Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A new press hero: Saddam, defendant

I've been looking forward to the sight, and here it is: Saddam on trial.

I watched a bit of coverage, enough to assure me that Saddam was playing his outraged defiant role, as expected, and that the judges are among the bravest men on the face of the earth to let their faces be shown and their names be known.

The sight brought back memories of the joy I felt the morning I learned Saddam had been captured alive, and of the photos of the Iraqi press corps whooping it up on hearing the news. But the danger always was that a living Saddam standing in the docks would try to turn his trial into a showcase for himself, a la the interminable Milosevic trial, and in the process turn himself into that most unlikely of things: a victim.

Makes a person wonder what would have happened had Hitler not killed himself. We'll never know, but times and attitudes were certainly different then.

As for Saddam, it seems that some media outlets are already taking up his case--the case for the defense, that is. Well, if not the defense exactly, then certainly the case of criticizing the prosecution and the court, and of a sort of sneaking admiration for Saddam's moxie and "defiance," a word I'm already heartily sick of.

To paraphrase Sylvia Plath (of all people), in her poem "Daddy":

Every [left-leaning journalist] adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

Well, it doesn't scan well as poetry, and yes, it's hyperbole, but it comes to mind these days when I read things like the NY Times editorial highlighted and discussed today by Captain's Quarters.

The Times is criticizing the Iraqi court for--oh, well, for just about everything. Being American puppets, for starters; not having a big international tribune trying the case; being bloodthirsty for wanting the death penalty to be a possibility for Saddam; not having a comprehensive trial for all his crimes but taking the easiest charge first (as, by the way, good prosecutors always do: earth to NY Times), saying it looks like a show trial, and so on and so forth.

Can the Times spare a word in the editorial for any sort of satisfaction that the day of reckoning has come for one of the worst murderous tyrants of recent memory? No. On this momentous day of the trial's beginning, it seems our Blue-Gray Lady's editorial board can't manage to muster up even a smidgen of happiness, only a tongue-scolding for the all-too-imperfect prosecution.

And what of the news wing of the Times? The ordinarily relatively fair John Burns and Edward Wong write the story today. It's an interesting document, which describes Hussein and the court proceedings and then segues into a recounting of objections much like the ones outlined in the editorial--criticisms from Human Rights Watch and the like, as well as opponents of capital punishment; allegations that the US was too involved (for example, the US provided the money for the especially-secure courthouse and has aided the investigation process--horrors!). The article ends with a quote from a group purporting to be spokesmen for the pesky insurgents, condemning the trial.

But to me what was most telling was the article's failure to give much space to the reaction of the Iraqi people on this momentous day. The following constitutes the sum total of what this lengthy lead article has to say on that subject (keep in mind as you read it that Dujail is the town where the murders for which Saddam is currently being tried took place):

This morning, images on one Iraqi television network showed residents of Dujail calling for Mr. Hussein's execution. Meanwhile, in Mr. Hussein's home town of Tikrit crowds gathered to show support for their former leader, chanting slogans such as: "You are still the son of Iraq." They appeared to be in a frenzy, waving Iraqi flags and photos of Mr. Hussein. Iraqi police, wearing blue uniforms and carrying Kalashnikovs, walked through the crowds but did not appear anxious to break up the demonstration.

So, one TV station showed some anti-Saddam demonstrations--and only from the very town where the massacre occurred. But the Times must balance that tiny little piece of news with a bulletin from Saddam's homies demonstrating for him.

I'll not go on too much longer about all of this; the wonder is that it still has the power to surprise me.

I haven't gone back to read the Times coverage of the trial of these guys, but I imagine it might have been a bit different:

But back to today. As soon as one turns to the far-less-renowned but also less liberal New York Post, one notices the change in coverage. In the following excerpt, the Post doesn't neglect to balance the happy responses of some Iraqis with the reactions from an area of Saddam sympathizers. But at least it gives due weight to the anti-Saddam feeling of what must be the majority of Iraq's people:

Many Iraqis gathered around TV sets to watch the proceedings.

