughters to the imperial project in Iraq.

2) Send a son or daughter of their own.

3) Sign up themselves!

Aren’t the Bush twins available. When I see Genna and Babs in khakis I’ll begin to think that this administration is serious about the Iraq lark.

4. VDV Says:
January 7th, 2007 at 11:09 AM
Alas, the problem with the first two suggestions is that despite what Messrs. Rangel and Moore think, people aren’t sent into the military by their parents, they volunteer.

But I think you’re on to something with Suggestion #3. Let’s give it a spin:

“Anyone who calls for higher taxes or more government programs should be required to… pay for them himself!”

Would this mean that policies no longer apply to anyone unwilling to participate? Me likey.

5. gatorbob Says:
January 8th, 2007 at 12:15 PM
Not to beat this issue to death, but….

Your analogy works on one level in that working people are shouldering the burden of the Iraq disaster as well as with the tax system; however, it doesn’t quite work when it comes to your punchline. I wasn’t saying that I thought that the U.S. military in Iraq should be populated exclusively with wealthy supporters of the war. While it might be tempting to send the chickenhawks off to Sadr City, one can only imagine how a force populated with Ann Coulter, Bill Kristol and Christopher Hitchens would fare!!

What I was suggesting in my previous message was that the rich (I would define those as earning $250K+) should play their part and pay their fair share. The Bush White House clearly went into Iraq with a shaky rationale, hoping to win the war on the cheap because they knew they didn’t have solid support among the American people. Almost four years on, that plan hasn’t worked. You’re right of course that parents don’t literally send their children off to war – forgive me my rhetorical flourish – but if you think families are uncconnected to these decisions, I’d like you to see the reaction among American families if a draft were reinstituted.

The same applies to the issue of taxes. The GOP has since 1980 played a nifty game of three card monte with taxpayers, insisting that they will cut our taxes. Nothing of the sort has happened as the Paul Krugman article I sent you pointed out. Instead the regressive tax code has meant that working people have paid more and seen their services cut. So, let’s be honest and admit that conservatives and libertarians want tax cuts for the rich and liberals and progressives want tax cuts for the rest. There is an argument to be made for tax cuts for the rich – to provide incentives for investors and so on – so make the argument.

Enjoying the banter.

6. VDV Says:
January 8th, 2007 at 9:04 PM
Econ stuff first:

I reread the article, just to be safe. Krugman either ignores, does not realize, or forgot to mention that the percentage of total income tax paid by the rich has increased due to the Bush 43 tax cuts, and that the percentage of total income tax paid by the poor has decreased due to the Bush 43 tax cuts. It seems to be a counterintuitive result, but it is the result nonetheless.

Krugman wants to show that the poorer have a heavier tax burden than before (either absolutely or relative to the rest of the population)–but he can’t show that in any way that makes sense, which would be dividing total tax paid by total income, which would yield the effective tax rate, and comparing it before and after any change in tax policy. So instead, he insinuates that the poor have a heavier tax burden by working from the opposite direction: he emphasizes that the richer got larger tax cuts than the poorer did. The problem is that it’s neither an economically nor statistically meaningful argument–but it packs an emotional wallop, and that’s what Krugman is hoping for.

The income tax system is progressive and was made even more progressive by Bush’s tax cuts (I am unconvinced that progressivity is either good or bad). Krugman said nothing about the taxes which actually are regressive (FICA, Medicare, etc.). I have heard several arguments for “tax cuts for the rich,” they aren’t being kept hidden (but that may be simply because I follow economics)–in fact the typical arguments against “supply side economics” usually acknowledge the intention to stimulate production via tax incentives.

I’ve never heard a good definition for what someone’s “fair share” is–it’s in the eye of the beholder. The richer you are, the larger your share of the tax pie is relative to your share of the income and wealth pies… is that fair? The Bush tax cuts moved many poor people off the income tax rolls altogether–they don’t pay any income tax–is that fair?

I would hope there would be an uproar if they reinstated the draft. The military doesn’t want it, it doesn’t make economic sense, it would be a political disaster. I think part of the reason people approve of the military more now than during the Vietnam War is that people aren’t being forced in.

We keep hearing from some that the poor and minorities are overrepresented in the military, but the only statistics I’ve seen show just the opposite (at least since the draft was ended). The (admittedly limited) anecdotal evidence I’ve heard is surprise at how many college grads, middle- and upper-class folks are serving in the military.

Sending Ms. Coulter over to fight the war just might work out on several fronts.

And of course I forgive you your rhetorical flourishes, as long as you keep them coming!

One comment

  1. In the process of reloading all my old entries back on to the blog, I somehow missed this one. I had completely forgotten about it, until today.

    I still can’t get the title to look right. It should look like a blank two-word Hangman answer: four lines, a space, six lines.

    Like

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