Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Saddam's last stand? (Originally posted 10/23/02 at 10:10 a.m.) The most important development in the world right now is the nascent unrest in Iraq following Saddam Hussein's release of tens of thousands of prisoners on Sunday. The move appears to have backfired, as it has sparked a protest movement -- tame and fearful, to be sure -- by families whose loved ones still cannot be accounted for. Slate has a comprehensive round-up of the coverage.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page on Tuesday opined that Saddam may be the next Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator "thought to be the least vulnerable of all Eastern Europe's Communists right up until the time he and his wife were shot on Christmas Day by their own people." That would certainly be the best possible outcome, good for the Iraqi people, good for Iraq's Middle East neighbors, and good for the world as a whole, since it would nullify the Bush administration's threats to launch a war.

If Saddam does fall, it will be interesting to see how quickly the White House takes credit by claiming that American military pressure created the environment that made his overthrow possible. No doubt that would be true, but -- barring evidence to the contrary -- it would have to be seen as an unintended (though happy) consequence. Today, George W. Bush's credibility takes another hit as the Wall Street Journal reports on page one that there is scant evidence for his claim that Saddam has been helping Al Qaeda. (Here's the link, though you have to be a paid subscriber to access it.) Reporter David Cloud leaves no doubt that Saddam's Iraq has been involved in a remarkably inept brand of terrorism over the years, but he writes of the alleged Al Qaeda connection:

Mr. Hussein, in fact, appears to be the type of secular Arab leader -- like the Saudi royal family and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak -- whom Mr. bin Laden and his Islamic followers would most like to see overthrown, with strict Islamic law imposed on Iraq's relatively nonobserving population.

If Bush's saber-rattling ultimately leads to Saddam's downfall, then he'll have the right to take credit for an unalloyed good. The administration's recent conciliatory statements about the UN are a positive development, too. But that won't change the fact that he brought the world to the brink of war for reasons that were never adequately explained.

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