"Since the fall of the regime, we have been waiting for this trial," said Aqeel al-Ubaidi, a Dujail resident. "The trial won't bring back those who died, but at least it will help put out the fire and anger inside us."

In Baghdad, Shiite construction worker Salman Zaboun Shanan sat with his family at home in the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, having taken the day off from work to watch the trial.

When Saddam appeared on television, his wife Sabiha Hassan spit at the screen.

"I hope he is executed, and that anyone who suffered can take a piece of his flesh," said Shanan, who was imprisoned during Saddam's rule, as was Hassan and several of their sons.

But across the Tigris River in the mainly Sunni Arab district of Azamiyah, some were embittered by the trial of Saddam, whose regime was dominated by Sunni Arabs who have now lost their power.

"Saddam is the lesser of evils," said engineer Sahab Awad Maaruf, comparing Saddam to the current Shiite-Kurdish led government. "He's the only legitimate leader for Iraqis."

In particular, the Shiite Muslim majority and the Kurdish minority - the two communities most oppressed by Saddam's regime - have eagerly awaited the chance to see the man who ruled Iraq with unquestioned and total power held to justice.

"I'm very happy today. We've prayed for this day for years," said Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, an anti-Saddam opposition leader in exile for years and now one of the fiercest proponents of the purge of Baathists from the new government.

In closing, I'll return to that Plath poem "Daddy." It contains another image, one I think captures the understandable sentiment of so many Iraqis who had come to hate Saddam and all he stood for:

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.

This is the very human desire for revenge, a desire that is transmuted from its primal savagery into the desire for the accounting and punishment that comes with justice--the justice of a trial. It would be good if our MSM could find it in their hearts to applaud the fact that the Iraqis are on their way to the latter satisfaction rather than the former.

[ADDENDUM: I just came across this NY Times article on their webpage. It deals specifically with the reaction of ordinary Iraqis to the trial and its images. Those of you who are registered with the Times can read the article and see for yourself how, despite paying lip service to the fact that some Iraqis despise him, the thrust of the article is that a) many, many Iraqis still adore him; and b) even those who dislike Saddam have little faith in the trial, but many criticisms of it--almost as many as the Times itself. How very extraordinary.]

[ADDENDUM II: Michelle Malkin has a roundup of coverage and commentary. Michelle highlights the following quote from an article in the Boston Globe, which I thought particularly relevant in light of my final words on the Plath poem and the understandable human desire to take personal revenge:

"We want to eat [Saddam] alive," said Salimah Majeed Al-Haidari, 60, who spent more than four years in detention, then waited 17 more to learn that her husband and two sons, hauled off by security officers, had been executed. "We wish they would cut him to pieces and hand them out to us and families like us."]


At 1:48 PM, October 19, 2005, Blogger Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

No one- not even the MSM, can rehabilitate Saddam. Therefore, the motives for their wretched behavior must be examined.

Clearly, this isn't about Saddam. This is about the war and Mr Bush- and the MSM will use every opportunity they can to excoriate the President. It is an exercise in 'getting' Mr Bush, and if the truth or reality or percerptions need to be bent, well, so it will be.

Saddam Hussein is responsible for the death of millions. He responsible for climate that allowed for the persecution, torture and rape of hundreds of thousands.

The NYT does not have more credibility than the family of any his victims. If the husband, son or brother of a woman raped by order of the state can be convinced by the NYT that Saddam is indeed being unfairly treated, maybe then the NYT will have achieved standing and credibility. Until, then, they are the people that said we lost the peace in Germany in the immediate post war period and extolled the North Vietnamese government- until the 're education camps.'

This whitewashing of Saddam and the attempt to stigmatize the court is an attempt to 'get' the president- and given the NYT track record, we cam all sleep easy. When NYT supports dictatorship or tyranny, that is a sure sign they are in the wrong.

