Timing is everything. Leafing through our issue of two weeks ago, I feel it would be kindest to draw a veil over page 26 (‘Correlli Barnett says that the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq serve as object lessons in how not to conduct an anti-terrorist campaign’) but that guy buried away on page 38 seems shrewder than ever:
‘It’s been a good year. Twelve months ago, Saddam Hussein was sitting on his solid gold toilet. He’s now on the run, moving every few hours and unlikely ever again to feel even a standard black plastic seat against his bottom.’
There didn’t seem to be many ‘facilities’, as the British landladies say, in Saddam’s hut, never mind down the spider hole. And, when he was asked if he’d like to use the bathroom during his first interrogation by US soldiers, the great dictator, in a sporting attempt to stick to the letter as well as the spirit of my prediction, declined. ‘How,’ he demanded of his captors, ‘can I urinate while my people are in bondage?’
I’ll drink to that. It seems the year is ending even better yet. In fact, in the last fortnight the good news came so thick and fast that we Bush stooges in the media barely had time to re-type the White House press releases: Saddam surrenders; lots of big-time Baathist dead-enders rounded up by the Americans, and various small-time Baathist dead-enders more brutally dispatched by their countrymen; Gaddafi throws in the towel on his WMD programme and scuppers Iran’s and North Korea’s in the process; France, Germany and Russia cave in to Jim Baker on forgiveness of Iraqi debt....
No doubt Prof. Barnett thinks this is further proof of how swimmingly things are going for Osama. The rest of the naysayers seem to have settled on the BBC/Reuters/New York Times tack that, even if these are all positive developments, they’re nothing to do with Bush. It’s all pure coincidence. The contortions of this position were summed up by Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry, the aloof goof who’s made such a hash of his presidential campaign. Struggling to come to terms with Libya’s decision to fold, Senator Kerry declared:
‘An administration that scorns multilateralism and boasts about a rigid doctrine of military preemption has almost in spite of themselves demonstrated the enormous potential for advances in the war on terror.’
I think Senator Kerry is trying to say that the good news would have been more impressive if, instead of Libya abandoning its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programmes effective immediately, Bush had reached out to the French so they could tie it up at the IAEA and the Security Council for a half-decade or so and eventually agree to Libyan disarmament verifiers going in to Tripoli circa 2012.
Nonetheless, the administration is winning ‘almost in spite of themselves’ — which is more than Kerry can say. And as a Bush campaign slogan that’ll do. For whatever reason, things are going America’s way, and are likely to continue to do so. The only real argument is about the speed at which they do. How good 2004 is can be measured by how well some of the following turn out:
1) Saddam’s trial
In a nutshell:A courtroom in Baghdad: good. A courtroom in The Hague: bad. Iraqi and coalition judges: good. International jet-set judges: bad. Swift execution: good.
Playing Scrabble with Slobo in the prison library for the next 20 years: bad.
Bet on Bush and the Iraqis to get their way. As for whether Iraq has a justice system under which Saddam can be tried, I suggest we look to the great King of Babylonia, Hammurabi, whose Code of Laws, the world’s first written legal code c. 1780 bc, stands up pretty well. I’m not a Babylonian legal scholar but I note that Saddam’s digging of a subterranean hiding place in his hut appears to be in clear breach of Law No. 21: ‘If any one break a hole into a house, he shall be put to death before that hole and be buried.’ Suits me.
2) The insurgencyOn Groundhog Day in America, the groundhog emerges from his hole and whether or not he sees his shadow determines whether winter will last another six weeks. I don’t know whether Groundhog Hussein saw his shadow when he emerged from the hole, but another six weeks of insurgency sounds about right, after which it will peter out, despite the urgings of Tariq Ali, George Galloway and other armchair insurgents.
3) The Arab streetJihan Ajlouni, a 24-year-old Palestinian university student, reacted to Saddam’s capture by warning: ‘We say to all the traitors and collaborators: don’t rush to celebrate, because there are millions of Saddams in the Arab world.’
Really? Millions of smelly wimps with ratty hair living in holes in the ground? That could cause massive subsidence in the Tikrit area, particularly if they surrender all at once.
But, of course, Mr Ajlouni is wrong. The West Bank aside, his fellow Arabs aren’t that nuts. When the Western world’s Ajlouni Left reprimand the Americans for sticking Saddam on TV with a tongue depressor, they’re worried it will make the Arabs feel ‘humiliated’. ‘I feel extremely humiliated,’ agreed the Egyptian writer Sayyid Nassar. ‘By shaving his beard, a symbol of virility in Iraq and in the Arab world, the Americans committed an act that symbolises humiliation in our region.’
You should feel humiliated. It is humiliating when you invest your pride in a total loser. The thing is: what are you going to do about it? Rise up in anger? I think not. It’s a safe bet that in 2004 the Arab street will remain as somnolent as it was in 2003 and 2002. That leaves two options: just more festering as usual, or doing something constructive. The big question in the year ahead is whether we’ll start to see forces emerge in the wider Arab world that have drawn the right conclusions from the humiliations of the last two years. You know what would humiliate me if I were a hotshot Egyptian intellectual like Mr Nassar? The Americans democratising Iraq before the Egyptians manage to democratise Egypt. I predict a few interesting straws in the wind between now and next December.
