As mumblingly reported by the NYTimes, and more sharply observed by The Talking Dog, Bush has claimed that he was asleep at nine in the evening, Crawford time, when Saddam Hussein underwent his botched execution.
That’s a big change from Bush crowing on national TV three years ago about Saddam being captured. This was supposed to be the Big Bad, Mr. “He tried to kill my Daddy.” You’d think Bush could stay up past an eight-year-old’s bedtime to observe the occasion of him getting offed. Not so, according to the NYTimes: “Before the hanging was carried out in Baghdad, Mr. Bush went to sleep here at his ranch and was not roused when the news came.”
I don’t see any reason why I should believe that.
I think reports and footage of the event were rushed to Bush in Crawford. What he learned at that point was that he’d lost control of the way Saddam Hussein’s death was going to be presented to the world. Someone had sneaked a cellphone into the execution and recorded the whole thing live. It didn’t match the preferred version.
An execution has to be stage-managed if it’s going to send the right message. There needs to be an appearance of impartial professionalism and control to give it that air of inevitability, and make the executioner seem like the business end of law and order, not just some guy who’s about to kill some other guy. If everything goes smoothly, the stunned and depersonalized prisoner will have only one role available to him, that of a man crushed under the weight of the law, in a ceremony which engages only with the termination of his physical life. Our sympathies, if any, will be strictly abstract.
Needless to say, Saddam Hussein’s execution didn’t meet those standards.
They tried. The official video was silent, and the initial reports described Saddam Hussein as a broken, terrified man who went quietly to the gallows. The cellphone version blows that apart. It’s raucous. You can hear the executioners and their claquers jeering at Saddam, and chanting partisan political slogans. He’s not crushed, he’s Saddam Hussein, and he exploits the opening they give him. Not only does he maintain his dignity and composure—he refused to have his eyes covered—but he definitely gets off all the best lines. Of course, it’s not that hard to come off like a martyr when your executioners sound like a lynch mob.
That’s got to have chapped Bush’s ass. He’s into breaking people who’ve opposed him. But that’s not the cellphone video’s most disastrous feature. Here’s Glenn Greenwald’s description:
It really is striking, and a potent sign of just how absurd is our ongoing occupation, that the “Iraqi Government” which we are fighting to empower could not even conduct this execution with a pretense of legality or concern for civilized norms—the executioners were not wearing uniforms but leather jackets and murderers’ masks, conducting themselves not as disciplined law enforcement officers but as what they are (death squad members and sectarian street thugs).And there’s the problem. Bush must have been furious. Killing Saddam Hussein would have been one last photo op, one more chance to claim some degree of success in Iraq. Instead, he got a rushed, illegal execution, timed to be an affront to Sunnis, that’s given a boost to the insurgents, exacerbated sectarian conflicts, and made us look bad. Again. (Nobody’s buying the line that this was the Iraqi government’s blunder. Everyone figures we had essential control of the situation. They’re right.)
And the most revealing, and most disturbing, detail is that Saddam’s executioners—in between playground insults spat at a tied-up Saddam—chanted their religious-like allegiance to Moktada Al Sadr, the Shiite militia leader whom we are told is the Great Enemy of the U.S., the One We Now Must Kill. This noble and just event for which we are responsible was carried out by a brutal, murderous, lawless militia.
This is happening just as Bush is getting ready to announce his firmed-up plans for his latest project: blowing off the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations in favor of massively escalating the war:
The BBC was told by a senior administration source that the speech setting out changes in Mr Bush’s Iraq policy is likely to come in the middle of next week.Since I have an extraordinarily long memory, stretching back for weeks, I remember that when he first came up with this proposal, the idea was that we’d be using these additional troops to make one more big push. After that, the idea was that they’d be used to stabilize our hold on Baghdad. Now their purpose is going to change from training Iraqi forces (I must have missed that one), to providing security for beleaguered Iraqi civilians.
Its central theme will be sacrifice.
The speech, the BBC has been told, involves increasing troop numbers.
This is classic Bushwah: he wants something, so we get treated to one reason after another for why we should give it to him, with never an apology or explanation for the changes. All we can tell for sure is that he wants to dump 30,000 more troops into Iraq, and he’s lying to us about why he wants to do it.
(As I’ve said elsewhere, I believe his actual reasoning is that if we keep piling on more people and resources in Iraq, there’s some slight chance that he’ll get what he wants, which is to win a war, or at least displace its loss past the end of his administration; whereas if we get our guys out before the place goes up in flames, he won’t. So what if this longshot gamble costs hundreds or thousands more lives? None of them are his.)
This plan isn’t prospering. For one thing, the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously think it’s a lousy idea. For another, he isn’t getting support from Republican legislators, many of whom have noticed that (1.) the war is a fiasco; (2.) their constituents don’t support it; (3.) the number of our dead just hit 3,000; and (4.) a lot of Republicans took a fall in the 2006 elections.
And now, just as Saddam was taking the long drop—a natural moment to argue that we should finish the job by sending in a bunch more troops to take out al-Sadr, the other Big Bad who’s oppressing the Iraqi people—all these supposed officials of the government we’ve been propping up are chanting “Muqtada al-Sadr.” Bush can kiss that argument goodbye. And if we withdraw from Iraq instead of mounting Bush’s massive escalation, he won’t be able to avoid being credited with the loss.
That’s why I think this one finally got to him. Unlike any of our previous fiascos in Iraq, Saddam’s execution actually cost Bush something personally. I figure he told his staff that if anyone phoned, they should tell them he’d already gone to bed.