They still believe Castro is a sympathetic figure.

At 2:03 PM, October 19, 2005, Blogger PatCA said...

You're right about the poem, and the media. Daddy is all about the erotic lure of brutes, perfect for the masochism that passes for thought on the part of the 'loyal' opposition.

At 2:11 PM, October 19, 2005, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...


I always thought there was something dry-mouthed, weak-in-the-knees, warm-in-all-the-right-places in the left's view of tyrants and murderers.

At 3:08 PM, October 19, 2005, Anonymous Bob said...

Three words for the downfall of Western Civilization: New York Times. It's too bad that when Saddam sent his terrorists to fly planes into buildings he didn't choose the New York Times building.

At 3:10 PM, October 19, 2005, Anonymous erasmus said...

Quite so, but wouldn't it be correct to say that the right was weak in the knees, warm in...about quite many of the fascist/anti-communist dictators, tyrants and torturers? (Think South/Central America, or farther back to dear old Franco...)
I once got into a huge argument with a right-winger who claimed that Guernica was blown up from the ground by the "commies," not bombed to hell by the German Condor Legion for Franco--all evidence, incl. the proud testimonials from the pilots, to the contrary. When it comes to dictators, the ideological sword cuts both ways.
Maybe thoughtful conservatives are better. There don't seem to be too many thoughtful left-wingers. ( A few do exist.)

At 3:46 PM, October 19, 2005, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

No. Conservatives were in bed with authoritarians for tactical reasons.
It was realpolitik, which may or may not have been the best strategy.
But the actual personal feelings of the lefties on campus and so forth was worlds apart from that of the righties for their proxies.
Seen any Somoza teeshirts recently?
The Kids LIKED Che. They LIKED the FMLN despite the human rights records (omelets, eggs, revolutionary virility, and so forth). They LIKED Uncle Ho, all avuncular. They LIKED Fidel, and his brother Raul. I talked to a couple of folks (educated Americans) who practically wept at the memory of meeting Raul Castro.
Lefties, even church lefties, went to USSR, "laughed, wept, prayed, sang," with the designated huggybears and came back to tell us the only thing we had to fear was Ronald Reagan.
Big, big difference.
This is not to say there were not a few folks suffering from arrested development who got off on seeing the fancy uniforms and the spit-shined riding boots of the Caudillos of (upickthecountry).
But they did not define the movement.
It is not written in the stars that every phenomenon must have a mirror image.

At 6:05 PM, October 19, 2005, Anonymous john moulder said...

There seems to be a barely contained admiration by some Americans for anyone that wars with or opposes America no matter how nefarious the opposition may be. It frequently bubbles to the surface, for example when Robert Pape, writing for the NYT, characterizes 9/11 as “spectacular.” Slip of the keyboard & it also got by the editor.

I was watching CNN soon after Saddam was hustled out of his hidey-hole. It was Saddam’s first courtroom appearance. He was spiffed up & was wearing a clean, starched shirt. CNN first ran a brief segment of the capture & then a longer segment of the courtroom appearance & Aaron Brown said, with a fawning, awed tone of admiration, “He doesn’t look so subdued now, does he.” It was clear at that moment that somewhere within Aaron Brown’s psyche that he considered Saddam some kind of hero. Slip of the tongue & tone of voice.

I went to the CNN site several times after that trying to find video containing that moment but I guess they don’t offer up that kind of thing for streaming video download. It was a brief little illumination & only the viewers watching at that moment saw it.

What we get to see is the slips & the unguarded & boldly displayed. By unguarded I mean the material such as the NYT article cited by this post that can be easily rationalized(if you have a certain outlook) as news or excused as a valid viewpoint. If confronted I’m sure the editors & writers would fall back on the “We’re just reporting the news,” rationalization. Under such circumstances they feel they can safely present a biased article & must enjoy airing out to the world attitudes & feelings they usually have to keep submerged & presented only to like-minded colleagues, friends & family. It must feel very liberating & cathartic to take advantage of such occasions.

