Thursday, July 01, 2004

Triumph Of The Will

While watching the first day of proceedings in the trial of Saddam Hussein this morning, I was struck by the thought that there is a real danger of losing the case against Saddam. Contrary to the previous haggard image of him after he was pulled from his hiding place, Saddam projected forcefulness and strength in the opening moments. A proceeding that was supposed to be a listing of the charges against him was instead turned into a forum for Saddam to lodge charges against those who "illegally invaded Iraq". You can imagine that those will be the words and images that will dominate the first day of coverage in the Middle East.

Saddam is once again proving why it is that he is a survivor. He understands the nature of power and he resolved that he would immediately try to take charge of the proceedings from the first moment he stepped into the courtroom. By doing so, and by playing the "illegal invasion of Iraq" card, Saddam is putting himself in the same category of the 70-80% of Iraqis who resent the American presence in their country.

The danger is that the Iraqis, after 14 months of failed occupation, might be susceptible to what Saddam is trying to sell them. The Iraqi people are in the position of the abused spouse who has to reject the overtures of their abuser. And history tells us that the abused spouse usually doesn't have the strength of will to resist those overtures.

Don't get me wrong. I think a public trial against Saddam, run primarily by the Iraqis, is a good thing. The Iraqis need to feel that is them, not the United States, that will convict this monster. But those in charge of this operation have to be aware of the very real danger they are facing. They have to confront him with a presentation as forceful as Saddam's and demonstrate a strength of will above and beyond Saddam's.

The last thing they want is for him to come off as a sympathetic figure to the Iraqi people, let alone the rest of the Middle East. If he does then George W. Bush's failure in Iraq will be complete.

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