War Changed Bush, And Some Democrats

“The tyrants’ [ sic ] hour has finally came.” So an Iraqi blogger, Omar, hailed the capture of Saddam Hussein, fished like Gollum out of his spider-infested hole. At such a moment, we too might forget our grammar, even though English is our first language. Let it stand, errors and all, as the expression of a simple truth, and of the rage and doubts that had to wait till this moment to be allayed. In his jubilation, Omar did not forget all the Iraqis who, thanks to Saddam, will not be emerging from their holes. “Rest in peace my brothers. The paradise is yours and the disgrace and hell is for all the tyrants on earth.” If only it were always so.

The news of Saddam’s capture blew an equally big story off the front pages: Con Coughlin’s article in the London Telegraph , of Dec. 14, “Terrorist behind September 11 strike was trained by Saddam.” Iraq’s provisional government, Mr. Coughlin writes, claims to have found a memo to Saddam from Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, his former head of intelligence, reporting that Al Qaeda terrorist Mohammed Atta was in Baghdad for three days in the early summer of 2001. (Atta was living in Florida at the time, but as he seemed to be able to come and go without difficulty, why not to Baghdad?) Habbush described Atta, in language oddly reminiscent of a camp counselor’s, as having “displayed extraordinary effort.” But not at weaving or rowing: He would be “responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy.” Some months later, Atta’s airplanes found their targets. What better fate for the man who connived in these murders than to destroy his regime, kill his sons and drag him, dirty and bearded, before the cameras? He should get a swift, fair trial from an Iraqi tribunal. The French, Germans and Russians who labored to prop him up should get no last chance, via international institutions, to save him one more time.

Saddam loyalists will march on. Mussolini was hung by the heels in 1945 (“with a bang not with a whimper,” wrote Ezra Pound sadly). Today, Mussolini’s granddaughter sits in the Italian Parliament. But Saddam’s state is gone beyond recall or nostalgia, no longer able to gas Iraqis, bomb Israeli coffeehouses or plot the mass murder of Americans.

Strife in Iraq will march on, too, as President Bush said in his comments on Saddam’s capture. The burden of resisting American troops and Iraq’s liberation will pass from dispirited Baathists to jihadists, drawn in from their worldwide networks and encouraged by double dealers in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia who wish confusion for us and destruction for any sort of Arab or Muslim pluralism. But Saddam’s fate should give new heft to our suggestions that meddlers should pull in their horns.

Since the postwar war in Iraq will go on, it will continue to dominate the Presidential election. Domestic issues are lying like unclaimed $100 bills on the sidewalk: a recession and a possible recovery; a huge new entitlement to prescription drugs; a court-ordered change in the institution of marriage. Yet the war rules all.

The war became the focus for the rage of Democrats, and of the left. Democrats are enraged by having been cheated, as they believe, of victory in 2000. The left is enraged by the knowledge that they themselves, via Ralph Nader, put George W. Bush within striking distance. Their festering anger was cauterized by 9/11; it looked as if it might break out again when the Q-word was briefly uttered about Afghanistan; as that war came to its swift end, the anger subsided. But the long run-up to Iraq, and the messy endgame, let it burst forth. The rage created Howard Dean. How else to explain a major party giving itself to a politician from a state with three electoral votes, populated by old hippies and cows? The Tammany vote-counters of elections past would shake their winding sheets and howl. But Dr. Dean has the right Rx for this moment, which is anger, political and personal. So he flourishes.

The war catalyzed the new Al Gore. Mr. Gore knew Saddam was a menace in 1991. But now he thinks Saddam was no problem. Politicians who have been programmed to seek the White House from infancy take defeat ill. John Quincy Adams, son of John, won the Presidency as an expansionist and a protégé of Southerners (Madison and Monroe), and by keeping his lip zipped on slavery. After he lost his bid for re-election, he went to the House of Representatives, where he opposed expansion and the South, and wouldn’t shut up about slavery. Al Gore, son and namesake of a Senator, must have been looking, post-2000, for some way to say “Free at last!” Iraq is the way; hence his support for Dr. Dean.

The war has created what might be called the Democratic right. When was the last time the Democratic Party thought of nominating a general? Under normal circumstances, Wesley Clark’s career choices would be limited to consulting or punditry. But now he is called to sit next to Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich. When was the last time Hillary Clinton spoke like a general? Wasn’t she supposed to be the ideologue in her marriage? But now the wife of the draft dodger is standing tall.

Above all, the war remade George W. Bush. It is inconceivable that Mr. Bush, as a peacetime President, would be in as strong a position as he is to win re-election. Mr. Bush entered office with small ambitions, and for his first eight months he governed small-ly. He thought late-20th-century conservatism had shot its bolt, so he discarded it. He kept a few scraps of rhetoric, wove them into a new bolt of fabric called compassionate conservatism, and planned on a term of centrist programs with small bores and big price tags, not unlike those envisioned by Bill Clinton. All these domestic tropisms remain. But 9/11 changed his world.

It has changed Saddam Hussein’s. May it keep changing the worlds of despots and killers.

War Changed Bush, And Some Democrats