At the bottom of all this is a deep-seated hatred of America & all things American. Those that feel this way will protest that they are only engaging in ‘healthy’ criticism of a country they love & are adept at disguising their true feelings even from themselves. And one would have to admit that America is not always without reason for guilt. But fair criticism is never so one-sided, so invariably pessimistic, so ultimately dogmatic; it is always tempered by reality. It is never healthy to hate who you are. Taken one at a time & isolated the NYT editorials & articles are not so bad, especially if you don’t know what to look for, but after you read a few & consider the totality of what has been read the strongly skewed pattern emerges.

The MSM has had & will have a difficult time making Saddam over into a hero. They can do that only obliquely or indirectly. But they will do what for them is the next best thing, which is to attack all attempts to bring him to justice. They will use the trial as a venue to criticize the emerging Iraqi government, the prosecutors, the Iraqi justice system, the political system, the occupation & rebuilding & will probably manage to introduce ample criticism of the US role in regards to all those same issues. They will argue against his execution because as long as he is alive he gives hope to those who fight against a democratic Iraq. There will be very little video on TV & very little print in newspapers & magazines by the MSM of Saddam’s actual crimes during this trial but there will be plenty of time & space devoted to procedural issues, fairness issues, man on the street anecdotal material of his admiring fans, etc., anything but the murders he committed.

At 6:29 PM, October 19, 2005, Blogger roman said...

I can understand (don’t agree with) the old-time concept of left-wing academics and their young hordes of converts for admiring revolutionary movements and their charismatic leaders.
There were times when this adoration was “reasonable” with respect to movements to evict tyrannical fascist dictatorships and give power back to the people.
Protest against all ills, real or imagined became fashionable here in the USA in the 60’s.
The spirit of protest by these converts against “the people’s” oppressors soon devolved into protest against the establishment, any establishment. I suspect there are some elements of these converts, now grown up, that still carry this derailed spirit of protest as part of their psyche. They view the establishment (government) as evil and are driven by the old spirit of protest to ”expose” any perceived failure. Their zeal and relish for exposing government shortcomings are of the same intensity as the quest to bring down the worst tyranny the world has ever known.
I’m afraid that some of these same converts are writing, reporting or editing for today’s MSM.
Is the current phenomenon of giving favorable notoriety to the likes of Saddam Hussain (the butcher of Baghdad), a warped sense of reality by MSM? This pathology of left-wing ideology may be part of the answer.
Sorry for the rant but the stream of consciousness just could not be held back.

At 7:07 PM, October 19, 2005, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...


Nice observation about the erotic attraction of brutes.
Maybe neo would like to start a discussion on the subject.

Many years ago, when I had AOL, I found some more or less permanent message boards. They went on forever. You could hold a conversation between the others flaming and boasting and flirting and whatnot.

I started three conversations about why girls drop good guys to go with jerks.
I was surprised at the intensity of the responses and the length of the discussions. Weeks.
Could be something there.

At 7:37 PM, October 19, 2005, Anonymous erasmus said...

Richard Aubrey:

Well, true, getting into bed with a dictatorial thug for Realpolitik (the right) or with tittering admiration (the left) are not mirror images. But to the victims of the fascist dictator or the communist tyrant--not 5 cents worth of difference. The flesh doesn't know or feel the difference. That is my point.

At 8:37 PM, October 19, 2005, Blogger terrye said...

I wonder if the NYT would have been any happier if someone had just shot the murdering son of a b****.

Oh but wait, that has to be [you know] illegal. No different really than what George Bush did as the Governor of Texas when the state executed some poor misunderstood serial killer.

But what did Saddam do? Really? That is so bad?

Feeding old ladies to dogs, excessive maybe, but hey nobody's perfect...poking out the eyeballs of small children to get information from their parents..well I ask you is this really any different than the routine torture our servicemen and women subject those brave resistance fighters to...

