(Minor updates to fix typos)
For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
Beyond all hope—what a joy it is to see Saddam Hussein, one of recent history’s most ghastly tyrants, captured and awaiting punishment for his crimes. What is, perhaps, most appropriate is that this self-styled King of Babylon was found out and captured in stuck in a hole he had dug in the ground in his efforts to flee. If a bit of Scripture is in order, I would like to suggest:
- That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!
- The LORD hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers.
- He who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted, and none hindereth.
- The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing. …
- How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
- For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
- I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
- Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
For the people of Iraq — who are wary of claims from The Officials but celebrating in the streets in the hope that it’s true — I can only offer my hope that it is true, and add my voice to the celebration.
But like the Iraqi people, I am wary. Not so much that what the officials are saying about the capture is false. Although I’m sure that a predictable cast of conspiracy theorists will trot out a predictable micro-analysis of one crucial photograph that they are sure must be fake, I don’t think there is that much reason to doubt the reports. It’s not that I don’t think the people presently in power aren’t capable of just making shit up for their own political ends, but rather that the consistent body of evidence here seems to be pretty clear.
But what we will no doubt see, thundering down the echoing halls of television punditry, and coming forth from the bully pulpit that the President is going to assume in an hour or so, is very likely to be a threefold disaster.
First, we are likely to see the same sort of hollow triumphalism with which Caesar celebrated his defeat of Pompey. If any man is prepared to gloat over the stench of carrion that his putative victory cost, it is this man.
Second, and closely connected, we are likely to be told that the capture of Saddam Hussein is proof positive that we were justified in this gruesome joke of a war. Of course it doesn’t — but unfortunately this tacitc may go over well for a while. If there’s anything that the American people love, it’s a winner — and sometimes this blanks out important truths.
Third, the warhawks have already begun to take this (as the neo-conservatives, in particular, take everything) as proof positive of their fanciful dreams. That’s what happens when you confuse your own PR echo chamber for reality; and it’s already on display. For example, consider the fanciful dreams of the U.S. military establishment and their sympathetic commentariat:
Hussein’s capture will be an immediate and devastating body blow to the anti-American resistance in Iraq. …
Within Iraq, the American commanders and their allies hope that the capture of Hussein will break the back of the anti-American resistance. Most of that resistance has come from former forces of Hussein located in the so-called Sunni Triangle in the middle of Iraq, around Baghdad.
So let’s take a moment to review the facts as we know them.
In spite of the Defense Department spin, the insurgency against American troops is not all burned-out Ba’athists. Ordinary Iraqis are mad as hell at the increasingly draconian occupation. And as renewed terrorist activity all around the world indicates, international jihadis have taken up Mr. Bush’s war on Arabs as their own cause celebre. Ba’athist remnants may have reason to be discouraged, but those who revile both Saddam and the Americans (whether from the just aspirations of the Iraqi people, or from the insane fantasies of radical Islamism) are still going strong. As General Sanchez admits (even military commanders have to have more contact with reality than chickenhawk commentators), the deaths will continue – indeed, retaliation may even increase.
Further, Saddam’s capture does not invalidate a single one of the many arguments against the war. No-one doubted that the war would mean a dramatic end to the Ba’athist reign of terror, and that Iraq would be better off for that. What we doubted was that the ends could justify the means–that it was likely or even possible for a U.S. bombing, invasion, and occupation to bring peace and freedom to Iraq. We pointed out that the administration’s evidence for WMD and connections to terrorism was awfully flimsy at best; we predicted massacres of civilians; we predicted a humanitarian and cultural catastrophe; we predicted a hopeless and bloody occupation; we predicted gruesome urban warfare with guerillas. The warhawks said the administration was telling us the Gospel truth, predicted a bloodless victory, where American troops would be greeted with flowers. And here are the facts as we know them: the administration distorted and knowingly lied about pre-war intelligence; civilians were needlessly murdered during the war; the infrastructure and historical heritage of Iraq suffered appalling destruction; the anger and hatred of the occupation is not about to go away; and terrorist attacks continue to kill American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.
Be that as it may, realism is no excuse for cynicism. Take some time today to be at peace, and to to sing with the people of Iraq. Then take some time to think about how we can make this day sweeter for them. The whole world should rejoice that Saddam Hussein, like the old kings of Babylon the Great, has fallen into ruin. But we also should not forget that Babylon was conquered by the Persians — in the course of creating a mighty empire that was no less tyrannical and no less bloodsoaked than old Chaldaea. It might profit us a bit if we said to ourselves:
Rejoice that Balshazzar has fallen! … Now what are we going to do about Cyrus?