This will be a shorter post than might be expected under the circumstances because I am, shall we say, reporting directly from the official TPM sickbed. Some sort of cold or flu, not sure which, but plenty nasty.
In any case, the big news of the day: the capture of Saddam.
Clearly, this is very big news and very good news on all sorts of levels. In the United States we've long become accustomed to treating Saddam as a symbol, a shorthand involved in all sorts of political arguments in our country.
But on a day like this it's worth stepping back and remembering that this was a man who took what is probably the most educated, cultured, and close to the most wealthy country in the Arab middle east and ground it down almost into dust over more than thirty years of rule (Saddam was the de facto ruler of the country prior to becoming the official head of state.) He tortured and killed untold numbers of his own people and launched two unnecessary and, for his own country, disastrous wars.
(Here's some interesting and surreal material from Saddam's initial interrogation.)
Yet, looking forward from today, there is one fundamental question: was Saddam Hussein central to the guerilla war or resistance fighting in Iraq? Either operationally or as a symbol (the person they were trying to put back in power)?
I've never thought either was true. And if it's not, then his capture should not fundamentally change the situation on the ground in the country.
From the beginning, I think, we've explained to ourselves that the reason the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq hasn't gone according to plan is that the resistance is being run by Saddam or his people or that the Iraqis won't get down to work on rebuilding their country until they're sure Saddam isn't coming back, until the veil of fear is lifted, etc.
In other words, they're not acting like they're liberated because, in a sense, their liberation is not complete.
This after all was the reason for making such a show of the deaths of Saddam's sons -- as a symbol that any sort of dynastic hand-off would be impossible.
That, again, was the idea. But I don't think we've seen any real evidence that it's true.
There's no question most Iraqis hate Saddam. But since the invasion I think Saddam has been mainly a thing of the past. The problems we face on the ground in Iraq are ones of the present.
Along those lines, in this article out this afternoon, Fareed Zakaria argues that Saddam's capture may be part of a more widespread cooperation on the part of Iraqis with US troops, which is garnering more and better intelligence for US forces. That seems plausible. And if better intelligence can be matched up with -- and this remains the heart of the matter -- a better political strategy on the ground in Iraq and internationally, then there may be hope of a good outcome.