No, there is no real evil in the world it is all relevant.

Well except for George Bush of course aka Licifer the Prince of Darkness.

I hear this silly crap so much I just shrug and think it is too bad some of these folks could not be a fly on the wall of one of Saddam's chidrens prisons.

At 10:41 PM, October 19, 2005, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

Two points: The, say, Somozas of the world didn't do a thousandth of the bad stuff the left's heroes did.

And the original point was the left's visceral fascination for their tyrants.

And the realpoltikers aren't nostalgic for the good old days of, say, um, a minor-league kleptocracy as the lefties are for the current regime in Cuba, and the beatification of the murderer Che Guevara.

At 11:44 PM, October 19, 2005, Blogger Foobarista said...

I think there's a sort of (theoretical) cleanliness about dictatorships which appeals to many intellectual types. To paraphrase Bismarck, the sausage is hidden, buried behind pretty ideologies and nice theories, and in the case of foreign intellectuals, presented by fluent spinmeisters showcasing Potemkin accomplishments.

OTOH, democracy exposes the sausage factory in all its glory. Governing is icky, full of (at best) ugly compromises and hucksterish deal-making - or simply run by The Wrong People. Big Ideas are scarce, opposition is endemic, and everything is a muddle. It isn't ideologically clean and neat like many dictatorships seem to be.

Add to that the fact that the US is actually opposing dictators simply for being dictators these days (with, inevitably, a few Our Bastard types, but thankfully very few nowadays), and a dictator, no matter how evil, can get an enthusiastic hearing from the Left by simply making enough anti-American noises.

At 12:16 AM, October 20, 2005, Anonymous Tatterdemalian said...

"But to the victims of the fascist dictator or the communist tyrant--not 5 cents worth of difference. The flesh doesn't know or feel the difference. That is my point."

Yes it does. The Iraqi victims of Saddam Hussein know who to blame for their imprisonment, and who to credit for their new freedom. All the claims that "Bush helped Saddam stay in power!" don't make a fig of difference to the Iraqis hanging photos of George W. Bush over their doors like good luck charms.

At 3:20 AM, October 20, 2005, Blogger Judith said...


I was at a Sukkot lunch today, at a table with an ageing Lefty who said pretty much what you posted.

The totally secular Jews, I figure their estangement has a huge emotional component that spills over into their politics. But a Jew who goes to shul and who is old enough to remember Hitler, saying this kind of thing, makes me despair.

At 4:14 AM, October 20, 2005, Blogger camojack said...

Death to the infidel!
(It's coming...)

At 9:26 AM, October 20, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great piece! "Defiance" is what the firemen excavating Ground Zero showed when they plastered American flags on the backs of their helmets. And it was that little symbolic act of defiance that inflamed this nation with righteous defiance.

At 9:41 AM, October 20, 2005, Blogger David said...

Regarding the appeal that totalitarians have for so many intellectual's: here's what Aldous Huxley had to say:

"In the field of politics the equivalent of a theorem is a perfectly disciplined army; of a sonnet or picture, a police state under a dictatorship. The Marxist calls himself scientific and to this claim the Fascist adds another: he is the poet--the scientific poet--of a new mythology. Both are justified in their pretensions; for each applies to human situations the procedures which have proved effective in the laboratory and the ivory tower. They simplify, they abstract, they eliminate all that, for their purposes, is irrelevant and ignore whatever they choose to regard an inessential; they impose a style, they compel the facts to verify a favorite hypothesis, they consign to the waste paper basket all that, to their mind, falls short of perfection...the dream of Order begets tyranny, the dream of Beauty, monsters and violence."