4) Trickle-down destabilisationWhy exactly did Colonel Gaddafi, within a week of Saddam’s capture, throw open the gates of his WMD facilities to the Brits and Yanks? The Speccie’s esteemed editor, in his interview with Silvio Berlusconi, got the scoop last September, when the Italian Prime Minister reported a recent phone call with the Libyan leader: ‘I will do whatever the Americans want,’ said the Colonel, ‘because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid.’
Or as I put it in the Jerusalem Post in early May, ‘You don’t invade Iraq in order to invade everywhere else, you invade Iraq so you don’t have to invade everywhere else.’ In turn, Gaddafi has provided information on various Islamist individuals and organisations, as well as the nuclear programmes of his partners in Iran and North Korea. With hindsight, the sudden retirement of Libyan-trained Liberian dictator Charles Taylor and the Colonel’s decision to turn off the spigot to Robert Mugabe despite the latter’s formal state grovel to Tripoli also seem curiously timely. It may be that the Iraq war has done more to free Zimbabwe of its thug ruler than all the Commonwealth resolutions put together. Imagine that! Look for a lot more trickle-down from Iraq in the year ahead, in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and beyond.
5) The dictatorsA frequent criticism of the anti-war crowd this last year ran along the l ines of: ‘The Americans are, like, totally hypocritical. If you’re going to topple Saddam, why not topple Mugabe?’ To which the correct answer should be: ‘You’re right. But all in good time.’ Many of the horrors that lie ahead can be found at the intersection of wily dictatorships and freelance terror groups. So the US and its allies should be at the very least philosophically committed to regime change in all dictatorships. The delay between the fall of the Taleban and the fall of Saddam was a little too long: there should be an informal target of one tinpot thug per year, to be removed by whatever means are to hand.
6) Prince BandarIt’s past due for Bush to move on to redefine Washington’s relationship with the House of Saud. The symbol of the old one-way relationship — the Saudis buying up half the US diplomatic corps and sticking them on the payroll, etc. — is Prince Bandar, who is officially merely an ‘ambassador’ but who for two decades has swanked around Washington like the British minister in a 19th-century sultanate. He symbolises more than anyone the world of September 10. He should be politely retired before the end of the year.
7) The axis of evilIt turns out, despite the sneers of the bien pensants, that the axis of evil is not just a rhetorical flourish but a real live working axis. One reason why the scale of its advances was not known to the IAEA dupes is that Iran, North Korea, Libya and others were able to farm out different elements of the programme to different countries, thereby ensuring that it’s only when you know the network that you can see the full picture. Nonetheless, we now understand that pre-Musharraf Pakistan and communist North Korea were at the centre of a huge conspiracy to nuclearise the Arab world. Like island-hopping in the Pacific campaign 60 years ago, this nuclear chain needs to be cut off country by country. If Iran’s mullahs aren’t willing to do a Gaddafi by the year’s end, the Americans should be bankrolling the opposition.
8) The Coalition of the WillingOn the Sunday morning of Saddam’s capture the President called the Prime Ministers of Britain, Australia, Spain, Italy and Poland. The Canadians had to wait for a brief conversation on the Monday, and the French, Germans and Russians had to make do with James Baker. The Democrats may mock the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ but for Bush it’s a real thing, an informal democratic alliance that, unlike the UN, gets the job done.
As for Britain’s role in Gaddafi’s disarmament and the back-channel approaches to Syria and Iran, I can’t improve on the characterisation of my fellow New Hampshirite Orrin Judd, who describes Britain’s and America’s interventions with Libya, Syria et al. as a classic good cop/bad cop routine: the urbane Foreign Office wallah flies in and explains nice and friendly-like that you really don’t want to meet his Texan partner. It’s not exactly Harold Macmillan’s Greece-to-Rome theory of Anglo-American relations, but it’s a distinct and honourable role which, unlike clapped-out 1970s Europhilia, puts Britain at the heart of world events.
9) Osama bin LadenHe will continue to be dead throughout 2004.
10) The Democratic partyThey’re approaching the same condition, though their death throes are likely to be a lot wilder. Joe Lieberman has accused Howard Dean of being in ‘a spider hole of denial’ re Saddam. John Kerry is hammering Democratic rival Howard Dean for being inconsistent on the war — first he was against it, now he’s for it; or first he was for it, now he’s against it; I forget. But either way he lacks the consistent inconsistency of Kerry, who was for it, then against it, and is now (since Saddam’s capture) for it again. As things stand, the only real question next November is how badly the Dems will do.
All the above will turn out either well or extremely well for the administration. The only dark cloud is a very dark one: another massive slaughter on American soil. The terrorists don’t have to be brilliant, just lucky — as they were last time, when they wandered around sticking out like sore thumbs to gazillions of Federal and state officials sensitivity-trained not to notice behaviour that practically screamed ‘I’m a terrorist!’ Tom Ridge, director of Homeland Security, says that right now al-Qa’eda types are probing for weak spots at American airports. Which presupposes that they’re already in the country. Which confirms pretty much that the first weak spot remains the US border. On the whole, all the Federal agencies that failed so spectacularly on 9/11 are as bureaucratic, lethargic and inept as they were then. And no one has been fired. One lucky break for a couple of Islamist boneheads, and the Dems and the media will be hammering Bush on why he let it happen all over again. It remains a melancholy fact that, for a US President, it’s easier to reform Iraq’s government agencies than America’s. I do not expect this situation to improve in 2004.