Sunday, December 14, 2003


Unless you have been living in a hole in the ground like Saddam himself, or perhaps like Matt Yglesias you have heard the outstanding news that Saddam has been captured by members of the U.S armed forces.

It is important to say again that this is excellent news. No one seems to be disputing this but some are more obviously pleased than others. Saddam was an evil dictator who held the people of Iraq captive for far too long. His capture is a major step towards greater liberty and security for the Iraqi people. I disagree with much about the war and occupation in Iraq, however, it is undeniable that deposing and capturing Saddam is a good thing and that this is the direct result of American policy and military power.

The two big questions are:

1. What does this mean for the situation in Iraq?

2. What is the proper way to deal with a captured Saddam?

As for number 1:
The President has been quick to point out that Saddam's capture will not lead to an end of violence in Iraq. This is because the degree to which Saddam was actually involved in the Iraqi insurgency is debatable. Early reports seem to indicate Saddam was cornered in a hole and quite isolated from means of communication. Of course this is not to say he had no influence and as David Mader points out the symbolic importance of his capture is extremely significant.

OxBlogger Josh Chaftez argues that the Iraqi resistance will likely intensify in the short term but fade in the long term as a result of Saddam's capture. It seems to me that there is a certain logic to this argument, however, it also seems like it is a very safe argument to make. If the resistance fades quickly then the result is better than expected. If it intensifies, then that is expected but who's to say how long this intensification is to last? One month, two, six, a year?

From my unenlightened position, I think that Saddam's capture is more important for its symbolism than for any actual technical direction he was giving. I think it is likely that, after a brief delay, resistance will increase in the short term as Saddam's hardcore loyalists redouble their efforts. The long term, being long, is even harder to predict. Essentially, it comes down to the nature of the insurgents. Do they rely more on a belief that they are fighting for Saddam or are they simply inspired by a desire to kill American infidels? I'm not really in a position to say.

As for number 2:
Most people, including our new prime minister, seem to be calling for Saddam to be tried at some kind of legitimate court proceeding or war crimes tribunal. Now, I'm as strong a supporter of civility, justice and the rule of law as the next person but I have to say that these war crimes tribunals and such have always troubled me. In one sense it seems as if a war is a human action that steps beyond the bounds of civility, justice and the rule of law. I agree that there are times when wars are justified and necessary, but all wars in a sense are crimes of humanity. What is the good in having the victors pick and choose which crimes they want to prosecute? It then simply becomes an extension of the waging of war. If we see it as such, then fine. But if the intent is to somehow legitimize a war or the killing or imprisonment of an opponent then it doesn't seem right or necessary. The United States waged war against Saddam, Saddam opposed them in war. Saddam is a captured enemy combatant and part of me thinks they can do with him as they wish.

Another part of me would really prefer that there were some kind of international standards for this type of situation. We've been working towards this from Nuremberg to Kosovo but each time these tribunals have been set up in an ad hoc manner. It is at this point that an International Criminal Court seems to be a good idea but the Americans are having none of it.

This all strikes at the fundamental question of whether relations between nations are to continue to operate as in a state of nature or whether we can agree to some kind of universal rules to collectively govern the actions of nations. Obviously the latter solution is not coming any time soon. So in its absence I would say, skip the false legitimacy and ad hoc solutions and let the Americans do what they want with Saddam. I'm satisfied that he's no longer killing anyone.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:58 p.m.