At 10:38 AM, October 20, 2005, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

There is a scene in the movie "Cabaret" which I thought particularly enlightening.
After taking us through the sweaty and disturbing decadence of Weimar Germany, two of the characters are in a restaurant in the mountains. The restaurant has an outdoor area for eating and large windows for those inside. The blue-green mountains stretch into the distance and I swear the theater turned up the air conditioning. The entire thing was a relief after the Liza Minnelli and Joel Gray scenes.
Then a young man with a terrific tenor in vaguely military lederhosen (?) begins a song about the Rhine gives its gold to the sea and the stag in the forest runs free. Great. German mountains, semi-pagan but pleasant imagery in the song.
Then a couple of similarly-attired blue-jowled plug-ugly baritones join in, taking it to a menacing march beat.
And the restaurant patrons stand and give the Hitler salute.

Tyranny seems "clean", by golly.

At 6:17 PM, October 20, 2005, Anonymous Jim said...

All lot of streams feed this culture of revolutionary roimance.

1. Permanent adolescent rebellion. This is a real danger especially for Americans, who think it is cool to be young, rather than powerless and pathetic. How much do you sense in the grey ponytail crowd that this accusatory, defiant attitude toward the establishment that feeds them, on way or another, is really just a way to be young and righteaous, a throwback to times when it was righteous to be young?

2. Fossilized blue-collar pieties: Back before Watergate turned journalism into a prophetic calling, and gave rise to j-schools, newspapers were staffed by working stiff types. These people had a normal anti-management orientation. The blue-collars are gone, but the attitudes remains the same way the Army still wears blue Union Army unofrms for special occasions.

3. And a lot of the grey ponytail crowd has similar class origins, even if they have tenured sinecures to pay the rent now, and these attitudes are simultaneously their homage to working-class solidarity and also a rebellion against the respectability of their own lace-curtain working class parents.

4. These people really do admire these tyrants. Erasmus is on to something, but he has it a little wrong. People under the boot don't care whether their tyrant styles himself left-wing or right-wing. Any collectivist ideology is going to lead to an authoritarian government, and it can easily become totalitarian as the great Liberator gets old and entrenched. people under the boot could not care less why foreigners are supporting that tyrant, realpolitik or romance. There is a real differen, and that is that romance makes for real allies, where realpolitik means the a**hole will get dumped in a heartbeat when he starts to stumble. Marcos is an example. Compare that to the apologies and the substantive support for Castro.

At 6:38 PM, October 20, 2005, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

Jean Kirkpatrick got Reagan's attention when she wrote a paper differentiating authoritarian and totalitarian governments.
There were two major differences. The totalitarians killed far more people and the authoritarians stayed home.
They are not, she said, and a look around will show, the same, but on different sides.
Marcos vs. Castro. Compare both on qualities of internal oppression and foreign adventurism.

At 10:12 AM, October 21, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A totalitarian is an authoritarian whose grip on power has started to slip.

At 11:40 AM, October 21, 2005, Anonymous Jim said...

"Marcos vs. Castro. Compare both on qualities of internal oppression and foreign adventurism."

They are hardly in the same sport, much less the same league,I don't know whether because of differing circumstances - I cannot see anyone getting away with Castro's crap in the Philippines - or because of differences between them as individuals. I only compared them because Marcos is a standard tu quoque, and also because he was one pet ruler we let fall on his own. I certainly did not mean the comaparison as some kind of exact analogy.

At 11:50 AM, October 21, 2005, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

Jim. I wasn't referring to your post, except that Marcos occurred to me as a handy example, avoiding the need to tax my own brain.
The authoritarians we worked with in Latin America were all like Marcos, none like Castro, or now Chavez. Our guys wanted to stay home and milk the country for their retirement bennies.
And now, as you point out, they're gone.
Now we have that boring, bourgeois, messy democracy where Jose Lunchbucket isn't required to listen to his intellectual superiors. Makes the latter as nuts there as it does here.

At 9:29 PM, October 21, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Why can't the New York Times just F*** Off, hrm?

At 9:30 PM, October 21, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Oh Ya, I'm pretty sure a lot of 18th century Americans would have heart attacks if they saw what their "precious free press" was doing with their paid for (by saddam) and bought for (by soldiers) freedom.

Rolling in their graves.

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